National Eating Disorders Association

Weight & Generational Trauma

Stephanie Parker

Editor's note: CW for behaviors mentioned.

Everyone’s eating disorder struggle looks and feels different. The same thing could be said about body hate and weight stigma. For me, weight and body image triggers go hand in hand. For the most part, I’m grateful because my eating disorder didn’t really intrude on my body image or weight. Even though my ED has led me to and through abusive relationships, toxic work environments, self-sabotage and hair pulling  --  it hasn’t really had as much impact on my perception of my weight and body image, at least that’s what I thought.

As a child I grew up in a chaotic home. My dad was sick and needed regular care and my mom was emotionally distant and unfortunately volatile. She was a former beauty queen who missed her calling. She got stuck in the business world, but her desire to compete based on looks never left her. 

She endlessly complained about her weight and her body. And sometimes her anger and self-hatred towards herself turned on me.

My mom would measure my hips and laugh about their size. She would also make fun of my breasts. Things that I was born with and couldn’t help became jokes. And like so many others in my eating disorder community, I would disassociate from my body and magically reappear when the torment was over.

In my adult body, I’ve had to process many childhood memories, I was and am left thinking this – maybe I do struggle with how I feel about my weight? 

Maybe - I just have had so many other issues to process, I didn’t allow myself to think about my weight?... until one day it showed up. My weight-based trauma showed up in the form of scale phobia. For the last decade I have only had a scale once. Why? Because it reminds me of childhood when my mother would weigh herself and unleash her fury. If the weight distress wasn’t related to my mother then it would come from my pediatrician and/or other kids. The pediatrician would record my weight and height, then like usual someone would comment about it and it would devastate me and throw me back into my eating disorder. I was an athlete in high school and mostly muscle but still people enjoyed commenting on my weight & body. And this trauma all struck again about two years ago. My ex-boyfriend wanted a scale in the apartment. He didn’t consult me because he didn’t think it would bother me. In his defense there was no reason to think that it might. But when I saw it, it did. Oh boy did all my childhood trauma coming flooding back. I became my mother. I would constantly weigh myself and then determine what I was allowed to eat and not eat based on the number. 

And just like her, I would feel anger and rage. The only difference is I would for the most part hold it in. But when the bursts of rage hit, I felt like I was another person; I felt like my mother. I felt like her past trauma and body discomfort took over mine. It continued until I asked my ex to hide the scale from me. Because the small digital object broke me just like my mother did.  I couldn’t and didn’t have the strength to fight with it. I had to walk away and cut it off.

When did I realize I did this? Recently in therapy. 

In therapy, I realized I attacked my own self through weight judgment. 

Being able to recognize this ideology lets me know recovery works. Another reason why I know recovery works is because I was recently weighed at the doctor's office. The nurse put the scale in front of me and I had no time to escape the weight request. When I got off the scale and she shared with me my weight I felt nothing. And let me tell you, it felt good to feel nothing. I had no shame, anger or pain. I felt and still feel nothing after decades of distress over the object and trauma that went along with it for my mom. My recovery has allowed me to see the world differently.  And it sounds corny, but I now believe I can overcome anything even if it's only one step at a time.  

Stephanie Parker is an award winning journalist turned producer. Currently, she serves as a medical producer and curates international programming for SiriusXM "Doctor Radio" - a station that has been on the frontlines of medical health topics and guidelines. Prior to joining this team, Stephanie served as a Dr. Oz and Sharecare script writer and worked at a couple of other news outlets like: ABC News and the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Stephanie's media career launched a decade ago when she started as an international news writer for the United Nations. In her capacity, she worked for Inter Press Service - a news agency based in Rome and The National News Service of China (XInhua). At Xinhua she took home three awards and spent time interviewing celebrities and top global officials like the former president of Chile, Michele Bachelet. In line with this work, she has done a variety of internationally focused women and children's health news stories for outlets like VICE, The Lancet, New York Times: Women in the World and Ms. Magazine to name a few. Stephanie's work has also been highlighted in the Cambridge University Press, World Health and Medical Policy and an NIH study on gender based violence in refugees. Stephanie has also had an opportunity to do consulting work with the US Fund for UNICEF and contributed to the book: "The Lost Generation of Syrian Youth" by a UNICEF Middle East Official.