I Will Not Pass My Eating Disorder On To My Daughter


When I learned I was having a baby girl, I was mostly ecstatic, over the moon. I could hardly wait to go to the store and buy outfits covered in tulle. Honestly, if they had matching mommy outfits, I was more than ready to start rocking tutu’s again.

But, deep down, in the darkest places of my heart, I was more than a little terrified by the idea of raising this girl… and more than a little convinced that this task would prove beyond my ability. Because, for several years, I have been in recovery from an eating disorder. I have struggled with binge eating, compulsive overeating, negative self image, body dysmorphia, and obesity- for most of my life. I had bariatric surgery at the age of 28, when in truth, I should have forgone the surgery and went straight to therapy. This led to several years of anorexia. I have been every size imaginable, from 300 pounds to barely 100, never satisfied with the number.

So, how would I be able to raise a little girl and teach her to love herself, when I’m still learning to do the same? How would I raise her to know that she has unlimited potential and immeasurable value, when I have spent so much of my own life- weighing and judging myself by THAT number, a slave to the scale?

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For a very long time, I believed myself to be “too much” or “not enough”- so, how would I be able to convince this sweet girl that even as a tiny little bean growing in my belly- she was “just right”? How can I prevent her from stumbling down this same path? In truth, I can’t prevent any of that, but I can create a daily mantra for us to live by, and hope that it is enough:

1. Do not “should” on yourself. As women, we put so much pressure on ourselves, living by strict rules of who we SHOULD be, how many pounds we SHOULD weigh, what we SHOULD have gotten done today, instead of taking time for ourselves…. Should is a slippery slope to guilt and shame, and that slope ends at Rock Bottom. So, stop shoulding, and start affirming.

2. Affirm your self. Every day and all day. Instead of looking for flaws, new stretch marks, etc., think instead of what you are capable of. Challenge negative thoughts by thinking of why you are unique, and what you have accomplished. And, then look at yourself in the mirror, and say that affirmation. Go on, try it! I know it feels dumb and uncomfortable. But, do it anyways. Especially when it feels dumb and uncomfortable. Affirmations are the first step to self love, and that kind of love is truly all you need.

3. Don’t should on your friends, either, and toss affirmations their way, too. (This number was definitely influenced by Mean Girls.) I will be the first person to admit that I have looked at plenty of other women, some of them very dear friends, and thought “Should she be wearing that?” or “She should not have gotten that haircut.” A solid sisterhood— friends who love you for all of your imperfections— they will be the warriors at your back, keeping you on the straight and narrow.

4. Food is fuel. Food is not your friend, nor your enemy. Trust me, I know this. In my early years, food was the only friend I had. It comforted me when I was lonely, and it seemed to fill up the empty places in my heart. But, that comfort was short lived, and disgust followed soon after the comforted feeling had disappeared. It was a vicious cycle to break, and it caused many years of grief and heartache. Food has no power of you— it is just the fuel you need to get through your day. Do not give it the power to be more.

5. Guilt and Secrecy breed Shame. And Shame is the path to addiction. No matter what happens to you, no matter what you have done, forgive yourself. Let go of that guilt, and move forward. Talk to someone about it, if you need to. And, always remember that the people who matter, the people who truly love you, will forgive you too. Wallowing in guilt, stuffing it down, and ignoring it- will only cause it to grow.

6. The word “Perfect” will be removed from the dictionary and all of our future conversations. To be perfect, is to be without flaws. And, your flaws make you unique. Striving to be perfect means that you are striving towards an unattainable goal. It will only leave you feeling empty. Reject perfection, and embrace reality.

7. Live your truth- not someone else’s ideal. I spent so many years of my life trying to be what I thought others would want me to be. And, it could have cost me my life. I was never truly happy because I was living for another person. I have learned that I am happier than I ever thought possible- living in my own reality- instead of dreaming of what I can never be.

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8. Physical size has no impact on the value you have in this world. Do not be a slave to the scale- it will not bring you happiness, and at the end of the day, it is truly just a number. You are more than a number. I am more than a number. Repeat as often as needed.

