Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Cupcake that Started My Disordered Eating

For about five years now, I never get sick.

At the most, I will have a day or two when I can feel that I am fighting something off. I up some supplements, and I always win.

Not this time. For the first time in about five years, I have a full blown something or another. It started in my throat and is now in my head and muscles.

I am grouchy, to say the least. "I do not have time for this" is what comes out of my mouth. As if anyone has time for this!

My point, though, is that I am sure my sick-less streak would have continued had it not been for my recent confession about falling back into bad, "eating" habits. I put "eating," of course, in quotes because those habits really have to do with NOT eating. Or not eating nearly enough.

I was not giving my body what she needed and she could not fight off a simple, Autumn cold flu thing.

My post about eating disorders got a strong reaction -- here, on Facebook, on twitter, and in my inbox -- so I know we need to keep talking about this.

I thought we should back up and try to see where this begins.

I have told this story before but it bears repeating.

When I was almost four, I remember the exact moment my first diet was initiated. It was after dinner, and I had had one cupcake. I went in for a second, as I always had before, but suddenly, I was told "no."

Apparently, the look of consternation that my four year old self displayed was enough to take down an elephant in the wild.

How do I know this? Because this story became an oft repeated segment of our family mythology. It was told to elicit laughter. It was a "funny" story.

But at the age of four, I was being told that That eating was an impulse that needed to be curbed. Eating leads to unwanted results. That my very healthy body was not good enough and never would be. That there were and always would be things about myself that were detestable, embarrassing, laughable.

For those of you out there who saw themselves in my confession or one similar to it, I want you to think about this:

How was food treated in your family of origin?

Think about your mother's relationship to food, but also think about your father's relationship to food and, probably more importantly, think about how he treated your mother and other females around him and the whole food thing.

Did he encourage diets? Did he talk about other women's bodies in degrading ways?

Was your mother always complaining about herself?

What was dinner time like?

Spend some time journaling about all of this.

I know for a fact that I am not the only woman in the world whose first diet was at age four. I know I am not unique.

(Photo & Text Copyright: Christine C. Reed,, 2009)


Eco Yogini said...

dinnertime was stressful for myself as a child... but more along the lines of my digestive difficulties. For years (until undergrad) my mother believed that I was a 'fussy' child who refused food to be difficult... of course when I was medically diagnosed with a digestive disorder my mom apologised for not believing me all those days I would stumbled back down the driveway, crouched in half, in pain. She thought i was just trying to skip school (which of course was half my stress problem).

So- i sat at the table. for hours. and hours. eating a friends houses was difficult. I had such a restricted diet and felt such shame. I was 'rude', 'fussy', 'immature', 'difficult'... you name it.

follow this up with a good dose of media bombardment, low self esteem in general and you got a teenager that 'forgot' to eat. often.

In university it was so bad that my best friend confessed she would come over for supper just to assure that I ate something.

Although my parents didn't cause disordered eating, or my difficult digestive system, they did influence in a way how I thought and think about food.

Linnea said...

There were both mother and father influences, though my father's was a bit different: in my 20s I worked out two hours a day to achieve that perfectly toned body. I always ate, but would "purge" if I ate, say, a piece of cheesecake by putting in an extra half-hour of cardio time. I achieved the "perfect body" (in my mind), but to him I looked too thin and gaunt, and he told me all that working out was negatively affecting my "facial beauty," as he put it. Then, I was furious.

But three years ago, when I lost 30 pounds as the result of a creative binge during which I didn't even want to stop to eat, I saw he'd been right.

My mother has always been obsessed with her own thinness. Still is, at 77. She never said anything about my body, but it still affected me.

As the mother of a daughter (and a son, for that matter: I don't want him thinking the distorted ideal is "normal"), I try to be careful about what I say. They know I'm trying to lose some weight now, but I'm careful to stress it's for my health, not my looks, and I'm not going to any extremes in eating or exercise to achieve it.

You're right. This is an important discussion. Thanks for initiating it.

claire bangasser said...

"I do not have time for this."
Yes, I recognize this well. This is what I said when I found out I had cancer. My oncologist kindly warned me that if I did not give cancer some of my time and attention, it would take all of both...
Meals were not really fun at home. My parents did not really talk to each other.
One never really was stopped from eating in the France of my childhood.
What I find more important today is the idea of 'honoring my body' and not asking it to look like an airbrushed marketing ad. To let the real me come out. Not done yet.
Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

lucy said...

but i don't wanna think about this...she says in a very whiny voice. i don't have time for this!>!>>!

my mother was the food police. my first "official" diet didn't start until after my freshman year of college when i came home and she cut the crusts off of every sandwich she made me - "just to help with those extra few pounds." her subtle promptings started years earlier and by age 8 i knew my thighs were much larger than my best friend's, so i'm certain it started well before then. and then... o.k. i'll stop here. maybe i do need to spend a little time journaling this.

bless you, blisschick, every perfect wonderful ounce of you!

