Why I Won't Pass My Eating Disorder To My Girls

by Sara Shaw
Originally Published: / via Shutterstock

When I found out I was pregnant with twin girls, I cried—I was that happy. We already had the most perfect almost 2-year-old son, and I’d dreamed about twin girls since I was young. I used to try to convince my mother that I was secretly a twin and maybe my missing doppelgänger was out there waiting for us to find her.

Quickly following the joyful tears came a stab of fear. I’d read that daughters of women with eating disorders are 11 times more likely to develop one themselves than are other girls. My lifelong struggle with anorexia mostly behind me, I still worried that I might somehow paint my own body image and food issues on those two little blank canvases.

I cannot let that happen.

And so, to them, I’m making some promises.


I promise that when we stand together in the mirror, I’ll notice if you have something in your teeth, or if your skirt is tucked into your underwear. I won’t notice your weight, and you’ll never hear me notice mine.

I promise that when we sit down to eat dinner, I’ll eat dinner. I won’t fill my plate with steamed broccoli and pile yours with spaghetti. We’ll eat together, we’ll talk about food, and we’ll enjoy food. Food isn’t our enemy.

I promise that your body is capable of doing amazing things, and that no matter what shape it becomes, it will be the shape of a beautiful, healthy, strong girl.

I promise that when we talk about other women, because we will, it will never be to shame them. We will have honest discussions about bodies, but words like fat or disgusting will not be part of those conversations. I will never compare you to other girls, especially not to each other.

I promise that when other women talk about you, because they will, we will never let what they say become part of who you are. Words like fat or disgusting are just words. I’ll hug you when you cry, and when you’re done, I’ll cry and threaten to track down those women and defend you. But I won’t, because you won’t need me to.

I promise that when life challenges me, and my first instinct is to stop eating, or hide, or lie about meals or exercise, I’ll remember that the few pounds I might be able to control will never be worth the monster that I could plant inside of you.

I promise that if you tell me that you want to go on a diet, I’ll be here to talk to you about it. I’ll be freaking out, panicking, wondering if anorexia has clawed its way into the minds of my perfect daughters, but I won’t say that. We’ll talk. We’ll problem-solve. You will not go on a diet.

I promise that scales will never be welcome in our home. Your days will not be determined by a number you see in the morning.

I promise that when I feel angry that my stomach isn’t flat enough, or my arms aren’t thin enough, or my thighs aren’t smooth enough (because for me, none of those things ever will be “enough”) I won’t say it out loud to you. I won’t say it where you can hear me.

I promise to tell you, someday, about how I don’t remember my college years because I was malnourished and starving. I’ll show you pictures from the times when my hair was falling out and my skin stretched tightly over my jutting bones. I’ll answer your questions about what it was like to almost die in a psychiatric rehabilitation center for girls with eating disorders and to be locked away from the world for months. I’ll explain that your grandparents weren’t sure if I, their vanishing daughter, was going to survive, and I hope you can understand how I can never let the same thing happen to you.

I promise, that no matter what, the anorexia that has boiled in me for the past 20 years will never be yours. I’m keeping it. I’m fighting it. It’s mine, but not yours. I promise.

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