Friday, August 6, 2010

feeding with ED in the kitchen, will you share your experiences?

This comment to a recent post made me teary. This is why I do what I do.

I am finding that about half of the mothers I work with on feeding issues will share a history of an eating disorder with me. This is an area I am really interested in. Would you share your story? How does feeding children trigger or heal you? Can you see potential for your own healing through feeding your children? Tell me whatever comes to mind. Are you struggling in recovery? Did you grow up with a sister or mother or brother with an eating disorder? Do you worry about it when you feed? Is it changing/spoiling your feeding?

"thanks for your blog....i have been bulimic for 18 years now (wow thats more than half my life) that i STILL struggle with... I am scared to DEATH of passing on my ed to my kids...and your easy intro to the family eating question has me making healthier choices and feeling far more at ease with what my kids eat....i have learned to quit freaking out when one child refuses to eat nothing but meat and potatoes (she obviously needed the fuel...she shot up 2 inches in the following week...and went back to normal eating after the growth spurt) ...and to see their rythms as natural....i have healthy food available for snack times and cook balanced meals.... thank you for taking the great fear around food and the family that i had."

I am out of town, but am working on some thoughts about feeding when you or a loved one are in recovery, your comments will be really helpful...


  1. I'm recovering from compulsive overeating and, I have to say, it's made a huge difference in how I parent. My son was born in the 25th percentile for weight and I remember being utterly traumatized when he went up to the 50th percentile (he nursed every two hours all day and all night, so not surprising!) and even though his health visitor and our doctor never had a problem with it, I was absolutely mortified and terrified that they would say "oh, it's a fat mother overfeeding her baby!"


    I worked REALLY hard on reading up on feeding children in ways that would minimize the chances of triggering an eating disorder. I started with "baby-led weaning", which bypasses purees in favor of finger-foods and encouraging self-feeding rather than spoon-feeding. Even so, I have to constantly be on guard NOT to pass on the messages that I heard as a child about fatness vs. thinness, or "good" vs. "bad" foods and it is a real struggle sometimes for me, because they're not completely internalized for me yet!

    It's been good for me to see how naturally he self-regulates food intake, and how he will eat his favorite vegetables with as much gusto as he eats sweets, because it gives me more faith in my own body. Having him has been a gift in so many ways, because it's prompted me to do so much more work on my own issues around food.

  2. Well, I don't have my own kids, but I babysit a lot and so I often do the afternoon snack thing with families (and sometimes make dinner). My mother was very restricted about food as I was growing up, and for a while we went around the dinner table and each said how many fat grams we'd had in the day. Not surprisingly this (and other things) led to disordered eating in my twenties (I'm still in my 20s and still disordered, but in therapy and recovering). Anyway. Feeding kids is fascinating in part because I started feeding myself again by pretending that I was a child I was taking care of and giving myself the same leeway I would an eight year old. That being said being around actual eight year olds who eat normally is fascinating: the days when they want popcorn, the days they want pasta, the days they want bacon and eggs, they days they want cut up peaches. There is such variety and each of these things can be a "snack", while in my house growing up 2 graham crackers and a glass of milk was a snack or sometimes a meal (esp. if my mom was the eater). I think I can be so permissive in part because I'm following an adult's rules (their parents) and in part because these kids are *so* relaxed about food. I really don't know when or if I will be a parent, but for now I'm learning so much from these kids and how they eat when given free reign to a well-stocked pantry for snack.

  3. I don't have children yet, but I can share some of my experiences *being fed* with ED in the kitchen. My mom is a compulsive eater. When I was about ten years old, she began to make me part of her binges. She would say something like "Your dad is not home for dinner tonight, let's have some pizza!" (my dad was not a fan of exotic food, and pizza was very exotic then). Or "This has been a rough week, let's buy some chocolate to cheer us up!" Or "Mrs. So-and-so paid me today, wanna go get ice cream to celebrate?" In those occasions, I would notice that she was eating *a lot*, but she always justified it by saying she was very hungry, or the food was delicious, or she was so bored from her diet that she really enjoyed "being naughty"... Anyway, this made me learn about "good" vs. "naughty" foods, and also that "naughty" foods could be used to cheer you up if you were sad, to celebrate if you were happy, to calm you if you were stressed... I basically learned to cope with my emotions using food.

    This is what I thought for a long time: I thought that my mom had "taught" me to eat compulsively. Then I remembered an episode, when I was 8 or 9 years old and my grandfather was dying of cancer. The adults made their best to protect me from the gravity of the situation, but it was a very stressful time for everybody, and I think I picked up on the general atmosphere of anxiety. I remember being with my dad at the hospital cafeteria and feeling like I could eat for hours and never be full. This is my first memory of compulsive emotional eating. Now I wonder whether I really "learned" from my mom, or whether there is something in our genes that makes us turn to food when we cannot cope with our emotions. I'm not aware of seeing my mom binge before I was eight, so where did that impulse to eat and eat come from? Was it something I picked up from her unconsciously? Or was I genetically predisposed to binge in moments of crisis? I don't have an answer to these questions, but they really make me want to "get it together" about food and eating before I have any kids.

