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Today Dr. Elana interviews Dana Suchow, speaker, educator and coach on preventing eating disorders and raising body confident kids. Dana offers a nonclinical and holistic approach to parents, teachers and caregivers so they are equipped with tools. In this interview she shares ways you can encourage healthy body image for your children to help prevent eating disorders from arising.
We’d like to say a special thank you to today’s podcast partner: Tessemae’s. Tessemae’s is flavor-forward, organic fresh food company that makes clean label dressings, marinades, condiments, salad kits, and single-serve pouches with uncompromised ingredients of the highest quality. Use code WHOLEMAMAS15 for 15% off your entire purchase at Tessemaes.com, now through September 30, 2019.
Dana Suchow 0:03
We’re going to go out into the world and the world is harsh. The world can be mean. It can be beautiful, but can also be mean. But if we can create an armor for kids, if we can send them out into the world with this self-love armor, it makes those messages a lot harder to get through.
Elana Roumell 0:23
Welcome back to Whole Mamas Podcast. We’re here to give you tools, resources and evidence-based information so you can make the best decisions for yourself and your family. Whether you’re trying to conceive, or navigating life with the toddler or teenager, we’ve got you covered. I’m Dr. Elana Roumell, pediatric naturopathic doctor and creator of Med School for Moms – an online resource where I teach moms how to safely be a doctor mom. My co-host is Stephanie Greunke, registered dietitian and program director for Whole30’s Whole Mama’s Club and co-creator of Whole30’s pregnancy program and upcoming postpartum program.
I’m so happy to welcome our guest Dana Suchow to our show. today. She’s a speaker, educator, and coach on the topic of preventing eating disorders and raising body confident kids. Dana offers a non-clinical and holistic approach to parents, teachers and caregivers, so they are equipped with tools on today’s show. She teaches us mamas ways we can encourage healthy body images for children and how to prevent eating disorders from arising.
Now before we jump into today’s episode, I like to thank our podcast partner Tessemae. If you don’t already know about Tessemae’s products, you will fall in love in no time. Steph and I were huge fans of this company because they’re pioneers of making salad dressings, sauces and condiments all healthy and clean. No more added sugars, processed ingredients, artificial flavorings, yeast extracts, the list goes on. For years, we would have to make our own homemade dressings or sauces for that added flavor. And now our meal prep are just so much quicker. Thanks to companies like Tessemae. We are thrilled to have them as one of our podcast partners. It is very easy for us to share some of our favorite products with you so you too can try them out and get a discount while at it. Did you know that they even have a dedicated page on their website for Whole30 approved items? If you’re planning to do a Whole30 soon, please keep this in mind. You can get a bundle of items for a great price that will get you through your 30 days with ease. You have a variety of salad dressings to make your salads delicious, a sugar-free healthy ketchup to just dress up that burger or even eggs, barbecue sauce to add rich flavor to your next batch of chicken or meat dish, and healthy mayo to add any chicken egg or tuna salmon or sardines salad you pick or even just use their mayo as a great dip for veggies. They even have a jar of roasted garlic to add those medicinal benefits and rich flavor to any dish you cook up. The list goes on. Tessemae was started by a mother of three athletic boys. Her name was Tessie she was inspired to feed her boys healthy foods and saw a lack of healthy dressings and sauces and condoms on the market. Her oldest son Greg was inspired by her vision. He helped her launch their business and they’re doing an amazing job with the family business. Us mamas we’re so powerful, we see a need and we want to help, we are so determined to make that happen. So thank you Tessie, we love your products in our home and they sure have made a big difference not only in spicing up our healthy meals, but also making our meal prep that much quicker. So thank you! Tessemae is offering our listeners a great deal. So if you visit their website tessemaes.com you can get 15% off your entire purchase by using a code WHOLEMAMAS15. This offer ends September 30, so don’t miss out.
Now let’s start our interview and invite Dana to the show. All right, Dana, welcome to the show. I’m so happy to have you and and selfishly again, I just love doing these podcasts interviews, because I just meet such amazing guests. So I’m looking forward to kind of delving into the work that you do. You’re clearly very passionate about this subject about raising confident, and you call it confident body image kids, is that right?
Dana Suchow 4:11
Body confident kids.
Elana Roumell 4:12
Body confident kids, right!
Dana Suchow 4:15
I mean, any way you phrase that I just, I want the next generation to not hate their bodies as much as we do.
