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Marci Warhaft-Nadler

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Why I Told My Kids About My Eating Disorder

Posted: 05/02/2013 12:22 pm

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.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Lady Gaga

    After the media focused on her <a href="http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-body/news/lady-gaga-shows-off-25-pound-weight-gain-in-tight-outfit-2012229">alleged weight gain</a> in September 2012, Gaga hit back at critics by baring her body in photographs, sharing her struggles with an eating disorder, and inviting her fans to join her in a <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/melaniehaiken/2012/09/26/lady-gaga-puts-bulimia-and-body-image-on-the-table-in-a-big-way/">"body revolution."</a>

  • Adele

    Adele says she <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504803_162-57376080-10391709/adele-talks-about-her-body-image-and-weight/">tries not to worry</a> about her body image and doesn't want to be a "skinny minnie." "The first thing to do is be happy with yourself and appreciate your body -- only then should you try to change things about yourself."

  • Rebel Wilson

    The actress <a href="https://twitter.com/RebelWilson/status/253324823005118465">took to Twitter</a> to say, "I'm not trying to be hot. I'm just trying to be a good actress and entertain people."

  • Ashley Judd

    After the March 2012 frenzy around Judd's "puffy face," the actress fought back in <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/09/ashley-judd-slaps-media-in-the-face-for-speculation-over-her-puffy-appearance.html">The Daily Beast</a>, calling the media out for making women's bodies "a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others."

  • Allison Tate

    Tate's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allison-tate/mom-pictures-with-kids_b_1926073.html">essay</a> about body image and motherhood not only broke the Internet; it has sparked a movement of "moms who stay in the picture."

  • Autumn Whitefield Madrano

    On her informed, thoughtful blog <a href="http://www.the-beheld.com/">"The Beheld,"</a> Autumn writes about beauty, body image, appearance and her two -- that's right, <em>two </em>-- mirror fasts.

  • Kjerstin Gruys

    Gruys went on a year-long<a href="http://www.ayearwithoutmirrors.com/"> mirror fast</a> during which she did not study her reflection in mirrors or other reflective surfaces, or look at photographs of herself.

  • Christina Aguilera

    "I am always in support of someone who is willing and comfortable in their own skin enough to embrace it," the singer said in a<a href="http://www.ianslive.in/index.php?param=news/Aguilera_wants_to_empower_women-389922/ENTERTAINMENT/15"> recent interview</a>.

  • Lena Dunham

    At the 2012 New Yorker Festival, the magazine's TV critic, Emily Nussbaum, asked Lena Dunham, producer, creator and star of the hit HBO show "Girls," why <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/08/lena-dunham-new-yorker-festival-emily-nussbaum_n_1948596.html?utm_hp_ref=women&ir=Women">Dunham is naked in so many scenes</a>. Dunham responded, "I realized that what was missing in movies for me was the presence of bodies I understood." She said she plans to live until she is 105 and show her thighs every day.

  • Alexa Chung

    Chung <a href="http://fashionista.com/2012/10/alexa-chung-on-her-upcoming-line-and-struggling-with-body-image/2/">responded to critics</a> who suggested that her slight frame made her a bad role model for young women, saying: "Just because I exist in this shape doesn't mean that I'm, like, advocating it."

  • Stella Boonshoft

    The NYU student started the amazing <a href="http://thebodyloveblog.tumblr.com/">Body Love Blog</a>, where she posted this picture of herself and wrote an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stella-boonshoft/self-portrait-ask-me-why-_b_1987406.html" target="_hplink">open letter to those who feel entitled to shame others</a> for the size or look of their bodies.

  • Beth Ditto

    This 5-foot-tall, 200-pound singer spoke openly about her weight to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/01/beth-ditto-talks-skinny-privilege-fiancee-body-image_n_2057290.html?utm_hp_ref=women&ir=Women">The Advocate</a>, saying, "I feel sorry ... for people who've had skinny privilege and then have it taken away from them. I have had a lifetime to adjust to seeing how people treat women who aren't their idea of beautiful and therefore aren't their idea of useful, and I had to find ways to become useful to myself."


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