My pregnancy was nine months of morning sickness, cankles, swollen everything, and plenty of truly embarrassing moments. It was also the first time in my life, that I could look at myself in the mirror, and truly appreciate my body and what it was capable of. What each of us is capable of. The chain of my eating disorder has finally loosened its hold enough for me to move on. I don’t know if it was just the pregnancy or all the years of hard work, but I have found peace.

I used to pray that I would lose weight, look different, feel different. Now, I pray that I continue to have the strength and conviction to teach my daughter how to avoid the path that I stumbled down.

Related post: To My (Maybe) Daughter

About the writer

Jenni Smith is a former recruiter and a new mom from Birmingham, Alabama.  Since the birth of her baby girl, she divides her hour of free time between trying to remember what sleep feels like, occasionally journaling and pinning things to Pinterest that she will never, ever get around to making. You can follow her journey through Pregnancy, Recovery, Motherhood and the Occasional Book Review at ramblingsofanevilcupcake.blogspot.com.

From Around the Web


Juno 12 months ago

Thank you for this. Parents don’t cause eating disorders except to possibly pass down their own genetic predisposition. And eating disorders aren’t just for girls. Sons are at risk, too!

Fortunately, there’s a more recent push towards early intervention. All parents, and especially parents with a family history, can keep a watchful eye for disordered eating and act quickly when they see it. Here’s some warning signs to look for: http://feast-ed.org/TheFacts/CausesofEatingDisorders/WarningSigns.aspx

Maria 12 months ago

It’s not just mothers of girls who need to be concerned. As someone else pointed out, boys can suffer from eating disorders and body image issues too. Also, how a mother regards her own body and self-worth in front of her son, and how a father refers to women in front of his son, both shape how that boy will view, and treat, women’s bodies.

Jamie 12 months ago

Great post. I don’t have children yet, and my eating disorder has played a large part of that. I struggle often with fears of passing on my issues to my future children. I am saving this to re-read often!

Jenn @ Juggling Life 12 months ago

Please know that you may pass your eating disorder on to your child because up to 80% of an eating disorder is genetic. Your rules are wonderful for all parents and all children, but please know following them doesn’t inoculate your child. Eating disorders can be triggered in the happiest and most confident of people after a period of malnutrition (usually on a socially-accepted diet/eating healthier kick). I wish you the best of luck in continued recovery!

Jill 1 year ago

Thank you so much for writing this.

MommaToBe 1 year ago

Thank you so much for this article. I struggle not with an eating disorder but with an opiate addiction. I am in recovery but that big monster of addiction is always waiting right there. I worry that my child will be predisposed to being an addict and worry about how to teach my child about addiction and how to avoid it. #5 is perfect. I am still trying to let go of the things that led me down the path if addiction. Thank you for being brave enough to write about your struggle and your feelings.

Casey Mary Haley 1 year ago

I found that in teaching her to love herself,it teaches me to,I also freaked out when I found out I was having a girl and I ended up with 2 daughters!!!!
They have helped me heal so much!

Jodie Devall Dean 1 year ago

Once again, I love your page!

Whitney Prieto 1 year ago

Thank you for this!!!! Next time I’m bears printer, I WILL print this and put it on my wall to look at it every day! Totally sharing it!

Amber Wiley 1 year ago

Thank you.

Laura Paulson 1 year ago

I am sorry

Sarah Leon 1 year ago

I think this is so important! Even for those who have not had an eating disorder. We have the ability to shape how are girls feel about their bodies and themselves. I am passing this along. Thank you for this!

Beverly Hall 1 year ago

you’re absolutely right! hard as it was for us, can’t imagine my child going through it!!!

Leora Fulvio 1 year ago

Beautiful article, thank you so much for sharing. As a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, I so often see women who took on the legacy of their Moms’ eating disorders, and not always because Mom criticized their body or food intake, but often because they watched their mothers berate on themselves and internalized that message. It’s hard, but it’s important to model self-loving behavior to your kids, because that’s the way they learn to be kind to themselves. We have so many messages from the outside world to diet and change ourselves and be a size zero, it’s nice (imperative really) to have a message at home to counterbalance that.

