By Guest Blogger Suzy Fielders

Whether you are the struggling one, your child, or someone you love, eating disorders are scary for all of those involved. There are various types of eating disorders, each of which are serious and very disastrous for your body.

It takes a brave person to realize they need help and actually ask for it, but that is what it takes to beat this horrible condition. Too long there has been such a stigma around eating disorders. Not to mention there is so much pressure to live up to unachievable ‘body standards’ in modern society. Those who have had not only overcome eating disorders, but share their stories to help those struggling are true heroes.

I’m happy to share that I not only know one of these heroes, but she’s currently a wonderful role model in my daughter’s life, as well as many other kid’s lives. Melanie Vaughn, owner of Dance Explosion School of Performing Arts, shares her story with me and TMoM, on overcoming an eating disorder. She also shares ways to talk with your children on this difficult subject.

When did you first realize you had an eating disorder?
“I personally have severe swayback, meaning my stomach naturally exposes out due to the high curvature of my spine. Unfortunately, I had someone point this out by telling me ‘your stomach is huge’ in front of a large group of peers. At the time I was only 15. From then on, I started eyeing my body carefully and picking and choosing what I ate. By the time I was 17, I was replacing meals with water and very small protein bars, if any at all. I battled this issue until I was 20 years old. At that point, I weighed less than 100 pounds, and became very weak and tired. My thoughts were constantly plagued with what that one person told me. I thought when people talked about how ‘thin’ I was, that they were complimenting me. One day while staring in the mirror and feeling overly tired and weak, I finally realized I had a severe eating disorder and needed help.”

Mel while struggling with her eating disorder.

Did you have someone to turn to that you could talk with it about? If so, how did that help you work through the issue?
“My parents were two people that I could talk to about it. They noticed me getting thinner and thinner, and encouraged me to eat more. They allowed me to talk to them about how I felt and began to fill me with positivity. We talked about how severe my situation could have been, and how I was blessed with a second chance. I began to talk more about my feelings and what I was stressed about. Having this outlet allowed me to be able to express and communicate all that I was feeling which took a lot of the pressure off. I found I also needed to find things to preoccupy myself. My parents helped me schedule times for eating and managing meal plans. I also began to pick up some new activities – drawing and writing. These became new outlets for me to express myself and my emotions.”

What are warning signs parents, guardians, teachers and other adults should look for in children that an eating disorder might be present?
“Listen to your children. They speak everything they hear, whether on their mind, or from social media. Remember, eating disorders can be from a lack of eating, or even over-eating. Be aware of who their influences are on social media as well their friends. There is a peer pressure to look like certain models or people. Be on the lookout for them saying things such as ‘I think I’m going to eat later,’ which gets pushed to never. Be observant of their diet and become familiar with their routine. Really look at them daily and you’ll be able to notice changes. This could be any change, from slimming or expanding of their face to constantly wearing over-sized clothing. Some warning signs to look for: disinterest in foods they usually enjoy, heavily increase in favorite foods, drastically cutting back on social interactions, or even over-exercising. Watch their health patterns. If you notice someone with high stamina suddenly becoming weaker, tired or constantly being cold in room temperature or hotter environments, these are all red flags. If you notice these, that is the time to carefully and compassionately address the issue with that person, or if they are a child – their parent/guardian.”

As someone who works with kids and teens daily, what advice do you have for those that have, or maybe have been tempted with the idea of an eating disorder?
“I cannot stress this enough – communicate. When you feel like no one will listen, I guarantee you, that’s when they are at the upmost ability to talk to you. If you think there is a reason that you need to change how you look, there is someone who will be able to listen to your thoughts on this and come up with an alternative. There are also plenty of support groups to help with coping with eating disorders, all of which are supervised. If you feel you may need to attend a meeting, then go. Hearing stories from others who were once in your shoes is the best guidance. If in-person meetings make you nervous, there are also hotlines available with guides ready to assist. This is a hard road and a difficult battle, but one you absolutely do not have to fight alone.”

Mel while struggling with her eating disorder.

What advice would you give parents on how to talk to their children, whether they have an eating disorder or not, on the subject?
“Whether or not they have an eating disorder, it is important to remind them that they are a role model for someone somewhere. In turn, discuss those they view as role models. Children are still growing and learning, and sometimes they don’t realize they might be looking up to the wrong person. Always keep open and honest lines of communication between yourself and your children. Express to them about the pressures of society, but how those pressures do not mean they have to conform. Encourage them to be their own, true self both inside and outside. Remind them that the beauty within is always stronger and more important. Be kind and use an approachable vocabulary. Staying positive in conversations will keep them positive as well. Do not try to pressure them to do anything, but try to educate them and remind them about the importance of the choices that they make.”

How do you stress positive body image to the kids and teens you work with?
“I try to remind each child how beautiful they are. I explain to them how they are each special. I have also been able to explain we all have strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, in the end, we all complement each other. Individuality is what makes everyone unique. I tell my students it’s important to get plenty of sleep, eat meals, and stay active daily. Staying in this routine will help them feel more energized and ready to conquer every day. This will make them feel happier and eliminate stress as well. Lastly, I remind them wear things they are comfortable in as well. It will make them feel more at ease.”

How has your personal experience dealing with your own eating disorder in the past helped you lead children to have a more positive body image?
“I have actually talked to children about my past situation. I explained how severe my situation was and how I didn’t want anyone to end up in the predicament that I was in. I constantly stress how important nutrition is to be able to keep our energy going. It’s important to remember the weight of love in your heart is more important than the numbers on a scale. Your body is a machine, appreciate all it does for you and don’t take it for granted. Know the difference between reality and false advertising. No matter how old you are, treat yourself; whether it’s having a lazy day watching movies in bed or grabbing your favorite ice cream. Most importantly, never feel bad about these breaks or indulgences. Always remind yourself you need a day break to push away any negativity and stress, and to replenish yourself.”

This photo and lead-in photo are Mel now!

Other helpful links:

Local Counselors and Therapists
Mental Health Services Forsyth County
Mental Health Greensboro
Carolina House
Tapestry: Eating Disorder and Mental Health Treatment
National Eating Disorders Association

National Eating Disorders Association Helpline: 1-800-931-2237


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