Elana Roumell 4:22
I love it because it is so incredibly important. And this will go for both females and males, we’re going to go into that. And we’ll talk a little bit about eating disorders and how we can really help prevent those. So anyway, you have just such a passion for this, your entire career is really revolved around this. So before we dive into some of the great questions I have for you, and then also we have some great community questions, we always start our episode with the nourish yourself segment. So if you don’t mind answering that question, I think it’s such a great segment to help inspire others and give them some ideas of what we’ve done. So what did you do today to nourish yourself?
Dana Suchow 4:59
So it’s interesting, you know, I was thinking about it. And I’m like, ‘Well, I eat food that makes me feel good.’ Or I did this and that. And I thought, actually, something that I did that sometimes there’s a lot of shame about, is I rescheduled something that I had this week that was making me feel too stretched out too thin. And I rescheduled plans, and I moved them to next week. Sometimes I struggle with that my calendar has to be super full. Or if I reschedule, someone’s going to get mad. And really that was definitely like a self care moment of just know, I need that extra time in the schedule for myself.
Elana Roumell 5:41
I am so proud of you. So I just want to acknowledge you because I’m such a big fan of when people have the courage to say no to something or to really just vocalize and say, ‘I’m not available.’ I think it’s actually even sometimes more nourishing than saying yes to some self care practices like, ‘Yes, I’ll go get a pedicure. Yeah, I’ll go get a massage.’ I think it’s a big struggle we have just across the board, because we don’t want to disappoint, we want to keep our promises. But it’s also so relieving when you so much to do. And I did I bet you felt so good when you rescheduled?
Dana Suchow 6:16
I did, I did, I just felt a lot better. It was just like a sense of relief, like I could just breathe a little bit easier. And I didn’t feel so stressed, just having that that extra time. But then also, I think we’re so worried we’re going to hurt people’s feelings, especially as women, we’re so worried we’re going to disappoint someone. If we can kind of acknowledge that – ‘I understand you worked your schedule around for me. So I appreciate you being flexible,’ and you know, acknowledging how the other person feels, but also really like putting yourself first because if we’re exhausted, if we are just work to the bone, then we’re not good to anybody.
Elana Roumell 6:56
Yep, I can’t agree with you more. Plus, you’re going to show up so much better, in a better way, as now that you’ve rescheduled. If you have gone you would have had resentment, you would have underlying feeling of just like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be here.’ So I think it’s a win-win, really for both. But I love that you come from a place of appreciation, because yes, there’s an impact. And ‘we wish this could work and thanks for understanding.’ So I think that’s wonderful. So congrats, and hopefully that inspires another mom listening to do the same.
So what I did to nourish myself was actually something it’s kind of similar is I’ve kind of re I’ve had to reassess my schedule with my patients. So just yesterday, I saw patients, it’s my longest day is a Tuesday at work. And I had 12 patients back to back. It was insane. I was like, ‘Why do I have so many people on my schedule? My staff really helps, you know, monitor my schedule. And I’ve really had to now tell them like, ‘I need you guys to not schedule so many people. I’m in my third trimester, I need more snack breaks, and I need to pee more. And look, I love helping people.’ So it’s like, I want to have people in my waitlist. I just I’m always like, ‘Yes, go ahead book them or, yes, I want to get them in, I don’t want them to wait.’ So it’s kind of the same thing that you did, which I think is kind of neat that we both had a similar but boundary setting. And they really got it and they were apologizing and I said, ‘No, don’t apologize, you know, I’ve never given you these structures and these requests.’ And so now they’re very clear. And at the end of the day, my patients will get the best version of me because I’m not like burning out by the end of the day. And it gave me a private practice. Because if I burn out by you know, just seeing so many patients, then I’ll probably not want to practice privately. And I don’t want that either. So anyway, I just I feel really good about that. Because especially being in my third trimester, it’s like, I really do need to keep my blood sugar up. And you know, I really need to be team or I mean, it’s just has to happen. So anyway, I just I feel really proud of myself that I was able to send that message to my staff and just say, Hey, guys, here’s here’s what I need from you, you know, and thank you so much for supporting me. So
Dana Suchow 9:12
I’m sending I’m sending a virtual high five.
