Does My Eating Disorder Mean I’ll Screw My Daughter Up?

Does My Eating Disorder Mean I’ll Screw My Daughter Up?

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This post was originally published on December 19, 2014.

My daughter is tall and thin. And while I’ve spent most of my life thinking of myself as “short and fat,” after a lot of work and some recovery from an eating disorder, I now think of myself as “petite with curves.” But the point is, having a daughter who is tall and thin makes me feel two things:

1.      Envy; She is so lucky

2.      Gratitude; She got someone else’s body genes, thank God.

Being a parent means I am constantly trying to avoid creating emotional and psychological issues for my daughter so that she is balanced, healthy and safe. As a feminist parent, I want my daughter to know she can be anything in this world, and whatever she is will not be limited by her gender or body type, whatever it is.

Being a food addict, binger and restrictor with symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder means that I will probably mess everything up; I have no idea what I’m doing, especially when it comes to food and body image.

When I learned I was having a girl, my first two thoughts were:

1. Relief; I understand girls. I know how they think and navigate socially.

2. Terror; surely, she would have an eating disorder, and it would be my fault.

There is addiction in both my family and my husband’s. Our kids are probably doomed. I try not to think that way; I try to trust my recovery and to focus on the tools I have been given, hoping they will help me to guide her so that as she encounters the inevitable obstacles in life, she doesn’t have to turn to any kind of substance to cope.

But what the tools and my recovery cannot change are her genes and the generations before her. So that means that I am slowly driving myself crazy, watching her every reaction to food and to stressful situations, obsessing over her environment, hoping I am meeting her emotional needs and that she has the skills to manage her moods.

I should mention that my daughter is a year-and-a-half old.

My rational brain knows it’s a bit early to be worried. But my addict brain wants to be ready for anything, and to control the outcome.

So where is the balance between awareness of potential addiction and all its signs, and surrender to the fact that this is—like almost everything in life—completely out of my control?

I believe I was born an addict, and that my environment and life circumstances triggered my need to self-soothe in destructive ways. I picked up food because it was available to me, but it could have been alcohol, drugs, gambling—anything else that felt like a soothing balm on my pain and fears.

I remember strawberry picking when I was five, and all the adults joking about how they should weigh me and pay for the pounds I gained in strawberries consumed. I was eating them as fast as I could find them. It gave me a thrill. But hearing them joke about my weight also made me feel shame, even at that early age.

At six I said to my mom, “I hope in my next life my mom lets me eat junk cereal.” It’s not clear where I got the idea of a “next life,” but I fully remember my obsession with junk cereal, particularly Fruit Loops.

When I was eight, my mom—pregnant with my youngest brother—was in bed with morning sickness. This gave me the freedom I needed to eat as much ice cream as I wanted. One time I poured myself a cup full of grape-flavored cough syrup because I loved grape juice and we didn’t have any and this was the next best thing.

When I was 10, I was asked to walk our neighbor’s dog while they were on vacation. I used this as an opportunity to eat their food—mostly junk cereal.

Every stage of my early life is associated with food and how it made me feel; safe and comforted. I would use food to establish these feelings until I found the 12 steps in my late 30s. I also know that, despite the sometimes volatile and unstable environment I grew up in, I also was given a lot of love. I knew I was loved, I was told that I was loved and I never doubted it. But like a field of strawberries, it was never enough.

Some days all my daughter eats is carbs; pasta, bagel, croissant, waffle, potatoes. She rejects vegetables, and loves chips. She’ll eat fruit all day every day. Though I intellectually know this is completely normal behavior for a toddler, I still wonder if I should set limits. Why won’t she eat vegetables; is it because I feed her wrong? Should I allow her the opportunity to listen to her body in ways I still struggle to do? When and where does that begin and end?

If I allow her to eat sugar, will she become obsessed with it like I did? Should I even give her sugar? Does that make me a drug dealer? If I don’t give her sugar, am I restricting her and creating a need to over-indulge in it later? Are my beliefs about food tainted or are they enlightened? Do I have enough recovery to make any kind of decisions about someone else’s food?

Some days I imagine the ways I will inevitably mess up, and I wonder what her substance will be, because it feels so inevitable that she will pick something up, and that likely it will be something I don’t see.

Most days I think someone else should be completely in charge of my daughter’s food, and I have a lapse of faith in both my sanity and my Higher Power and the trust given me to raise a healthy, well child.

There are days where I have grace. I see her perfection, the ideal we are all trying to get back to; unaware of feelings like “wrong” or “bad” or “shame.” She is physically free and unfettered, running naked through the house after a bath, just completely blissed to be in a body and filled with joy for its abilities that she is discovering one day at a time.

I watch her stretch her body tall, marvel at the feeling of sucking in her tummy, then pushing it out as far as she can. I am at peace and know that this child of the universe needs only to hold my hand, and as long as I don’t let go of the hand of my Higher Power, we are all on the path of self-love, kindness serenity and wholeness.

I knew before she was born that she would be my most masterful teacher. I would learn from her everything that was meant to be understood in life. My diseased thinking likes to complicate things; all things. As long as I remain teachable, she will in her unfettered-by-life ways give me all the answers I need.

I may not ever feel normal when it comes to food. I may have given my daughter a genetic predisposition to addiction, but maybe the only tools I need to give her a fighting chance are:

1. The desire to know her feelings and to care about them deeply, and

2. Make sure that she knows just how deeply I care.

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Halina Newberry Grant has written for Cosmo, The Next Family, The Hairpin and The Huffington Post, among others. She lives in Culver City, CA with her husband, daughters and dog, Mr. Manfred.