By: Margaret Fitzgerald
I was a moody, undiagnosed, anxious bipolar child that self-soothed with food. I was always ten pounds overweight, and my parents catastrophized it.
So many weight loss tactics were tried. One diet included eating only carbs until noon and then not mixing carbs and proteins the rest of the day. That did help with weight loss, but that thinking probably helped in my becoming insulin dependent in later years.
Then there was the eating dinner only off of a salad plate when everyone else had a dinner plate. Or the “You can go to the ice cream party but you will have different ice cream than everyone else.” Other kids would notice and ask questions.
Or the family dinners where everyone would have assigned foods and portions on their plates, except me, who had half of that. True dietetics were never consulted or implemented. It was acceptable with the parents that I eat a can of peas and a baked potato for a meal.
I learned early on not to wear sleeves that showed my underarms, because my mom would walk up to me and pinch the roll at my armpit and say “pinch an inch.” That went for wearing belly tops, too. One was never supposed to be able to pinch more than an inch on their body. My mother would walk around the house singing, “I don’t want her, you can have her, she’s too fat for you! She’s too fat for you? No, she’s too fat for me!”
One whole year, I did not have nearly enough clothes because only a few items fit me. I had to wear a smaller size before I could get new clothes. I had a school jacket made like all of the other girls, but I was not allowed to wear mine until I lost weight. I was depressed and afraid that people would pick on me about my clothes. What no one was able to figure out until much later was that my weight was the very least of my problems. I had an undiagnosed mental illness, and I was using all of the energy that I should have been using to lose weight just to stay afloat with my undetected mood disorder.
I was told that no boy would ever want to go to the prom with me, and I would probably go on a starvation diet just to get a date. This comment was made long before I was in high school.
I look back at pictures from my childhood and I was gorgeous. The only reason why I wasn’t getting dates as a teenager was because I was not the entire package. I was smart enough. I was pretty enough. I was not fat. I was not getting dates because I was not confident enough. Why would I be? I was a moody, depressed, belittled person. I thought that I was fat and that no one wanted me.
After I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I really gained weight, my mother said to me, “What if you were to get engaged and it was imperative that you were to get married immediately? What would you do? Would you want your husband to see your body like that?” I did not know what to say.
Needless to say, I have never been married, nor have I dated much. In addition, I have a weight problem. As much as I try, the words of the past still resound in my head.
The moral to this story is: If you have a bipolar child, regardless of their age, if they are having problems with food, please model good, healthy eating. See a dietician if education in that area is warranted. Please help your child find exercise that she enjoys and partake in it with her. Help her find activities that they are passionate about that she can participate in with her peers.
It is important not to belittle your child. Chances are that if your child wants to lose weight, it will have to be her idea. Encouraging her in the safest of ways is so important.