A Father of Food: My Dad Dealing with the Eating Disorder

My dad loves food–it has been his love language to prepare and serve our family food ever since I was born. He has always encouraged my sister and I to try new foods, to enjoy meals with the family, and to embrace food from different cultures.

So when I started a raw food diet, my dad didn’t know how to respond. And when my mom told him I was struggling with an eating disorder over a year later, he was at a loss.

My dad’s love language for his daughter seemed to be crumbling.

My dad prevailed through it all. Our relationship is strong, if not stronger after I overcame my eating disorder (and stopping the raw food diet).

But the eating disorder still stumps my dad. He doesn’t “get it.” He tries, I’ll give you that. I had a long conversation with him about it last summer, which didn’t get us much anywhere. But it was a good effort on his part and a great way for me to practice being more open with him about it.

Eating disorders are tricky to understand if you haven’t experienced one yourself. Before I even had an eating disorder, I thought that anyone struggling with this was going the “easy” way out to lose weight by purging, or that they were just being silly for not eating enough (I hate to even write any of that).

Why can’t they just eat healthy food and exercise? I thought.

My dad always encouraged our family to eat heartily growing up. He applauded us when we ate slowly and enjoyed our food, had us sit together as a family for dinner each night, and never said “no” to going out to eat. He made it something of a contest between my sister and I to see who would try the “new” food at the tabled first. Whoever did, received praise. He also encouraged us to help him cook dinner, prepare dishes like pasta with tomato and cheese sauce, angel-hair noodles with chicken, broccoli, and carrots, or grilled chicken legs with vegetables and biscuits.

“Is this a good food or bad food?” my sister and I would ask our parents.

“Anything is bad if you eat too much of it,” my parents would say. “Everything in moderation.”

“Everything in moderation”—my dad’s life motto. Even as I dove into my fruit diet later in my eating disorder experience, my dad continued to preach moderation. “Cafeteria-style,” he calls it—a little bit of this and a little bit of that to enjoy life. This, I feel, has made him a healthy man. His healthy mindset and love for food keeps him healthier than anyone with the “purest” diet. This, I believe, shows the importance of having a healthy mentality with food that I never understood or believed in until now.

It has been difficult to help my dad to understand what I’ve gone through, but our relationship is better with my openness. More than anything, I appreciate his support and listening ear.

6 replies
  1. Tesla Knott
    Tesla Knott says:

    Hi Rachael!
    I have been reading your blog for a few weeks now, and words can’t express the amount of insight and clarity it has brought to me on my journey. I have been at every spectrum on the E.D. scale, from an 85 pound thirteen year old girl (orthorexic/anorexic, vegan, practically raw, running for the wrong reasons) to now battling binge eating disorder at 14… It is very weird, going from a stunted anorexic to having a hard time controlling my food intake, with the occasional appearance of purge exercising and restriction. Every day when I was at my thinnest, my mom would rail on me about being too thin, and we would have arguments about it. But she never considered the emotional aspects of WHY I was too thin… so now with eating way-larger-than-needed amounts of food, she never, ever questions it and still thinks I don’t eat enough. And because of the nature of these disorders, I have never told anyone so… *deep breath* this is a MAJOR release for me. Thank you for this blog Rachael. You have taught me so much. But I do have a question… even though I am technically a healthy 5’3″ 125 pounds (well I still have problems with binging so….), the eating disordered part of my mind tells me I am too fat, that I NEED to lose weight before I can be social or do things with my life. I have been overwhelmed with self-hatred and severe depression these days, and I did read your post about Naysayers to the Body Image Movement and I know its a lack of self love and a resistance to feeling emotions but…. where do I start??? How can I learn to unconditionally love and accept myself ? I have been indoctrinated with the false truth that human beings ought to be valued on their body image alone, from my sister who I know has had her own secret flings with E.D.s (but even with the small clues I have given my family, no one is supportive or understands. My sisters would rather flaunt their bodies in front of me, happy that now THEY are the thin ones and Tes is the filled-out junk food eater (both, not being non-eating disordered, are losing weight and eating healthier, while I am the opposite.) I know they used to be jealous of my anorexic body, which further adds further confusion to my eating disordered mind…..
    Oh my gosh, sorry for the rant, but this is the first time ANY of this has come out of me. Thank you to infinity, Rachael! I’m feeling better already, I feel so good knowing I can tell someone who understands this stuff.
    <3 ~ Tesla

    • rachael
      rachael says:

      Wow Tesla, thank you so much for reading! And thank you for taking the step to fight for YOURSELF and release your pain. It takes a lot of work and courage to do that, you should be proud! I’m glad my blog has been helpful.
      “It is very weird, going from a stunted anorexic to having a hard time controlling my food intake” — Goodness, do I know how this goes! It feels like you have a completely different personality or something, doesn’t it? This is your body’s way to avoid starvation again. As frustrating as it can be, it’s amazing to see our bodies take charge again.
      “the eating disordered part of my mind tells me I am too fat, that I NEED to lose weight before I can be social or do things with my life.” — I know how this goes. I would recommend going to see a eating disorder therapist and also a sports/eating disorder dietician. These two things were IMMENSELY helpful in my journey. I tried to get on on my own for a while, but I felt more alone than ever, and I just couldn’t move forward. I kept thinking a certain diet would fix things for me, but it never did. One thing my therapist has told me is that acceptance of our bodies may be the last thing to happen. Even now–four years into the eating disorder–I do not love my body but I am slowly coming to accept and appreciate parts of it here and there. It takes time and patience with yourself. I definitely couldn’t force it.
      When you mentioned your sisters losing weight and you looking heavier than them–wow, I can totally relate with my own sister. This is definitely uncomfortable and not fun, but one thing I’ve learned to think about is that my journey is my OWN, and even though I still find myself comparing, I also remember that I got to where I am today because of my struggles and also because of what I’ve learned. No one has lived the same life as me, so I cannot compare my body to anyone else’s life. I see my body as something that has MADE IT through so much, and I have begun to feel proud of it even though it is not at a weight I would like it to be. It might not be the easiest or simplest answer, but I hope you understand a little.
      Thank you so much for “ranting”! ;) Seriously! Please get it out because I am happy to help and support!

  2. Tesla Knott
    Tesla Knott says:

    Yes, I am understanding more every day! And by the way, I found your blog when I was browsing the Runners’ World online forums. It’s amazing how just your small act of answering a question and leaving a link to this site has lead to an expanded perception of my eating disorders. Honestly, I didn’t even think it was possible that anyone could be so open about an issue of this nature! So thank you for that… even if the girl you wrote the answer in response to didn’t benefit from it (I believe she denied she had a “fear of fat” eating disorder and just didn’t want to be a slower runner), you never know who else will see it. :-)

    • rachael
      rachael says:

      Thank you Tesla, it does help to know how people get to the blog! I’m glad to be of some help. It definitely took a long time to be this revealing, but once you do it, you feel like you can do anything! It has freed me in so many ways; I am a better, stronger person for it.

  3. Gillian Hurley
    Gillian Hurley says:

    “Why couldn’t they just eat healthy food and exercise?”

    I’m sure you are pretty over hearing that. Anytime someone suffers from something, it is the natural inclination of many to just wonder, “why can’t she/he just not struggle from that?” Like, if someone is depressed, “why can’t you just be happy and optimistic?”

    Because it doesn’t work like that. All of us have wildly different brains, experiences, genes, and predispositions, so how can we expect to all be alike? People who simplify diseases and disorders like this need a little education and awareness, so good for you for taking a step in this direction :)

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