Ashlyn's Story

The cycle of eating disorders through generations- My Story


I was raised by a mother who had an eating disorder. Both my parents valued self-image but neither understood nutrition or true health. It has taken a lot of counselling to understand that my mother too suffered from a mental health disorder that manifests through body image.

I distinctly remember at the age of 9 my father saying to me, “Geese, you really need to lose some weight”.
My mother had already placed me on several extreme adult diets that would be considered unhealthy for a grown woman let alone a developing child by the age of 10. I was taken to “psychics” by my mother to confirm if I’d be overweight as an adult and given herbal remedies to combat my predicted future of obesity.

By the age of 14, I had been on endless diets and my weight had fluctuated accordingly, as you’d expect from fad diets that aren’t based on healthy lifestyle or nutrition.

By the age of 19, my mother sat on my bed and told me, “if you’re comfortable and happy with the way you look at this size I’ll go and see a psychologist so I can learn to look at you”. It was at this point that I really started to self-loath. I tried purging, restricting and continued yo-yo dieting but it wasn’t enough to make me thin and acceptable.

At 23 I went through a bad breakup. Despite the relationship dynamics I blamed my weight. I started to exercise and heavily restrict. As I lost weight, family and friends reinforced how “healthy” I was looking.

By 25 I had learnt to survive minimal calories and as I dropped more and more weight, I was told how beautiful I was. Society reinforced that I was now acceptable. I was now good enough. I was also sick.

The day I couldn’t fit into my bridesmaid dress because it was too big was marked as such a happy day for me. I was the skinniest of the group and finally accepted. I was also incredibly unhealthy, starving my body, anxious from taking supplements to suppress my hunger, and constantly fatigued and struggling to concentrate. My skin was blotchy and I suffered regular breakouts. I looked dehydrated and had become obsessive with calorie control.

My weight continued to yo-yo unhealthily. Turning quickly to restricting whenever I felt it had crept up or knew I was expecting a visit from my mother from interstate. The shame I had learnt to feel about my body was agonising.

At 29 I fell pregnant with my first daughter, I gained a fair amount of weight and remember feeling significantly anxious about finally having my baby so I could go back to restricting food and lose the weight to regain control of my body. I didn’t enjoy the first 3-6 months of my daughter’s life, not because I wasn’t completely in love with her, I was. But because I was so consumed with the way that I looked and felt completely unlovable at my postpartum size. With the help of restricting and abusing medication, I was able to lose my baby weight and more.

At 32, I had my second daughter. I now had two girls. The weight of my body image experience had never weighed heavier. The anger, resentment, sadness and shame hit hard. How on earth was I going to raise two strong, happy and truly mentally healthy women with body confidence? How was I going to break the cycle? It had to start with me. I won’t allow them to see me self-loath. They won’t hear the words diet, fat, ugly. They won’t watch me dieting and depriving myself. They won’t see me getting dressed and talking about all the parts of my body I hate. My body will no doubt resemble their own one day. I need to show them they are beautiful by believing that I am beautiful. Not because I can be thin, not through trying to fix myself, but by loving my body at any weight. By loving a body that keeps me alive. By celebrating this body every day, even when I’m not feeling it, and by choosing to surround myself with people who love me for who I am and not what I look like.

It is a constant struggle but it is also a daily practice of gratitude. I choose to love myself the way that I love my daughters. They are not the sum of their bodies and appearance, and neither am I