by Sunny Sea Gold , REDBOOK
The daughter of a former bikini model, Sunny Sea Gold ended up battling binge eating disorder. Now she's written a book, Food: The Good Girl's Drug, and vows never to pressure her kids about weight.My sophomore year in high school, I was nominated for homecoming princess, and my mom bought me a red satin dress at a secondhand shop. I loved the sweetheart neckline, the spaghetti straps, and the very '90s rhinestones on the bodice. The dress fit but was a teeny bit snug around my belly. My mom could've taken it to the dry cleaners for alterations, but instead, she took me to the gym. I still remember one of the trainers looking at us like we were crazy when my mom said she just wanted me to lose three or four pounds before homecoming.
My mother was naturally thin - in fact, she modeled bikinis when she was 21 - but I remember her going on salad-and-bread-only diets or drinking shakes to drop a few pounds before beach season when I was a kid. And we always had calorie-counting books in the silverware drawer. Once when I was 9, I decided to see how few calories I could eat in a day. I logged just 800, and when I excitedly told my mother about it, she said, "That's good, Sunny!" I wasn't overweight, but instead of my mom's long, lean look, I had inherited more of the sturdy shape of the women on my dad's side of the family. I also had a bigger-than-average appetite (as a toddler I happily put away three hot dogs with the works - see the photo on the next page). My mother was afraid I was going to get fat.
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One Christmas Eve when I was around 7, my mom didn't feel well, so she sent me, my brother and sister, and my dad across the street to my grandparents' house for gift opening. This grandma is famous for her Christmas cookies - chocolate turtles, snickerdoodles, candy-cane twists. And I was famous for my appetite. Perhaps that's why, on my way out the door, my mom said to me, "Don't eat too many cookies. Don't blow it!" So what did I do? I ate 13 of them. I was keeping track because I wanted to go home and tell my mom how "good" I'd been, but as the count increased, so did my shame, and there was no way I was going to tell her how much I'd packed in my little belly.
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My mother ran a pretty tight ship at our house, nutrition-wise. We were vegetarian for most of my childhood, and things like ice cream and cookies were rarities in our cupboard. The message I got was that certain foods were very bad. I now know - and research confirms - that thinking of foods in black-and-white terms like "good" or "bad" adds more than just guilt to eating them: It adds excitement, making the "bad" foods you're trying to avoid even more attractive. Eating something "bad" is also a convenient form of disobedience for a child. "Eating things you're not 'supposed to' can be a way to set yourself apart, to rebel against the rules and culture in your house," says Beverly Hills, CA, psychiatrist Charles Sophy. "You get fat in a family that really cares about thinness, and it's like you're flipping them off."
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Rebelling is something I definitely set about doing in my early teens, and at about 15, a puzzling pattern of eating emerged. I was "good" when my mom or other people were around, but at night I'd sneak into the kitchen and eat slice after slice of bread with butter, or pour maple syrup into a jar of peanut butter and eat it with a spoon. In an effort to numb a cyclone of hurt and anger whipped up by my parents' impending divorce (and to rebel against my mom's food rules), I ate, secretly and uncontrollably. It was the start of a 15-year battle with binge eating disorder.
Read the rest of: My Eating Disorder Story - Being Fat in a Thin Family - Redbook
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