    Sorry for the long post!

  4. I am a recovering bulimic married to a "recovered" anorexic. We have to be very very very aware of the impulse to control our sons meals. I did lots and lots and lots of research and opted for baby-led weaning but my babe is modelled after his dad, very tall very skinny, and it is very hard to let go of the worry that he is not eating enough.
    I also have a problematic relationship with doctors and we skipped some ped visits when my son was healthy and we were delaying vaccines. I brought him in when I became worried that he was pale and more lethargic around 1 and it turned out he was anemic.
    I got hell from the ped for this. I was made to feel (or I projected, to be honnest I don't know) that I was a bad neglectfull mother who did not feed his son adequately, big fat mom with the skinny anemic baby, and I was scared for a while that she was gonna call child services. He had just shot up TWO WHOLE INCHES a couple of weeks before but nobody seemed willing to hear that. He was still breastfeeding full time and not really interested in solids yet. Between my IBCLC and my LLL leader and nutritionist we managed to calm things down and refuse the drugs they were trying to push for a nutrional approach IF I kept a food journal for him.
    This food journal was truly the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. I was still in the very very early stage of recovery, still having "episodes" and barely 6 month out of my last ridiculously restrictive diet. I had honnest to God panic attacks at the mere idea of keeping a food log for him. And I just couldn't stop myself from forcing food on him, pretty forcefully at time.
    Thankfully I had my husband by my side to temper my feeling and remind me that pushing food on a kid does not end in a healthy relationship with food (Yes we are two big cliché here: he got severely force-fed and turned out anorexic and I got severely deprived and turned out bulimic) and thankfully I have a wonderful therapist who recommended Ellyn Satter's book which helped tremendously and helped me rebuild an enjoyable relationship with my son.
    My son is two and a half now and a wonderful, healthy, energetic little boy but it is an everyday battle to respect his feeding dynamics but helping him helps me. I learned a lot about myself and my eating through all of this and feeding him well to grow and be healthy and happy reminds me to try and do the same for myself.

  5. Lili,
    I am so glad your son is happy and healthy! Kudos to you for making such an effort. I am so glad that you are working on this and that through him, you are yourself finding help. I have experienced improvement with my eating that I credit to my experiences with my daughter and I am thrilled to find out that others are finding healing through the experience of feeding their children. It is my hope that parents with a history of ED, or loved ones with ED will find healing and wellness through the experience of feeding their children well...
    thanks for sharing, and good luck!

  6. I am a recovering compulsive eater/bulimic/restrictor. I have been in recovery 6 and a half years through a structured subset of a 12-step program for people with eating disorders. I am a normal weight now, but before recovery I have been both 50 lbs less and 50 lbs more than my current weight, as an adult.

    I am also the mother to a beautiful, fun 3 year old girl. I am so happy you asked about this topic because it is one I have thought about a lot. I am grateful I was in recovery before my pregnancy and my daughter being born.

    Raising her and feeding her has been immensely healing for me. I breastfed her which was wonderful in many ways, did baby-led weaning, and now use the Ellyn Satter approach to feeding. All of these things have had one thing in common - respecting my daughter and that what and how much she eats is her business, not mine. I am clear on what is my responsibility and what is hers. We have *zero* power struggles around food. I love that she has been exposed to a wide variety of foods and loves eating and trying new things. I love that family mealtimes are a joy and not a power struggle.

    Part of my recovery is that I weigh and measure all my food and do not eat any types of refined sugar. Before my daughter was born, I had a lot of anxiety about how to not let the fact that I need to do these things cause her disordered eating. While I firmly believe these tools have made a world of difference in *my* very disordered eating and taken away crazy behavior/thinking/etc. and given me a lot of peace, I in no way think they are things that the majority of people should do. Most people should listen to their bodies around how much to eat and should eat some refined sugar as part of a healthy diet. I just cannot do that. The reality is that I have found it hasn't been an issue. Already at 3, my daughter has a very basic understanding of why I have to do what I do, and I enjoy taking her for ice cream, etc. because I want her to have a normal childhood. Also, because we the vast majority of our diet is so nutritious, when we are at celebrations or with family and there are more fat-laden or sugary items, I never even give it a second thought if I should "let" her eat those foods. I do not worry about it at all.

    The only ongoing issue I have had: My own body dysmorphia is pretty bad, and sometimes extends to others. My daughter is in the 8th percentile and for awhile, I was starting to think almost every other preschooler I saw looked obese. I really have to reality check myself.