Whilst Children’s Mental Health Week provides an opportunity to talk about a taboo subject, it’s important to acknowledge the pressing power of a Child’s mind every week of the year.
I’ve spent most of my twenty years of life dieting, with a childhood filled with constant anxiety and embarrassment towards my own, unfamiliar body.
Half of my life was spent attaching numerical values to food with no success because diet culture told me to cancel out those things i most enjoyed, having no freedom to satisfy my needs.
In nursery I was shy and reserved and often refused to eat meals, but by the time I started primary school I was ‘that funny fat kid’ who would laugh and joke with you about my own biggest burden, naive to the impact it would have on me later in life.
“People would laugh at the irony of being terrified of the very thing that kept us alive”
It was the realisation that broke me, though; despite being young enough to inevitably grow out of this appearance, I continued to be instructed on ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ foods, having uneducated views towards nutrition forced on my young mind.
Age nine: I cried to my mum about the sight of my body and began the ‘Change4Life’ scheme, my first proper ‘diet’.
Age 10: The school nurse weighed us all and as my friends discussed their ‘underweight’ or ‘average’ results. It turned out my lost results were, in fact, deep in the bin like buried evidence.
Age 11: The dreaded first week of secondary school was filled with tears as i crimped my side-fringe and had an ascertained loathing towards my school photographs.
My heart breaks looking back at the child that couldn’t enjoy playing and party food because of the eyes of others I felt cemented onto me.
I never considered myself to have an eating disorder, in fact, my family joked that it would be unheard of for me due to my obsession with food, but surely this obsession should have been the first warning sign?
The words hung around me, like a suspended siren ringing in my ear right through to adulthood, when my real battle with food began.
Parents are always so conscious and concerned about using meaningless swear words in front of their darling and pure daughters, yet undermine the impact of negative affirmations towards the very thing that keeps us living and breathing.
A few tips on talking positively about food with children:
Don’t label foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’
Focus on eating healthy rather than losing weight
Stop rewarding children with sweets or calling them a ‘treat’
The rise in diet culture leaves a tight knot in my stomach as my unease about the future for today’s children rises.
The adverts, the TikTok trends, the pumping of societal expectations as privileged influencers rise as the ‘norm’.
The ‘good’ foods, the ‘bad’ foods, the ‘should’ foods and the ‘shouldn’t’ foods.
Who decided to label food? To create such a poor relationship between the superior human and an inanimate, digestible object?
As our country and the rest of the world seeks to rectify the physical aspect of nutrition in children, we’re failing to realise the impact on young people’s mental health, as eating disorders come to the rise.
My biggest battle with my own body surprisingly came after a three-stone weight-loss in my first year of uni.
I desired the body I felt I should’ve had as a child: petite and pre-pubescent, to the point my body responded to this as truth.
Insecurities from my childhood that had haunted me from past times made themselves known again; I was weak and lost while everyone around me moved forward in what was to be the most exciting years of our lives.
People would laugh at the irony, being terrified of the very thing that keeps us alive.
The truth of the matter is that that is the society we have created, and continue to reinforce for the next generation.
I look forward to a world where children and adults alike have freedom around food, a time when we can release a fear now embedded into our culture.
Believe me when i say happiness comes when you find peace within yourself, and a sense of freedom with every decision you make.
I am lucky enough to be able to look back with a sense of pride in my ability to combat the self-doubt that swallowed me for a decade of my life, but am aware many people don’t have the same strength to fight that battle.
Let’s action these issues before it takes over the future of the next generation.
By Lauren Brown