Recently I was asked if I ever worried that I was putting my children at risk for developing eating disorders by being so open and honest about my own. I thought about it for about a half a second and then answered, "Hell no." The truth is, that when I was living in my disorder, my kids were both quite young and I tried my best to hide what I was going through because I was ashamed. I also didn't want them to worry about me. When I finally found the strength to recover and the program to help me get there, my boys were around eight and five years old and I lied about it. I made up an excuse about where I was going a few hours every week and the guilt I felt was overwhelming. My goal at that time was that they would never know how sick I really was.
But that changed.
The truth is that they always knew their mom was a bit "different," they just didn't know why. I may have convinced myself that they were oblivious to my disorder, but how could that be true when we'd be walking out the door to go for dinner and one of them would ask, "Are you eating today, Mommy, or just watching?" or they'd shout, "Look, Mommy's a dinosaur!" because the bones of my spine would poke out so sharply from under my skin.
They knew something was wrong, they just didn't know what it was.
After I found recovery, created my Fit vs. Fiction body image workshops and started speaking out and writing about body image and eating disorder issues, I knew that I had to come clean to my kids. I couldn't be sharing my truth at schools with children I didn't know while not explaining the situation to my own children first. I could have kept it brief, or cleaned it up a bit. I could have made it a bit less scary or gross, but I chose not to, and here's why.
Eating disorders are evil, nasty and cruel. The damage they cause is not just physically devastating, but also breaks us down emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. They are also incredibly difficult to recover from.
It seems like more and more celebrities have been opening up their own eating disorder issues recently. Lady Gaga spoke out about her battles with bulimia and actresses Lucy Hale and Demi Lovato shared their struggles as well. I think it's really important when celebrities come clean about their body image issues because their fans need to see that even the perfect people aren't so perfect. I know that there are kids who felt inspired by Demi's revelation and I wouldn't be surprised if hearing about her problems encouraged other kids to seek help for their own.
But here's why, for my kids, that isn't enough. While we're listening to the adversity that these women overcame and while we're hearing about how bad things may have gotten for them, they still seem pretty fabulous. As difficult and painful as things may have been for them at times, right now, in the eyes of their fans, their lives seem more than OK. They've got fame, they've got fortune and they've got beauty. It's crucial for young people to understand that there is NOTHING glamorous about eating disorders.
The reason why my kids won't be pulled into my body image nightmare is because they've seen the reality of it first hand, they just didn't understand it until now.
They remember seeing me lying on the couch, unable to make it up the stairs to tuck them in at night. Now they know it's because I had spent the day binging and felt too sick to move.
They've seen me crawl up the stairs instead of walk like everybody else and now know I'd gone days without eating and was too weak to stand.
They remember trying to figure out what happened to all their Halloween candy when they knew they should still have bags of it left, only to find empty wrappers in my bedroom. Mystery solved.
They remember wondering why we didn't join the rest of the family on family vacations and why I'd cry when the word bathing suit came up. They think It's silly, but now they know why.
They also know about the times, while they slept, when I walked for hours to the gym in the middle of the night after not sleeping for days because my fear of gaining weight was more intense than my fear of dying.
I don't try to hide what I did or how my disorder made me feel. I want them to understand why I am so determined to change the way kids treat and feel about themselves these days. I want them to appreciate the value of who a person is over what they look like and that going through horrible things does not make us horrible people.
My eating disorder was disgusting. I am not a disgusting person for having battled it.
I believe that our kids can learn as much from our troubles as our triumphs. My kids know that I'm not perfect. They know that I've fallen several times. But they've also seen me pick myself back up each and every time.
I won't hide the dirty, ugly truth from my kids because I want them to know that life can be tough. But they can be tougher.