I’m writing this information for our children with eating disorders and our children without eating disorders- so that encompasses all the children. When I write children, I am including adults because ideally, we are all somebody’s baby.
I follow this adorable person on Instagram Naomi @dietculturesucks. And she is pure delight. She was reminding me that moms are still doing stupid stuff. I mean, I don’t know her personally but her posts inform me. Adults are constantly and possibly inadvertently shaming people for eating. Ridiculous.
Words of wisdom from Naomi which emphasize the power we have as humans and parents in contributing to this diet obsessed society.
“… We didn’t all come together one day and decide to be scared of carbs, count every calorie, and work out obsessively.
But we watched our parents step on the scale in their bathroom every morning. We noticed labels at the grocery store proclaiming some foods “guilt free” and others “guilty pleasures.” We saw our moms diet, and we heard our grandparents comment on our bodies every time we visited.
We picked up on the way fat people were treated: mocked in magazines, made the butt of jokes, erased from mainstream media depictions of success, happiness, or beauty.
And we got the message: Fat is bad. We should feel guilt when we eat, shame when our bodies grow, and disgust when we look at fat bodies… Don’t blame rule-followers for following diet culture’s rules… Recognize instead that eating disorders are rational responses to a society that’s imprinted fatphobia onto us since birth.
Standing Ovation. Hot fat tears streaming down our cheeks. Naomi @dietculturesucks needs billboards all across America. My hope is that we all hear her words, adopt them for our own, and profess then when it is the most uncomfortable. Speak truth just when Granny is loudly declining pie at Thanksgiving dinner. Speak truth when someone complements your little girl on appearance only. Speak truth at your lunch hours when moms discuss fasting and cleanses and guilt and jiggly upper arms.
I just heard you in the third row. There is a group of you in white jeans with smart accessories. What did you say? Ohhhhhhh. “We just want to raise our girls to be healthy.” “I’m not trying to be skinny, I am “eating clean” to be healthy and it gives me energy.”
Oh Lordy. Have you been reading Goop again? Clean eating is a farce. The words themselves are loaded with judgement. The rest of us are eating like filthy hogs or maybe we eat right off the dirt floor. I have sat for months in the premiere hospitals for people with eating disorders (praying that my child will recover) and not one researcher or doctor recommended clean eating, fasting, eliminating whole food groups. The best of the best- the doctors who focus on eating disorders recommend moderation. Eating all food groups. And that fat has value. But we are seduced by you white skinny jeans and your lack of sleeves and we fall for your spells and the promise of taking up less space.
Self Magazine published an article by Hannah Mathews titled Orthorexia: How my ‘Clean Eating’ Turned into Anorexia – “What’s trendier, after all, than an elimination diet or “eating clean?” It’s easy to find ourselves seduced by alluring pseudo-scientific theories and the moralizing of our eating choices: “bad” food will harm you, “good” food will heal you… In a culture that’s already hyper-fixated on our bodies, we’re also constantly reminded that there are ways to improve and “purify” it every time we see a celebrity hawking cleanses and “detox teas” on Instagram (spoiler: they’re mostly laxatives).”
So when I walk away livid from the lunch table as you profess the godliness of your keto diet or when I withdraw from our friendship because you tell me your thirteen year old could stand to lose a few pounds, I want you to know- it’s because I’m angry. I’m angry that your ignorance could endanger our children. Would you rather listen to pseudo science sold to you by actresses, TV doctors, and your bitty old aunt. It is incredible but there are parents who know about eating disorders and whose children are facing recovery and they still make hurtful comments. We are married to false ideas. Healthy isn’t thin. Thin doesn’t mean healthy. Fat doesn’t mean unhealthy. When you suggest a magic weight loss supplement to your fat friends, we know- You don’t want us to be healthy. You want us to fit. Turn upside down and consider that you have been wrong.
Let’s talk rules. When talking to your friends, your children, co-workers, Granny or strangers, let’s agree to adhere to doing no harm. Hopefully these 10 rules will guide us in DOING NO HARM.
- Talk to other humans about the books they read, the activities they love and the passions that they embrace. When you run into an old pal at the grocery, hug them and say “what have you been up to? It is so good to see you.” Do not say “Wow, you haven’t gained a pounds since high school.” When I am teaching and I open the car doors in the morning to usher the children into school, I really have to concentrate on this rule. I see a little girl with long braids and I immediately want to say “Don’t you look pretty.” But I am learning to call her by her name and say “It is so good to see you, Camilla.”
- Never talk numbers– such as weight, the number of miles you run, the minutes that you work out, calories, fat grams, ounces in your serving of chicken. Never. Numbers encourage comparison and comparison is the thief of joy.
- Food does not have a moral value. Radical concept. Gooey squares are not bad. Celery is not good. Beets can’t get you to heaven. Cake has never stabbed someone or cheated on them after 15 years of marriage. When a person is underweight, cake can be exactly what one needs to eat. But if you vilify sugar, fat and butter how will your child take in the nutrition that they need. You are not being good by having a salad. You are merely eating a salad.
- Do not complement people for losing weight. Children and teens should not be losing weight. Children and teens should stay on their own growth curve. Many think that a girl reaching puberty naturally takes off weight but if your child losing weight anytime you should be on alert. A few pounds one time can be attributed to the flu, not eating the food at sleep away camp, or a fluke. But if it happens, take note and watch for the next three months. Does weight loss continue?
- Avoid talking about food, diets, and exercise at the table. At meals, it is a good idea to sit down as a family and provide conversation and distractions- such as those little boxes of questions, talk about movies, books, hobbies or play 20 questions.
