This is a personal post, but one I think is important to share.
As a child, I didn't see my mom much. Honestly, I have two memories of her from before the age of 4 and then none until I was maybe 9. She wasn't around much; too busy in her own messed up world. This sounds harsh, yes I know, but it is what it is. My dad worked a lot and thankfully my grandmothers were around for my brother and me.
This post isn't about my having a rough childhood. As rough as it was, I survived it. This post is about watching my mother go through her eating disorder.
Today she would probably be diagnosed as EDNOS; an Eating Disorder not otherwise stated. I'm writing this from the view of a child watching their parent go through this. You go out to dinner and she picks at her food. The only thing I see her consume is a soft drink (even now, 25 plus years later). She'll order food, or make food for everyone, make a plate for herself but then run around the house because she says she has to pick up after her kids/husband (she is remarried and has three other daughters, my half-sisters). I've never seen her eat more than a few bites of food and the thought it scary. She love sweets but even then, consumes little.
It becomes scarier after what I know are the effects of eating disorders. Organs start to shut down, skin gets rough and papery, hair falls out, menstrual cycle stops, and a host of other symptoms. She is in her 40's and has been on some sort of pain or anxiety medication since I can remember. At 42 a pain pump was installed in her abdomen. These are things that shouldn't happen to a 40 something year old woman, but it is the long term effects of having an eating disorder. Now? She looks older than she is. She is using a walker type chair to get around the house. Her hair, which used to have Nicole Kidman style ringlets, now just looks frayed and lifeless. Her skin color is dull. Her eyes don't have the same glow. Her weight still fluctuates. She's also addicted to exercise which is completely counteracted with the fact that she doesn't eat.
It was hard growing up that way. For a short period of time, I thought that was what girls did; they weren't supposed to eat. I was 9 years old and that definitely wasn't the way of thinking I should have had at that age. I do remember rarely eating in front of her because I thought it would disappoint her. She used to complain that I never ate. My dad and grandmother were both aghast at that statement since I ate voraciously at home! Thankfully, I wasn't around her enough to really have it sink in and me imitate it much. My grandmother told me, as I got older, that she knew my mother went back and forth between not eating at all, throwing up after she ate, or abusing laxatives and diet pills. I've looked at pictures and her weight yo-yo'd constantly and I remember that she never had any energy. Her pictures go from her looking overweight, to the bobble head effect of losing too much weight too fast, to somewhat normal.
I worry constantly for my little sisters who are at the age where what their mother says and does, leaves a huge impression. She is constantly telling one of them to lose weight, calling her a "cerdito," or piggy, in Spanish, or tubby. My sisters are all small, very small and petite girls, they are in no way overweight. But it's already not the impression they are getting of their lives. Two are very headstrong and I think they will be okay since they mostly ignore it, but regardless, it has to sting.
I think most women have some disordered thoughts with eating. We think "oh if I eat those donuts, I'll weigh 300 pounds." or "If I just eat salads, I'll be fine." But most of learn to balance those thoughts. We think we look like we weigh more than we really do and that's usually the extent of it.
Mayo Clinic has a good list of signs/symptoms you can look out for if anyone in your life may be at risk of having or developing an eating disorder.
My advice? Watch what you say to and around your children about your weight, others weight, how clothes fit (unless of course you are screaming about how badass you look), or weight related things. Your kids pick up on it and it can affect their entire lives in ways you don't realize. It still affects me as an adult. I know my mother's habits are unhealthy but sometimes it still rings in my head. And it doesn't just affect females, males have a hard time with them as well. Be encouraging. Never tell them to diet, or to cut back on their foods. Don't groan or sigh when they need to up a bigger size. If their weight is truly out of control, take them to their doctor.
I was on a health/wellness research team in college, and my professor was active in the community, and research that focused on eating disorders. This woman, Lauren Greenfield came, and showed us her incredible documentary on life inside a treatment center. If you are curious, and want to learn more, please watch the documentary by her entitled Thin.