parent opinion

"It's like looking in a mirror." I'm worried about passing my eating disorder onto my daughter.

This post deal with eating disorders, and could be triggering for some readers.

I’m helping my eight-year-old clean her room when I see the candy wrappers. They’re tucked under her dresser in a neat little pile.

"Those go in the trash," I say to her. "And you know we don’t eat in the bedroom." Our eyes meet and I give her a meaningful look. I see you, it says. I get it. I’m here for you.

Her eyes get stormy, the same way they do when she gets in trouble for cheating at brushing her teeth or for writing her name on the wall in black Sharpie. Stop looking at me. Nothing to see here. Did she learn that look from me?

I sigh. I don’t know how to do this.

Watch: How to improve your daughter's body image. Post continues below.


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My little girl has sparkling blue eyes. She’s bright far beyond her years. She’s physically solid and emotionally sensitive. She is unabashedly herself, for better or for worse. She does what she wants, when and how she wants to do it.

She’s just like me, and that scares me to death.

My eating disorder started in primary school.

The first time I binged, I wasn’t yet 10 years old.

I had a special sandwich I liked, and I spent the afternoon making and then eating sandwich after sandwich. I was proud of myself for being able to make my own meal, and my mother seemed quite impressed, as well. And so I just kept going, over and over. Make, eat, repeat.

It became less cute as I got older. I would kick an entire box of crackers an hour after my mum had brought them home from the store, or systematically eat snack cake after snack cake as my parents slept at night.

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I was met, then, with disgust. "What did you do?" my mother would exclaim. "You can’t do that." In my mind, I would answer back. I’ll do it if I want to.

Even now when I go back to those days through therapy, the feeling that always comes up is anger and defiance toward my mother. It makes sense for me, considering my relationship with my narcissistic mother was always adversarial.

But not for my little girl.

I’ve always tried to be supportive and preventive.

The last thing I ever wanted is for my children to struggle like I struggled.

I don’t want them to battle with their weight. I want them to have a healthy relationship with food. I want them to have a balance that I am still struggling to nurture in myself.

I never body-hate in front of them. (It’s been work, but I try not to body-hate at all.) I don’t comment on other people’s bodies, whether they’re public figures or people we know. 

I try to expose them to a variety of body types and normalise every kind of body. We talk about how being balanced and healthy, and taking care of our bodies, is the most important thing, regardless of our size.

I am active, and I encourage them to be active, too. I teach them about macronutrients  —  carbohydrates, proteins, and fat  —  and how each of them supports our growth, development, and day-to-day functioning.

Did I mention we talk a lot about balance?

Despite my best efforts, my daughter’s behaviour has got me on edge.

I should say here that I was never a normal kid. I was a troubled, addicted kid with an eating disorder, and so maybe that’s why I see red flags everywhere I look.

But when I see evidence of my daughter sneaking food, foraging after a full meal, and going back to the same food multiple times in a short period of time  —  when I see how sensitive she is about her weight, how reluctant she is to even touch a conversation about food and eating — it’s like I’m looking in a mirror.

I blame myself because I know she’s seen me do all these things and more.

I blame society for giving us all such skewed images of what beauty is, how food contributes to life, and what it means to be a woman in this world. 

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I blame the genetics, or epigenetics, or whatever, that might have passed down this terrible affliction to my perfect baby girl.

But none of that helps my daughter, or the person she is growing into.

The best thing I can do is to be there for her.

Here’s what I know doesn’t fix eating disorders: body shaming; food shaming; hyper-focus on calories, macros, weight, or any of those other metrics.

Truthfully, I’m not sure there’s anything that does fix eating disorders. I’ve seen plenty of stories written by people who have "overcome" their disorder, but after writing some similar stories, I know that one snapshot in time doesn’t necessarily represent what happens afterward, as much as we wish it would.

But I can help my daughter with whatever she’s going through (and, to be clear, I’m not diagnosing her with anything  —  just trying to be a good mum).

The best thing I can do for her, and the thing that was missing for me all those years, is to be present in her life and open with my own experiences. It might sound counterintuitive to discuss my own struggles as I’m trying to shelter her from the pain I went through, but by talking about it I can show her she’s not alone.

Oh, how I wish I’d known sooner I wasn’t alone.

I will be there for her if and when she wants to talk, and I will find her help if and when she ever needs it. I will not shame her.

I will be for her what I needed back then. And together, we will face whatever challenges come.

Nikki is a career educator from Massachusetts, USA. She’s passionate about social and educational equity as well as children’s rights and mental health empowerment. When she’s not writing at the local independent coffee house, she can be found lifting weights, playing fetch with her pup, or trying her wits at an escape room. She lives with her partner and children just outside Boston. You can follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @NikkiKayAuthor.


For help and support for eating disorders, contact the Butterfly Foundation‘s National Support line and online service on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected] 

You can also visit their website, here.


Feature Image: Getty.