During my interviews for Sunday’s Seattle Times column, “How to help a college student with an eating disorder,” one of the most interesting areas of conversation was how parents, through their words and actions, can help their children grow up to be healthy, balanced, “normal” eaters…or not. Alas, there wasn’t enough room to include this information in the column, but since it also makes for a nice blog post, I’m not complaining.
One reason that individuals struggling with an eating disorder may find food-centric holidays and events particularly difficult is because of diet and body talk by friends and family. Comments like, “Wow, I really need to go on a diet after this meal,” “I can’t believe I ate so much…I feel so fat!” “I wonder how many calories are in this pie?” or “Is it really a good idea for you to go back for seconds?” can be triggering for someone with, or at risk for, and eating disorder anytime of the year. During those times when food—often rich, indulgent food—is everywhere, the stakes may be even higher.
Dr. Neeru Bakshi, MD, medical director of Eating Recovery Center of Washington in Bellevue (formerly The Moore Center), says that parents can lead by example, for better or for worse. “When a parent is always putting themselves on a diet, that sends one message. When we turn that around and teach that there are no good and no bad foods, that sends a different message. If you wouldn’t want your child to be engaged in certain behaviors, then you need to take a look at why you are.”
Robyn Cruze struggled with an eating disorder for more than 10 years before finding her way to recovery. Today, she helps inspire patients and families as ERC’s national recovery advocate. On a personal front, she makes a point of setting a healthy example for her two young daughters.
“Most of my life was about deprivation or bingeing,” Cruze said. “Today, there’s no good or bad food in our home, there’s fun food. The girls will never see me hold my stomach after a meal, they’ll never see me check myself out in the mirror.”
When one of her daughters is having a snack and they come back into the kitchen for more, Cruze doesn’t automatically say “yes” or “no” to seconds. Instead, she helps her daughters cultivate intuitive eating skills, saying something like, “Hey honey, have you checked in with your tummy lately? Are you hungry? If you’re not hungry, that’s OK, you can have that food next time you’re hungry.”