A furious mom messaged me on Facebook this week.
“How dare you promote weight loss for teens? My daughter has an eating disorder. She almost died and still struggles. This is serious stuff. You need to learn from experts about eating disorders and mental illness before encouraging weight loss for our precious children.”
First, please let me tell you how sorry I am about your daughter’s struggle. I’m so sorry for your pain and for your daughter’s pain. The whole family hurts when someone dear to you struggles with mental illness.
Now, let me share a story.
Right this minute, I’m currently treating two young ladies in my psychotherapy practice.
Both describe pervasive hate for their bodies, for their actual physical form.
Both talk about how much time they spend thinking about food and their bodies.
Both suffer from low self-esteem.
Both are in so much emotional pain and desperately want to feel better.
They want so much to be at peace with food, at ease with their bodies and to love themselves.
One weighs 95 pounds. One weighs 200 pounds.
“Serious stuff,” indeed.
According to you…
Only one of these girls deserves care.
Only one can label her weight as a problem.
Only one deserves to come to a medically-based treatment facility to get support and help for her pain.
Only one deserves to work with a dietitian on her food choices, because it’s only socially acceptable to talk about regaining weight — never about losing it.
And only one is allowed to give equal emphasis to her weight and her feelings about her weight.
That girl is the one suffering from being underweight. As you said, she’s dealing with serious stuff.
The other girl?
She’s just supposed to learn to love herself as she is.
She’s supposed to join the #bopo movement and embrace her weight.
She’s not allowed to worry about her physical health.
She’s not allowed to feel unhappy about her body shape.
She’s not allowed to seek clinical treatment from trained, licensed therapists and registered dietitians — because “how dare we” treat teens who want to lose weight.
If you actually checked out my work, and my philosophy on overweight and obesity, you’d see that I treat the child who is depressed, miserable, self-conscious and in pain no matter what their size.
I help them find self-compassion while learning how biology, food processing, brain chemistry and many more well-researched factors influence food choices.
I help them make connections between the way they talk to themselves, about themselves, and the actions they take. I help them learn to take good care of themselves, consistently.
I teach them the process of creating better habits, and I do this no matter what weight they are.
I do this knowing they may gain some weight when engaging in positive, healthy self-care, and I do this knowing they may lose some weight engaging in positive, healthy self-care.
Because the point is never really the number.
It’s about finding that magical place where you’re healthy and happy.
My deepest wish for your daughter, and your family, is full recovery and a joyous return to a life free from pain and suffering, with the treatment team she needs to help her find emotional and physical health.
And as a mom and a clinician, I will continue to fight for every child’s right to health and happiness regardless of size — and for judgment-free access to licensed health providers when they need help to get there.