Parenting in the Wake of an Eating Disorder

 

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“Carbs and sugar. All she wants are carbs and sugar,” I huffed at Ryan as we attempted to cram peas and chicken into Summer’s mouth. I wanted her to want meat and vegetables, yet she would grasp for tortillas and cookies and pieces of bread. All trigger foods for me.

As I felt these words falling from my lips, I realized I was responding to Summer out of my broken past. I was not viewing her desire as an attempt to taste and explore solids, but rather as a desire to binge – a concept foreign to a 9 month old.

Trigger foods are the foods one associates as absolute “no-no’s” – they are the foods one firmly believes will cause dramatic repercussions in weight and body shape. Because an individual convinces himself or herself that this particular food item is off limits, he or she inevitably craves it. If he or she consumes this particular food, the cycle of eating disorder behaviors is triggered (ex: binging, purging, over exercising, caloric restriction, etc.)

Breads and sugary treats were my trigger foods. And Summer preferring these snacks over healthier alternatives caused a nasty spirit to rise up in me. A spirit that would shut down and shame, not encourage and affirm.

I had never considered parenting in the wake of an eating disorder until this experience.

I mean, I had considered the more obvious desires I had as a mom based on my experience and research. I knew I did not want to body shame in front of my daughter(s) – ladies, it is so, very important that our daughters hear us affirm ourselves consistently and not tear our bodies down. Also, I knew I wanted to initiate real and intentional conversations with my daughter(s) early on about her beauty. I already tell Summer how “beautiful her heart is” every time she gives someone a “sugar” (kiss), or shares a toy. I had pondered these sorts of things.

But, what about the more tangible and practical practices? How do I guide and encourage healthy eating habits without allowing my apprehensions to get in the way? How can I confidently set boundaries around snack times and meal times without seeming over-zealous about eating enough, or fearful of over-indulgence? How can I teach moderation – a concept in which I only recently began walking?

As time moved on, I brushed shoulders with other toddler mommies with similar pasts and we discussed these challenges. How we planned to respond. How we hoped we would not react. How we had no clue what we were doing…

As I continued to wrestle with how to healthily parent eating habits given my history with an eating disorder, I reached out to a former mentor, Lisa Stallings. Lisa is a beautiful soul who also battled an eating disorder as a young adult. She now has 4 strong and beautiful adult children, and she is full of wisdom and insight when it comes to nurturing a balanced understanding of food and health within our youth.

Lisa struggled with bulimia for  11 years. This included her teen years, her newlywed years and through three of her pregnancies. God healed her from the disease when her first three children were little, and as He healed her and renewed her mind, she grew in her ability to nurture a balanced concept of eating habits in her children. She was generous enough to share her wisdom with me in a recent conversation. I would like to share tidbits of our talk in hopes of inspiring parents who have a history of an eating disorder.

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Did your Eating Disorder impact your parenting in a good way or bad way?

In light of the healing Lisa experienced in Jesus, she feels God used her Eating Disorder as a strength in her parenting journey. As she walked her personal path of healing, she was challenged to explore the roots of her disorder, which was perfectionism and low self-esteem. Because she recognized the root of her struggle, she allowed her children to make mistakes and she challenged herself to be more merciful and gracious when they failed.

Lisa was intentional in speaking to the children about overall health. She consistently provided healthy food options for the children, and folded meals into the daily rhythm without emphasizing snacks. She continually modeled that life was more than food by providing a variety of stimulating activities for the kids. Food was not the centerfold of the day.

When your Eating Disorder was triggered, how did you respond in parenting?

Self-awareness is key. Noticing fear and choosing to not partner with it in parenting is imperative. It is critical to recognize that this is a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6), and to address it as such. Lisa admits the war would not have been won without the Holy Spirit providing the power and discernment necessary to navigate the battleground.

Consistent honesty with one’s spouse is critical. Pray together.

Lisa encourages parents to not cling to what is dead and to never parent out of fear. If God has healed an individual from a disorder, walk out that healing and do not resurrect what is dead by dwelling on thoughts that do not align with God’s Word. Lisa urges those who have been healed by God to not nourish or coddle the enemy. Once we have been healed, we can be the gatekeeper of our lives by meditating on Truth and living out our healing – the enemy does not merit such attention or affection.  Trust that God has erased the struggle through His sacrifice on the cross.

Did you tell your children about your eating disorder? How old were they?

Lisa clings to the reality that the call of parents is to disciple their children by living shoulder to shoulder with them. We must be open and honest with one another. Just as we are instructed in Deuteronomy 6:7, there does not have to be a formal way to impart a teaching or even a story about your past. These pieces are shared bit by bit over time through relationships. Through car rides. Through meal times. Through bedtime conversations. Through life on life.

Did you ever struggle with Eating Disorder behaviors while parenting and how did you cope?

Lisa consistently returned to the Scripture every morning to meditate on a verse that was instrumental in her healing: 1 Corinthians 6:19. She remained busy. For Lisa, physical business made space for her to renew her mind.

Lisa would pray out loud when she felt tempted to binge or purge by saying, “I know You are with me God, and You are going to give me strength to get through this.”

How did you impart a balanced understanding of health and wholeness to your children without over-emphasizing food and body shape?

Beauty is not about the way we look or what we put in our bodies, Lisa said. True beauty is about our mind, our relationships, and our friendship with Jesus. As women, we want to present ourselves beautifully. But, ultimately, true beauty rests in the way we treat others, in the way we think, and in our smiles.

Lisa and her husband had these conversations about beauty along the way with their daughters, particularly.

They also modeled moderation and avoided extremes. They did not allow food to be the main focus in their home, but rather spent their energy in the activities of life: school, church, sports, etc.

What advice would you give a mom who has had an Eating Disorder when it comes to parenting her children in a way that would affirm a positive body image and encourage a healthy lifestyle? 

Lisa insists that anyone struggling with an Eating Disorder must pursue personal healing. This begins with asking “where does this struggle come from?” and “What have I believed about who I am and who I have to be that does not line up with what Scripture says?” One must inspect his or her root system by exploring one’s history and identify what lies inspired this battle.

Embarking on path toward personal healing will enable you to be the parent your child needs.

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