Gina Florio
June 08, 2016 1:38 pm
Gina Florio

My mom and I have never talked about eating disorders explicitly, let alone the one I’ve suffered from for years. I haven’t even really told her that I have binge eating disorder (BED). She’s never asked or made comments about it. Some of you might read that and think we have serious communication issues. Yeah, maybe we do, but, trust me, they have nothing to do with my BED.  

Actually, my mom has been one of the most positive influences in my life when it comes to my eating disorder — without even trying to be. Just her general outlook on food has been so significant to me during my formative years. Even in my darkest moments, when BED had an awful hold on me, I think back to many of the wise words my mother said to me in regards to the art of eating. And they’ve pulled me through time and time again.

I can only hope girls (and guys!) out there have some sort of support that resembles the amazing foundation my mother gave me. Here are six ways my mother has helped me with my eating disorder.

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She always encouraged me to eat

Anyone who has immigrant parents knows how this goes. They love to pile extra food onto your plate. It’s their way of showing love, and they get a lot of joy from watching you eat a warm, comforting meal. My mom is the living example of that, which means she taught me at a very young age that food is there to be enjoyed, and there is no reason why we should ever deprive ourselves.

Growing up, I never felt ashamed for eating a full meal. This gave me the confidence to eat in front of everyone — something many people with BED have trouble with — whether it was a first date of an office party.

She never says I “shouldn’t” eat something

While she’s always been a health nut who knows a whole lot about food and nutrition, my mom has always been good at not shaming me into eating well. Instead of nagging that I shouldn’t have ice cream, or that I shouldn’t finish off that bag of Cape Cod salt and vinegar chips, she simply encourages me to accompany that kind of food with more nutritious stuff. I never feel bad for eating something in front of her, and that can be a luxury for people with an eating disorder. 

She doesn’t use “skinny” as a synonym for “pretty”

My weight has always fluctuated, which is a pretty common symptom of BED. But no matter what I look like whenever I come home to visit my parents, my mom always tells me I look pretty with the same amount of conviction in her voice. She even told me once that it’s not healthy for me to worry about being “skinny,” because it has nothing to do with how happy or smart I am. Call it cheesy all you want — it feels good to hear.

She encouraged me to embrace my unique body type

My mom and I are pretty much the spitting image of each other. Oh, except my long chin. That’s from my dad. When it comes to body type, though, I take after my sweet mama. I’m 5’1 with broad shoulders and thick calf muscles. In other words, we look nothing like the majority of women who don the covers of major magazines in today’s day and age.

But my mother never brought attention to these physical differences. She told me to embrace my short height. “You never have to worry about ducking under anything! And long airplane rides aren’t so bad!” She joked around. She taught me that every part of my body, from head to toe, was exactly the way it was meant to be, and to dislike it would only drive myself crazy.

This makes a huge difference to someone wrestling with BED. We constantly look at our bodies and think about what we can change. When I get into that funk, I hold tightly onto all the lovely things my mom used to say about my perfect body, and it eases the pain.

She never, ever talked about dieting

My mom has never been on a diet, so she’s never encouraged anyone else in our family to be on a diet either. To her, a well-balanced, moderate way of eating is the name of the game. On her bookshelf at home you won’t see any low-carb diet books or fitness magazines that boast the latest diet trends on their covers. 

I’ve never really counted calories. The only thing I look at on the nutritional value stickers is whether the ingredient list is worthy of my time. After seeing many of my friends battle it out with one diet after another, I’m grateful my mom instilled this in me at a young age.

She emphasizes the importance of indulging every now and then

“If you don’t have a little bit now and enjoy it, you might go crazy and eat too much of it later,” she said to me once when she caught me staring lovingly at a leftover brownie. I was only a teenager at the time, but I grew to learn what genius advice this is. Pretty much every expert on eating disorders encourages their patients to indulge when the time is right; it satisfies your craving and prevents you from bingeing later.

Truthfully, I don’t have this habit totally nailed down yet. I still deprive myself once in a while and then end up bingeing on an entire chocolate cake over the weekend. I’m still working on it. However, there have certainly been times when I hear my mom’s gentle voice in the back of my head, and I eat the damn brownie. And I enjoy every bite of it.

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