Eating Disorder Recovery and Family Life: Picky Eaters and Innocent triggers


Today I am going to look at a somewhat awkward but nonetheless important idea: the notion that the eating behaviours of children could in fact act as triggers or stumbling points for the a parent in recovery from a restrictive eating disorder such as Anorexia.

 

Picky eating?

Interestingly, according to Babycenter, most toddlers go through a phase of only eating a few particular foods. This is a normal part of their development. So, it is something that could happen to any child, and if the parent of that child is an adult with an eating disorder then this could certainly be a problem.

So how could a kid act as a trigger for an adult?

Pretty much the same as anyone else who is a fussy or picky eater could do. Just more innocently.

Neophobia — fear of new foods — is pretty common in toddlers. Fear foods are incredibly common in people with eating disorders too. Seeing another human show resistance to eating will likely be hard for an adult with an eating disorder — even if that is your own child. Neophobia in children is less about degust*, and more about fearing something new or different.

An adult who is a picky eater may be acting that way because he or she believes that certain foods are good and others are bad. A child is usually more transparent in that they simply don’t like some foods and do like others. The reason is unimportant, but the effect that this sort of behaviour can have on an adult sufferer needs to be identified.

This is also something that the majority of adult sufferers won’t admit to. It seems like nonsense to admit that a small child’s innocent dislike of certain foods could trigger eating disorder thoughts in a sufferers brain. Unpopular as the notion might be, it exists, and therefore we have to watch out for it.

 

Consider a little distance

If you are underweight, struggling in recovery, or simply can be honest enough to admit that eating with the kids is bad for your mental state, then you should think about stopping doing so. Not forever. Just for now.

Honestly, when I was in recovery the smallest thing could make me not want to eat more. I distantly remember the dog being off her food one day in my early-stage recovery (practically never happens but sods law it would happen when I am trying to eat more) and I felt thrown. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to have picky-eater kids at the same table. Maybe some of you with children can write in the comments and let us know what you did to cope.

Weight restoration has to be a priority in recovery. One should initially remove all obstacles to gaining weight. In the later stages of recovery, part of the process is reintroducing triggers, but you can cross that bridge when you come to it.

If you have young children, think about shifting dinnertimes around so that you eat at a different time than the kids. Pass the responsibility of feeding the children over to another family member, a family friend, or your partner.

 

Turn it around. How can fussy eater children aid your recovery?

Pretty simply, you can use the fact that one of the ways to cure a fussy eater child is to demonstrate eating a wide range of foods yourself as a motivation for your own recovery. In order to be that role model for your children, you will have to push yourself to eat in a relaxed manner, to eat a good quantity of food, to eat often, and to eat anything.

All the things that an eating disorder hates to do!

This would be taking things up a notch, so not something I suggest for early stage recovery. As your confidence increases however it could be a golden opportunity.

The sooner that you can advance in your own recovery, the sooner you will be able to demonstrate to your children that all foods are good and that eating is enjoyable.

 

But mainly — acknowledge it

The main point that I want to make here, is that it is okay to acknowledge this. Recovery from an eating disorder is the hardest thing I ever did. I am pretty certain that it is the hardest thing that I will ever have to do too. So cut yourself some slack where you can.

As irrational as something like being triggered by a picky child may seem, if it is happening to you then you need to address it. Sometimes I have found that the process of naming the problem is enough. Sometimes I have found I need to take action to remove myself from whatever the trigger situation is.

You can only solve the problem once you have acknowledged it.

*Degust means “taste.” It is word of the day in our recovery Slack group, and the challenge is to us it in a sentence today. So there it is.

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About Tabitha Farrar

I work as Head of Marketing for a software startup in Boulder. As a recovered Anorexia sufferer, I advocate for proper understanding of eating disorders in my spare time. On that note, I wrote a book about my own journey into eating again called Love Fat.

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