Elana Roumell 9:15
Awesome. All right, well, let’s go ahead and dive into the questions because this is actually a very touching subject to both me and Stephanie, my co-host, because both of us have expressed on different shows that we’ve both experienced eating disorders. And we’ve experienced different eating disorders, Stephanie really went through a lot of anorexia nervosa, which is a much more type of typical presentation of restriction in eating. And I went through something called orthorexia nervosa, where I still ate, but it was incredibly limited to very, very, I would say, clean foods. And so it was, it was still very all encompassing. And I’m just finding, even in my clinical practice, or just, you know, having friends with kids, we’re just starting to see eating disorders younger and younger in both males and females. And not only is it just like they’re clinically diagnosed eating disorders, but there’s like this like flavor of, ‘Gosh, this kid is like really worried about their body image and they’re like, five, you know, what’s going on?’ So I think there’s gonna be a lot of listeners that are kind of perking up their ears, because perhaps they have a child who’s already going through this, or they’re just so committed to preventing this in their child that I just know, you’re the perfect guests to have, because you just have so many tools and, and ideas that you already work with so many parents, teachers and caregivers that we would love for you to, you know, shed some light on this and give us some takeaways of what we could do as parents proactive.
Dana Suchow 10:42
Well, thank you for having me. I mean, I’m really excited to speak with you. And you know, and definitely like, with the work that I’m doing, I want as many parents as possible to hear this message. And you know, also to know they’re not alone and trying to figure out how do you navigate diet culture? And how do we navigate a culture that is telling us everyone they hate themselves, especially with children? And you know, I think one of the biggest things is parents want to say the right things, you know, we don’t want to give our kids trauma, we don’t want to hurt children. And it can be hard to know what the right thing to say is with all of the media messages and messages we get every day.
Elana Roumell 11:16
Absolutely. And I just find this to be across the board, just like a parenting deficit is just the coaching that comes along and the education that comes along. We all want to know, we’re all hungry for information. I mean, that’s a clear, common theme. And we all want what’s best for our kids. And oftentimes, we need to look out to the experts to really help teach us and guide us. And so you’ve clearly dedicated your career to this. And so I’m excited to share you with our listeners. Before you share some takeaways, how did you even get interested in the topic of eating disorders embracing body confident kids?
Dana Suchow 11:53
I’m going to try to condense it but my story is interesting because, yes, I had an eating disorder. I got my eating disorder when I was 26 years old. I grew up with body dysmorphia, and hating myself And sure, did I you know, call myself you know, bad names and make fun of my body. Of course I did, but I didn’t quite get my eating disorder until I moved from California to New York at age of 26 after college. And it was like, all of a sudden, it was just being away from my safety net, my family, my friends, everybody that I knew, I suddenly got an eating disorder. And for you know, for a couple years, I just thought it came out of the blue. And then after all this work I’ve been doing I realized that no, the messages were there it was it was kind of like the straw that broke the camel’s back, you know that the messages, the feeling of inadequacy, all of the self hatred that was there since childhood. And it was just the one thing of moving locations that that really, you know, put everything into motion.
But how did I get into this work? So a lot of the work that I was doing for a long time has been on social media, Instagram was my big platform. I started on Instagram as a fashion blogger. I was dating a fashion photographer at the time. And I thought that you know, I loved clothes, I loved being in front of the camera, I was a ham. And so I thought that fashion blogging was something that my boyfriend at the time and I could do together. And so, I was fashion blogging, I was sharing images of myself online, but I was also really struggling with my eating disorders. So I started fashion modeling right after I had gotten my eating disorder. And so what was happening is I was sharing these photoshopped, perfect images of me smiling and laughing and you know, my acne was photoshopped out, everything was perfect, the lighting was perfect. And at night, I was crying myself to sleep. I had an extreme binge eating behaviors I because, you know, I would shoot for the blog on Saturday and Sunday. So I Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I wouldn’t eat anything. And I would over exercise as much as possible. Saturday, I’d shoot for the blog. And then Sunday after shooting for the blog, I would binge eat all Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, the restriction and the exercise would start over again. So I was selling a lie to my followers.
And so slowly through my recovery, I started sharing pieces of me and a little bit about what was going on with me my followers, I started saying, you know, if I don’t feel good about my body, today, I’m struggling with XY and Z. And I started learning about intersection with feminism and I started learning about body positivity. And I started learning about self care and self love. And I finally, you know, came fully clean to my followers. And it was it was such a beautiful thing, because instead of people saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you know, you’re a flawed individual. And I don’t like you anymore.’ Almost everybody said, ‘Oh my gosh, me to finally someone that I you know, someone that is talking about fashion and beauty and all these things is saying no, I’m deeply struggling, and I feel less alone.’ And so it was healing for me to come clean. But it was also healing for a lot of my followers who thought that I was this perfect, ideal human being and were comparing themselves to my highlight reel.
