For most of my life, I minimized my disordered eating. I was just “being healthy.” Sure—food, weight, and body image took up space in my mind. What I ate and how I felt in my body was how I judged if I was having a good day or a bad one. And more often than not, I was ashamed to eat. I was living in a cycle of negative self-talk, restricting, binging, dieting, exercising, weighing myself, and starting over. But I also knew a lot of other people, like me, who were struggling in similar ways. So I dismissed my disordered eating as normal. After all, disordered eating isn’t a medical term. At the time, I didn’t realize just how much of an impact it was having on my mental and physical health. Even after I knew I needed help, it took me a long time to accept that just because a problem is common, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.
When I started doing research for my new middle grade novel Taking Up Space, I learned that more than 50 percent of kids wanted to be thinner. After a year of pandemic restrictions, the number of people struggling with food and body image has grown. Now, more than half of kids are living with this reality every day. Kids live tough topics. They need to read them. So they don’t feel alone. So they feel seen and heard. So they feel understood. So they have tools to recognize that they matter and deserve help and support and love. And so their friends have tools to be there for them. It also helps parents to read tough topics from a kid’s perspective in order to put themselves in their child’s position and ultimately be more compassionate and empathetic.
What makes this topic especially challenging is that many adults are also struggling with disordered eating. For a lot of families, problems with food and body image are multi-generational. That’s why I wrote Sarah’s relationship with her mother, who we learn is also managing her own painful and complicated feelings about food. When parents and kids share similar struggles, it can be triggering and difficult for the parent to be supportive, especially when their feelings have been invalidated at some point in their lives. Kids need to know that disordered eating is a real problem that impacts a lot of people, even if our society and some adults tell them this problem is not a big deal. Kids need to know that their pain matters and that it’s brave to ask for help and that they should stand up for what they deserve.