Will my child inherit my eating disorder? This is a big question for many of our clients who are expecting or already have kids. And rightfully so! As a parent, you never want to see your child go through the same struggles you experienced. You want your child to inherit your favorite features, like your passions, values, and hobbies, not the traits that brought you struggle and pain. But before you start to feel guilty, here are some things we want you to know.
Parents Do Not Cause Eating Disorders
This way of thinking is so outdated. There are so many factors that contribute to developing an eating disorder- even science can’t pinpoint an exact cause. Eating disorders develop as a result of the perfect storm between genetics and environment.
Sure, genetic predisposition to an eating disorder can increase chances, but it takes more than just genetics for your child to develop an eating disorder. Environmental factors are necessary too. Think about your own experience; I bet you could name more than one factor that might’ve played into the onset of your eating disorder.
You Can’t Control Your Genes
But you do have some control over the environment your child grows up in! Like we reviewed, the environment can play just as big as a role as genetics. Instead of focusing on the contributing factor to the onset of eating disorders that you can’t control, let’s put more focus on what you can control.
You have the power to model self-care, self-compassion, and to change the food-body narrative for your child. Let’s dive into what this looks like.
1. Work on your own relationship with body and food
Working on your own relationship between your body and food is the first step to building a positive, accepting food and body environment for your child. This means not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. You need to model by example.
Maybe this means reaching out to our team of dietitians and scheduling your own 1-1 nutrition counseling in order to work through some of those pesky diet culture thoughts. Or, maybe it means joining our Parent and Caregiver PATH to learn more about how to support your child's journey with food.
Does this mean your relationship with your body and food needs to be perfect and you need to have it all figured out by the time you have kids? Absolutely not. However, it does mean that you are aware of your own relationship with body and food and are willing to work through it.
2. Let your child take some food responsibility
It makes sense that you naturally want to take control of your child’s food to guarantee your child won’t have to live through the same food struggles you went through. Maybe you do this by trying to control their weight, what they eat, or how much they eat.
Trust us, we get this might seem like the natural approach for loving and caring parents. You are trying to protect them! Unfortunately, this approach usually leads to a disordered relationship with food for your child.
Children are naturally extremely intuitive eaters, so as hard as it may be, try not to interfere. Provide your child with a wide range of food options, and then let them take the lead.
3. Raise your own diet culture warriors
Diet culture and the messages children receive from society and social media around beauty standards can have a damaging impact on how they view their self-worth. You likely know the harmful effects of diet culture first hand. This is your chance to change the narrative for your child and there is no better time to do that than during the ever growing body positive movement.
Let’s create an environment with minimal focus on weight. If you haven’t already done so, this might be a good time to throw away that scale you have been holding on to! Keep food talk neutral, avoid labeling foods as good, bad, healthy, or unhealthy. Instead, make sure your child grows up knowing food is energy and is meant to be enjoyed.
Stop Beating Yourself Up
Before jumping to the conclusion that your child can inherit your eating disorder, let’s just take a moment to recognize that your child is already so lucky to have a parent who is taking the intentional first steps towards paving the way for a positive relationship between their body and food. Don’t take on the burden to create the perfect food and body acceptance environment on your own.
There is no specific parenting style that has been shown to prevent the onset of the eating disorder. So give yourself some credit! You have a unique perspective in regards to food and body acceptance because you have either started or been through that journey.
Without even realizing it, you are already building the groundwork for your child to build a better relationship with food and your body than you had.
Be in the moment and enjoy the journey of being a parent. Watching your child grow can be a wonderful lesson of normality in terms of behavior around food and body acceptance.
We want to be there to support you as you navigate parenthood and raise an intuitive eater! This is why we have created the Parent and Caregiver PATH, and why we offer 1-1 nutrition counseling using a non-diet approach.