- Do not allow the school to weigh your child or measure their BMI. The CDC does not recommend this strategy. When our country started noticing an increase in obesity, our politicians started making up policies and adopting programs that were not proven effective scientifically, and now we are stuck with these ideas 15 years later. These obesity programs have been found to not reach the intended results but instead they have been found to trigger eating disorders for some.
- Do not criticize or make sarcastic remarks about other’s bodies. “It should be illegal for that woman to wear any bikini.” “Does she know her ass is hanging out her shorts?” “I hope I don’t end up sitting by him on the plane.”
- We cannot refuse to be in photos. We can’t hate pictures of ourselves. Get in the picture and say cheese. This isn’t about your chin or your neck. This is about a beautiful moment.
- Avoid making comments that are concrete about a person. “She eats like a bird.” “She could blow away in the wind.” “He has always had such a tiny build.” “She has a small frame.” “I’ve never been able to eat much because I have a slow metabolism.” Our eating or our bodies do not define who we are. We are malleable progressing human beings trying to make our way in an ever changing world.
- Focus on our bodies functional abilities. My body is flipping amazing because I was able to give birth to five babies. My daughter has muscular shoulders which allow her to go back and forth on the monkey bars. My son has strong lungs that allow him to hold his breath for a long time underwater. My short feet carried me all around Savannah sightseeing.
(This list of rules is a work in progress. I’m probably missing some critical ideas. I’m willing to be wrong in the hope of being kind. Do you have rules to add?)
If you don’t want to listen to me, listen to Naomi. In the next section of quotes, @dietculturesucks writes about how she handles parents and diet culture-
What to say when your parents talk diet culture to you 🤚🏼
My parents know where I stand on diet culture, but this doesn’t stop them from making diet culture comments when I’m home🙄. So today I’m sharing some ways you can respond to this kind of talk👇🏼
👩”I really have to lose these last X pounds”
🗣”Why do you feel like you have to lose weight? I think you look great, and you probably notice things about your body that nobody else does. Is weighing less really worth sacrificing other things in your life? It’s natural to weigh more when you’re (doing X) than (doing Y), but that doesn’t mean your current weight is wrong.”
OR 👉🏼 “I’m really trying to stay away from weight loss talk—even if it’s not about my body—because it’s bad for my mental health. I can’t stop you from thinking these things but I don’t want to be your sounding board.” .
👩 “I can’t believe that after all that exercise I ruined it by going out and eating a lot.”
🗣 Exercise is good for you, and so is eating! Exercise and food aren’t meant to be compensatory. You get benefits from exercise no matter how much or what you eat afterwards, and it makes sense that you’d eat a lot after working out because you were probably really hungry! .
OR 👉🏼 I don’t see it that way. And comments that imply that food is meant to “make up” for exercise make it harder for me to listen to my body.
I read this weeks ago and it has stuck with me. Naomi is open and vocal about her eating disorder and her recovery and yet, her parents continue to infuse their conversations with hurtful remarks. And I feel anger. I feel guilt that my child has an eating disorder. My guilt makes me angry. My guilt is self inflicted and not useful. I wish I was able to advocate better for Addy. I wish I could make an effect on the world of parents. I want to scream from the rooftops. But I become busy with life and don’t prioritize advocacy.
A therapist at UCSD Eating Disorder Treatment Center told a story about a dad who wanted to help his eight year old little girl. The dad noticed over the summer, his darling little girl getting pudgy around her middle. Her friends seemed to be growing tall and losing baby fat tummies and his child’s tummy seemed to do the opposite. He did not want his child to be teased. He felt protective of his beautiful daughter and so he started encouraging her to go running with him and helping her cut out sugar and junk food from her diet.
Here we go again. The group of women in the white jeans are like swooning over this sweet daddy. Well, guess what. This dad is not doing what experts in eating disorders recommend. His little girl does not need him to point out her plump middle. The world already does that every day. The kids at school brought it up at least 5 times already and her PE teacher made her feel shame when she only did 20 sit ups on the Pacer test. Her best friend made fun of her for not knowing what vegan is. The characters on her favorite tv shows make it very clear who is desirable and cool and believe me it is not the chubby girl. She looks in the mirror and wonders how to alter her body and she vows to never eat doughnuts again, before she has even gotten close to puberty. At eight, and even younger, our children know that their body is the right type that will garner friends and attention or not. The world teaches us that very early.
What if her dad was a source of unconditional love instead? What if he showed by his example and the food he bought at the grocery store that all food in moderation is good? What if he played ball with her in the driveway, rode their bike to school and threw frisbees at the park? And read books from the library and melted wax to make candles? And made fruit shish kabobs and homemade ice cream? And he never mentioned her belly?
The thing is, she might still develop an eating disorder. If she has the genetic predisposition to develop an eating disorder, she may suffer with bulimia for years. Or if she is like my child, she will be 11 years old and refuse to eat grapes because they have too much sugar in them. And you will know. I avoided Barbies. I didn’t say I was fat. I gave her a gender neutral name. I praised her strength, and loved her unconditionally. She still got anorexia because she has the genetic predisposition for an eating disorder. We can’t protect our children from anorexia, bulimia or any eating disorder.
The rules I suggest on this tiny blog may enable or encourage us to be a safety net to our children and our friends and not a pothole to their recovery. I want to be someone Naomi wants to visit and have breakfast with. I want to be the person my daughter calls when she has a particularly rough day. I want to be the kind of mom and person that allows people to breathe deeply and relax in their own skin.