Gina (LifeinOM) said...

I come from an Italian family where meals are usually joyous occasions and the more you eat the better. In fact if you didn't eat tons you were insulting the cook.(my grandmother still has trouble accepting my refusals of huge portions). All was fine as I was stick thin as a kid - until I hit puberty and the pounds piled on. I was ridiculed by my father constantly, often sitting at the dinner table in tears not wanting to eat another bite. At 13 I was on Weight Watchers and I initiated it. It's been a constant battle since. Nowadays I am mostly winning but some days the inner critic takes hold. How can I teach yoga and not be super thin? I have a little belly so I am fat...the list goes on. I've learned that it ebbs and flows though and if I just hang on I'll rise back up.

Feel better soon!!

onasilentsea said...

my mother was/is always complaining about her weight. my father never said anything about my body, but was overly concerned with modesty. i remember having to wear clothes that were clearly too large for me because he felt that everything looked too tight. i was just commenting the other day to my husband that i was wearing a long-sleeve button up at 38 weeks pregnant that i'd had since i was 14 (10 years ago). what in the world was i doing with a shirt that large and thinking that it actually fit? no wonder i have such a warped body image.

Stefanie said...

Can I just tell you how much I admire you for all your strength and courage?!?

I just journaled about my body image issues the other day and how they continue to affect me. Isn't it odd how certain episodes in childhood can dictate our personality even decades later? My debilitating memory comes from trying on a bathing suit when I was six years old. I can still hear my mother telling me I look pregnant. I hear her voice every time I look in the mirror. Thanks for starting this discussion. It is such an important issue and I think we need to work through it collectively so that we can create a community in which our daughters are protected from all this craziness.

Peace and goodness to you.

Rowena said...

first off, what you have sounds like what I have/had and after some research and polls, I have concluded that it is the swine flu. I didn't go to the doctor because it didn't get that bad, but look it up on the cdc or google symptoms and you may find out it is the same.

And secondly, I am so glad that I was never taught this weird thing with food/body image. My parents were very careful to not require the clean plate club or to push when I was picky and didn't eat, or to restrict our diet. I distinctly remember always getting a candy after school.

When I went to college, I think I had a problem with bingeing (no purging, god no, I hate puking) that I think actually stemmed from poverty and feeling like I didn't have enough, but it never got bad and my years as a vegetarian helped me develop a more thoughtful attitude towards food. My years with feminism helped me learn about body image and the media and the societal misogyny, and perhaps the work with buddhism/zen/yoga has helped me to accept myself just the way I am, thick thighs and all.

I don't know if it's right for me to post in the comments here, since I never really had an eating disorder, but maybe we need to look at the other side too. Whatever happens, it needs to be addressed, because it harms so many girls and women.

Andrea Stern said...

Weight Watchers at 7, remember taking the cold congealed melted muenster on toast in my lunch. As if I wasn't weird enough in school, with young parents and being an only child, and our different religion. Exercising with my grandmother, and my aunt's MIL and my mom. My grandmother saying "I just wish Andrea Lynne could lose some weight" and on and on. Can of worms, party of one?

Tess said...

Christine, I've just passed on to you the Kreative Blogger award. If you want to play, check out my post If not, just enjoy!

Ellecubed said...

Thank you so much for writing about and calling attention to this topic. I think it is something that is oh so important and that needs to be talked about.

My mother has always been on a diet. My very first memories of her were of her on a grapefruit diet. I remember being 3 and finding it absurd that the only food that she would eat was grapefruit. Throughout my childhood, my mother continued to jump from one diet to the next. With periods of binge eating in between. As a kid, I was a bit chubby and my mom and grandmother would constantly makes comments about my weight saying that I would be like one of them if I continued to eat the way I did. This led me to severe restriction between the ages of 7-12.

When my parents divorced and I lived full time with my dad and step-mother this changed. I remember being so surprised that we all ate together every night and that every night there was a different and good meal on the table.

I wish I could say that was enough to put me back on track. But I became bulimic at 17 and have struggled on and off with it since then. Right now I am in recovery and I have been mostly able to find a balanced and healthy lifestyle. However, I find it incredibly hard to be around my mother as she continues to this day to bounce from diet to diet and lets it consumer her life.

Again, thank you for bringing up this subject. It oh so important.

Globetrotting Cacti said...

I read this off-line when on holiday but did not have computer access to respond. I just want to say thank-you. I have 6 month old twins (boy/girl) and mentionned diet (for me) to my husband the other day. What I really meant was a healthy eating plan for us but his raised eyebrow and your post has made me realise what a role model I am for my children and the life long influence my actions will have on them. I will be especially aware of what I say and do around them from now on. Thank you.