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Sugar is sweet

6292660727_9eb30762fe_nHow do you know if you just gave your kid an eating disorder? I think I may have.

So here’s what happened: A few months ago I collected an empty water cup from the shelf above one of my daughter’s loft beds.

I rarely make the climb, because I usually smack the back of my skull against the ceiling and what’s more, it’s their little tween universe up there and I feel like I’m invading their space. Rainbow Loom bracelets strangle plush toys, socks that have been kicked off collect at the foot of the bed, and gushing One Direction quizzes in fanzines cause me to briefly fear for the future of the human race, which, considering I was a Shaun Cassidy freak back in the day, makes me feel old old old.

But we were running out of cups so up I went, and I saw a bunch of candy wrappers stuffed between the wall and the bed.

Here’s where my mind went: Secret eating! Hoarding food! Turning for solace to Fun Size Snickers because she feels unloved by her mother, who despite best efforts is a stressed out single mom who sometimes uses compound curses and maybe is thinking about the dry cleaning she forgot to pick up while her daughter is confiding her innermost truths!

Not rational, of course, but then food has never been a completely rational subject for me. I had been bulimic for about a decade starting when I was just a few years older than my gals (and managed to hide it from my parents). My girls are healthy and fine and like yummy food but show no signs of issues, but of course I’m vigilant about it to the point where they’ll probably be off doing something far worse with some as yet uninvented substance and I’ll miss it because I’m so relieved they don’t talk about how fat they think they are.

Thus we have the former bulimic (who still sometimes has some lingering weirdness about food herself) trying teach her kids moderation and to keep sustenance and satiety entirely separate from their emotional lives… so far so good. No absolute restrictions that can backfire, but I try to set limits that don’t smell like weight control, which my kids don’t need. It ain’t easy, especially when the world is so much more craptastic than when we were children.

So I take the daughter in question aside, sticky, crumpled evidence in my hand, and ask her about the candy. There was a bit of hedging about the origin of the Butterfingers in question, some intimation that the candy was consumed in compliance with our treat-of-the-day framework, insistence that the wrappers weren’t “hidden” per se so much as just not thrown away.  But there were so many that it was pretty obvious that they’d been snuck.

“Sweetie, I’m not mad but sneaking candy worries me, and here’s why.” I proceed to explain in one long breath about my own eating disorder (heretofore touched upon only briefly in the context of Demi Lovato’s rehab stay), how when I was anxious or upset I’d binge on sweets and make myself throw up and how eating in secret is a hallmark of a problem, and that candy isn’t the devil but that too much is no good because your body needs foods with nutrients to function properly and if she has any FEELINGS she wants to express it’s better to do it verbally rather than eating  to make herself feel better because it doesn’t work and is so unhealthy and…

She, of course, just stared at me. Finally she said, “Mom, that’s completely gross. I don’t have an eating disorder. I just wanted more candy and knew you’d say no.”

I.e., perfectly normal, age-appropriate candy sneaking which signals only that she’s got a sweet tooth and a brain. Meanwhile, I had just given her an instructional manual for what to do should she decide to become bulimic, treating every Sour Patch Kid like a gateway food to the hard stuff.

Yet another iteration of the They Are Not You lesson parents need to re-learn every so often, but it did make me wonder how—with a hot-button issue, like food is for me—how you help them learn from your experience without planting ideas in their heads or making them nuts? It’s not as if when we have kids we somehow wrap up all the problematic stuff we sorted out in our teens and 20s and are good to go.

Thoughts welcome, as always.


Photo by Nomadic Lass CC 



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3 Responses to “Sugar is sweet”

  1. I recently gave a talk on body image to 400 middle school girls and the event planners asked me to not mention the words “eating disorder,” “anorexia,” “bulimia,” etc, because some of the mothers said their daughters didn’t yet know what those things were and didn’t want to plant things in their minds. It def gave me pause – made me wonder if I have unwittingly introduced hundreds of young girls to ED behavior, even with the best of intentions. But those girls-and your daughters – WILL learn about this stuff, and soon. I think it’s good they hear it from someone they love and trust.

  2. Rachel R says:

    I don’t know how old your kids are, but with mine I often found that whenever I hesitated to discuss some topic with them (because I didn’t want to destroy their innocence or give them ideas or deprive them of the remnants of childhood) I subsequently discovered that they’d already heard about it from their peers — and not always so accurately. Kids grow up so fast these days. Better that they can hear the truth from you and know that you are willing and able to have difficult conversations. I don’t see any harm at all in what you did. Or in the fact that your daughter wanted more chocolate than you would let her have and found a way to get it. Bravo to you, mama!

  3. chernevik says:

    I can often guess at what is going on with my kids better than they can tell me, because their issues are so similar to mine. But they are different people. When are those guesses cues to how they should see their problems? I try to probe around the edges, rather than coming straight at it, to avoid cueing. Doesn’t always work.

    That familiarity is a net positive. I’ve been able to steer them past a lot of shoals only I could see. I had a terrible time in middle school with other kids, I was able to get my son to that age with a really good toolbox of skills and confidence to avoid all that.

    The other complication is issues with my ex-wife. It is very easy for her to dismiss my take on the kids as simply projection of my own issues. Maybe sometimes she’s right. But I’m so often right in my guesses I don’t think so — but because they are guesses, and based on my own experience, she feels justified in just ignoring the perspective.