Recently I had an opportunity to spend a couple of days around a family and a young girl who was larger than other girls her age. I travelled down a not so fun memory lane.
As we went through the days, it was apparent that she liked her junk food, soda and eating in general. I found myself observing this and really being taken by what was happening. As the only child in the situation she was bored out of her skull and eating was something she was doing to deal with that. There were also many other things I observed and heard and learned that made it clear to me that she was eating for love.
There were many times her eating was being controlled. What was triggering for me were the words I heard spoken to her. You know what- it wasn’t the words, it was the tone in which they were spoken that went deep. At one point I heard “No. You don’t need that.” I know. Innocuous words, right? But that judgmental tone in which they were spoken was what went in and hooked every memory I had of the judgmental tones I heard when I was younger. When I was using food because my world was so tumultuous and I needed some grounding and a way to comfort myself. Oh. And these words, spoken to the child were from someone she’d just met within the week who, I could tell, felt she was going to “fix” the situation while she was there.
I know. Adults share their words of wisdom with kids thinking it will help. What they don’t realize is there are deeper reasons for the eating. I mean, really. What child wants to be larger than his or her peers and left out of activities, picked last in gym and feel awkward a lot of times with how clothes fit and how they are treated. Not many, I imagine.
As I spent time with this child, I looked at her and just wanted to transfer what I’ve learned to her through osmosis but I didn’t know how to do that. Because, God knows, I would have done it. I tear up as I write this. As she and I played cards, she kept going to a bag of nuts to get more to eat. I wanted to say to her “I’m curious, is it your stomach or mouth that’s hungry right now?” But I didn’t. I couldn’t rationalize being yet another adult who she might feel was judging her. I struggled to find the words and be the one who could help but I felt helpless. I imagine part of that was because my inner little girl was crying and hurting and feeling as though a scab had been yanked off. That voice. That judging adult voice who had no clue that all I wanted to was to be held and told I was loved and I was worthy.
So I did what I could in that situation- played some cards with her and did some games to give her some attention that she craved and show her some love and value. Can I just say there are some times when it sucks to be empathic and emotive and to feel deeply what others feel- or what I imagine they feel. I sit here crying as I write this. I cry for her. I cry for me. I cry for all who just want(ed) something and didn’t get it so fed it with food. May we all heal and help heal one another.