If I eat the cake, won’t it make me fat? Her struggle played out palpably across her young face, and I found myself stirred with a mixture of empathy — and sorrow.
“No, honey, the cake won’t make you fat. Just eat what you’re hungry for, let yourself enjoy it, and stop when you’re full … when you are happy full.”
As a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, this concept is quite familiar to me, the conflict all-too-typical. It is not unusual to hear myself expressing throughout my therapeutic day this very sentiment to clients struggling to make peace with food.
But today, as I heard myself utter these words, I was not in my role as a psychologist. Instead, I was a mother, hosting my 7-year-old daughter’s birthday party. The young girl, embattled by the decision to allow herself to indulge in something as seemingly innocent as enjoying a piece of celebratory birthday cake, was not my client, she was my daughter’s second-grade best friend.
This moment, both poignant, yet typical, underscored the extent of the existing problem and painfully reminded me of the emotional — and physical — tsunami which likely lay ahead.
In a society where one half of adolescent girls (and one third of adolescent boys) currently engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors, from fasting to self-induced vomiting to smoking to curb their appetite, and 81 percent of 10-year-old girls report that they are afraid of becoming fat, the heartbreaking need to turn our attention to the catastrophic reality of ever-increasing eating disorders in younger and younger populations is imperative.
While the problem of obesity is a legitimate concern in both adult and child populations, we as medical and psychological providers, educators — and parents — need to recognize that dieting is not the answer to obesity — nor is it a means to gain healthy self-esteem, confidence or happiness.
Conversely, dieting has the dangerous potential to create eating disorders and to backfire into an unintentional, albeit very real, life-long battle with weight.
In upcoming blogs, the problem of eating disorders, obesity, body-image and self-esteem will be examined, as it pertains to both children and adults. Creating a positive body-image, healthy approach to food and weight and unconditional acceptance of your body (and self) will be discussed, with the gift of giving yourself – and your children – tools for a healthy self and body-image the goal. Stay tuned!