a young child looking at themselves in the mirror

Family Health

I Grew Up Anorexic And Still Struggle With My Body, But I’m Teaching My Kids To Love Theirs

May 17, 2022

When I was a kid, people often commented on how skinny I was.

Adults would tell me they wished they could eat anything they wanted and be thin like me — but I was only a child.

Instead of worrying about kid stuff, I began to worry if my body was good enough. I didn’t fully understand the importance that's assigned to being skinny, but since I received so many compliments for it, I felt like it was what I needed to get people’s approval.

I've wondered if this is where my anorexia stemmed from.

I used to think that I wouldn’t be good enough until I was underweight, my ribs were visible or somebody told me I was “too skinny.” The strange thing is, I never believed that about anybody else but myself.

Feeling full made me dislike myself, so I found comfort in feeling hungry. Unfortunately, this didn’t come without consequences. It’s left me with uneven color on some of my teeth, weak enamel, brittle nails, hair loss, fertility issues, digestive system issues and chronic abdominal pain. But back then I didn’t care. Being skinny was an obsession.

I starved myself.

I managed this by making myself throw up, drinking meal replacements and overusing laxatives. Eventually, my insecurities led to frequent anxiety attacks.

And, at 14, I was hospitalized twice.

Check out these six tips for helping girls develop a healthy body image from the Psychology Foundation of Canada.

The Impact of Having Kids

I stopped these habits at 15, when I found out I was pregnant with my first child.

I realized that I wouldn’t just be harming myself anymore. I would have been hurting my now five-year-old daughter.

I thought to myself, “I don’t ever want my kid to feel this way.” It was hard, but I didn’t fall back into old habits after giving birth. I fought the urges and I felt OK about the way I looked.

However, life is a roller-coaster with high highs and low lows.

After having my son at 21, I felt insecure about my body. I exercised and ate healthily but somewhere along the line I lost myself again. Healthy habits turned into unhealthy ones, and diets turned into obsessions. Suddenly I was skipping meals, hating my body, weighing myself three times a day and being upset if I was even two pounds heavier.

"I hide when I’m struggling, and I encourage a healthy relationship with food."

It was nowhere near as severe as my teenage days, but I found myself slipping into a dark pit of insecurity and fear of not being good enough. That old thought came back: “I’m not good enough until I'm underweight.”

I had to remind myself of what I said when I was pregnant with my daughter — except this time, it was more urgent. I managed to stop before I slipped all the way back into my old ways, and I'm still fighting to not fall all the way down.

I have two children who look up to me, and one of them is a very impressionable young girl. So, I hide when I’m struggling, and I encourage a healthy relationship with food. I know it seems hypocritical. It feels like I'm living a double life. But I hide it because I want to protect my children and I know it isn’t healthy. I need to heal as I guide them.

One night, Debbie King's eight-year-old daughter asked if she looked fat — here's how she talked through it with her.

Trying To Set My Kids Up For A Life Free Of Body Insecurities

When people make comments about my daughter’s body, it brings me back to when I was a kid. I don’t want her to worry about those things. I want my kid to be a kid and worry about kid things!

When my daughter was only a year-and-a-half old, I was asked if all I fed her was pizza because she had baby fat.

It made me realize that I can hide my issues from her, but the world will not. It doesn’t matter how old somebody is, comments will always be made. Although the world is making progress at being inclusive of all body types, an unhealthy image and standard will still be shared in a variety of ways, like through TV, movies, social media and influencers. 

So, instead of avoiding talk about our bodies and food, I embrace it. I tell my daughter things I know are true. “It’s OK to have desserts and treats. We don’t need to earn food. There’s a healthy way to balance healthy and unhealthy foods. Everybody is beautiful. You are beautiful. It’s OK to look different.”

"Our society is full of rigid beauty standards and judgement, and it’s up to me to try my best to raise my children to add some good to the world."

It would break my heart to know that my children felt the way I used to. So, when my daughter is done eating, and she pushes out her belly and says in a silly voice, “Look at my BIG belly!” I say, “Good job! I hope your tummy feels nice and full.”

I also make sure I compliment her on more than just her appearance. Like her creativity, curiosity and her kindness. I do not talk badly about myself or others, and I make sure to compliment people out loud. Especially myself, even if I don’t always believe it.

I do my best to encourage a healthy love of food because It’s OK to love food! So for now, I fake it until I make it.

Our society is full of rigid beauty standards and judgment, and it’s up to me to try my best to raise my children to add some good to the world.

My goal is to teach my children how to humbly love themselves and share that love with others. They will learn that true beauty does not come from somebody’s shape or size, and that inner beauty makes a bigger difference than physical beauty. I don’t want them to ever feel like they are worth more if they fit a certain set of physical traits.

I am learning alongside my children and maybe one day I’ll believe what I am teaching them but for now I heal quietly. I’ll continue to take small steps towards recovery while teaching my kids to love themselves.

Article Author Sabrina Boileau
Sabrina Boileau

Read more from Sabrina here.

Sabrina is a student, worker and full-time mother of a beautiful daughter and son, Charlie and Harrison, whom she loves more than anything. When she isn’t hopelessly trying to match socks, Sabrina is a freelance writer, who hopes to get a degree in journalism, and one day become a published author.

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