At age 19, I was forced to drop out of college by a life-threatening eating disorder, dashing my plans to become a computer engineer. Thankfully, I conquered bulimia and graduated from college. My sister Stephanie was not so lucky. Her obsession with thinness led to her death in her mid-30s, leaving two young children without a mother and our family shattered and grieving.

Our dark journeys

My body hatred started at age 13, when my friends began dieting because they thought something was wrong with their bodies. Being younger than all of my peers, I was easily influenced by the actions of others.

"Experiencing our beauty as ever-changing works of art is an essential ingredient to living a life of freedom and meaning—and helping our children do the same."

One day a friend suggested I purge the food I had eaten. After joining a commercial weight loss program, Stephanie underwent the typical weight loss/weight regain cycle experienced by most dieters, and, not surprisingly, developed bulimia. Though we did not begin our eating disorders together, we soon bonded over our self-loathing.

Carmen, my daughter, was a toddler and wildly in love with her body when her aunt died. My fierce desire to protect Carmen and honor Stephanie led me to co-found a nonprofit organization that teaches people how to overcome conflicts with their bodies to lead happier, more productive lives.

Positive light

How can you protect the children in your life from body hatred and eating problems? You can start by making peace with your own body, and role modeling a joyful, balanced relationship with eating and exercise. You can demand that schools create body-positive environments where all bodies are respected and size diversity is taught. It is not normal for children to hate their bodies—even teenagers.

Reach out for help from a weight-neutral professional if you notice changes in your children’s eating patterns or negative comments made about their bodies. After two decades working with thousands of children, teens and adults, I know that experiencing our beauty as ever-changing works of art is an essential ingredient to living a life of freedom and meaning—and helping our children do the same.