BMC 1 year ago

Great in theory. Unfortunately, these are all things that have been said over and over. An eating disorder is a mental illness. Yes, I know that “size doesn’t matter”, and there is no “perfect”. Thank you for telling me. Now, tell me how to TRULY convince myself that I can eat freely without feeling in control. My ED is related to control. I need control. I don’t really care about the size of my body – it’s just a way to measure the amount of control I have over it. So please, I beg of you, stop insinuating that anorexia (or whichever ED) is about “being skinny”.
Know that I am not bashing your post. This is fantastic information. I just wish that I could do more than read the words.

Sarah Dally 1 year ago

I’m concerned that I will pass on my weight issues to my little boy… I think we need to be aware that boys can suffer with self esteem around their appearance and also that they should be educated about how others might feel about their weight.

Jennifer 1 year ago

Well done! Amen. Great post.

Hilary 1 year ago

This is wonderful! I’ve had a very similar experience to you and just had a daughter in June. Thanks for reminding me of my resolve to never pass my ED on!

Anne Kelly Ruthenbeck 1 year ago

This is wonderful, thank you!!!

Andrea Laframboise Ryan 1 year ago

I love “I am not a number”! I always say this to myself!

Vanessa Sudnik 1 year ago

Amen re: sons. I don’t want my boys to think women are suppose to be crazy with self-loathing and avoid things because they feel self conscious.

Heather 1 year ago

Are you the good twin or the evil twin because we are twins and I struggle everyday with not letting my sweet baby girls struggle with weight and body image issues. It is a difficult battle because people think they are being funny when the make off hand often negative comments about this beautiful little person. The other day she said mama I have a big butt (she is almost 3), I told her that she did NOT have a big butt that she was beautiful and mama was beautiful and daddy was beautiful. I am scared for her.

Savannah Soule 1 year ago

I don’t even remember half of the things I should pike memories cuase even though I was there I was more worried and thinking about how I looked and what how people thoaught I looked to even pay attention to the things that really matters. Like how my hubby proposed to me or most of my pregnancy.

Jaime Holmes 1 year ago

Too bad with how society is, she’ll probably have one on her own with no need for help from me……..

Savannah Soule 1 year ago

I have these as well, it has put a dent in my life from not accomplishing things because all I can think about is the scale, I have gone from binge rating to not eating.g and taking lots of pills and overdoing the diet stuff just to go back and binge aagain a week later…..

Jessica Huhn Griffin 1 year ago

So true. Even though I have never had an eating disorder, it has taken giving birth twice to finally give me the confidence in my body that I never had before. I want to make sure that I do my best to pass that along to my daughter. Thank you.

Cassandra Boday 1 year ago

Thank you for reminding us mommies to set a healthy example for our children!

Sharon Perry Lee 1 year ago

So well written. I had a very critical, vain mother. I can still hear her saying, “If you just lost five pounds.” (When I didn’t even have a weight issue.), She was awful. I have a 12 yr old daughter. I have had to work hard to not be that kind of mother. I let my daughter know how beautiful she is inside and out and that she is loved unconditionally.

Jennifer Horne 1 year ago

Well done and stay strong x

Chelsea Porter 1 year ago

#4 #4 #4…

Charisse Oates 1 year ago

I have seen a lot of confessions lately on the boards where someone is worried about passing on their eating disorder or body dysmorphic views on to their children.

Christie Elisabeth 1 year ago

Love, love, love this.

tami 1 year ago

This rings so true for all mental disorders. I have an anxiety disorder and am terrified of passing it on to my daughter and son. Thanks for posting this!

Stacey Sweeney 1 year ago

Love this. Thank you.

Liz 1 year ago

So much of this rings true for me. Especially the “perfect” part. I have to force myself to not tell my daughter every day that she’s perfect (even though she totally is, in my eyes). Instead I choose to tell her she’s beautiful, she’s kind, she’s sweet, she’s smart…all those things from “The Help” that affirm her wonderfulness. Ha. My mom had an eating disorder, too, and passed it along to me. At least I know we are strong enough to come out on the other side.
Good work, mama. Hope you stay happy and healthy.