Once I came clean, I couldn’t go back really to fashion blogging. So I started shifting into event hosting, and I started creating spaces for women and teens to talk about their body image. And I was doing women’s empowerment events, I was traveling, I was doing a party that I called the makeup removal party, where we talked about the beauty industry. And at the end, we had this beautiful moment where everybody took their makeup off and spoke about how it made them feel. And a common theme that was coming out of all of these events was whenever somebody was sharing something, what they would share, you know, where where did my body image stuff start, almost everyone was sharing, ‘my mom bullied me, my dad called me fat, my teacher made me feel stupid, my coach made me exercise more than the other kids or body shaming me.’ And every almost every single person had this story, this theme, this recurring theme of an adult when they were young making them feel bad about their bodies. And it was just kind of like a light went off in my head. And I thought, ‘I want to prevent this from happening.’
I’m not a therapist, I’m not a psychiatrist. I am a woman who has had an eating disorder who has had a traumatic childhood, and who has worked a lot with people in recovery and a lot with people who have their own body image issues. And I have taken all those tools that I’ve learned and I’m applying it now so that I can prevent what happened to me. And I can help prevent what has happened to all of the other women and teens that I’ve worked with over the years. And so I’ve now gone totally opposite from fashion, blogging and beauty and all that other stuff to body image self love diet culture, you know how to raise kids that love themselves? And how can we raise the next generation to not feel the way that we have and that we’ve been taught to about our own self. So, you know, I apologize. I know, that was kind of a long intro. But I think it’s kind of important to understand my background and where I’ve come from. to understand why this work means so much to me,
Elana Roumell 17:24
Dana, I loved every minute, I’m such a sucker for like authentic stories and vulnerable shares. And this is why your followers didn’t just run away, they gravitated towards you, they leaned into your work because we all have similar type of thoughts, whether one may be more extreme than the other. We are human. We all have these. And I just think it’s brilliant how you took your experience that was a true struggle and you’ve really transformed into now your gift to others. I’m always inspired by stories like this. So thank you for sharing.
Dana Suchow 18:09
Thank you so much. And you know, and I forgetting who wrote the quote, I know, I’m going to butcher it. But it’s, it’s something like, ‘When you find out where you need to heal, work on healing that and then give that gift to others.’ So I really, if I, if I look at my life, I’m like the thing that needed the most healing, when I figured it out, I now want to help others not go through that.
Elana Roumell 18:30
Yes. And this is why my perception of struggle now isn’t so like dramatic and detrimental. It’s like, I just I know, especially when I have friends who are suffering or even when I go through a traumatizing event, I just I look for the gifts, you know, I know they’re there. And yes, you have to go through the grief and you have to go through the suffering and the pain. And you just have to keep on reminding yourself that there is that silver lining there is the shining light as long as you utilize that. And so yeah, I’ve done that. And I am have a very similar belief in that way. That’s what fuels my passion to is, for me personally, was my brother’s passing. And unfortunately, I also lost my father very dramatically. I mean, I’ve lost some significant men in my life, but it’s okay, because it truly is fueled my passion to help others. Yes, it was a sad event. And yours was also a huge struggle for you for many years. And but I’m not sorry about yours, because I’m also really enamored and adore created. So there’s really nothing to be apologetic about.
Dana Suchow 19:36
Thank you. It is hard, you know, when you do hear about bad things and painful things that have happened to people to you know, what do you respond with? Well, I’m glad to see the person you are now is it true. I mean, I did a panel a couple months ago, and I think somebody’s asked, ‘Do you wish this never happened?’ And, you know, some of me Yeah, I do. I do. I wish that I hadn’t gone through this course because it’s so painful. And yes, it was a lot of time spent. But if I hadn’t gotten my eating disorder, I still would have had all of those deep issues that needed to be worked on and fixed and and helped. And I never would have gotten to the root of those because that final huge trigger never would have happened. So I would have been walking around with all this pain, but not the thing that fully brought it to the surface.
Elana Roumell 20:28
Absolutely. So you are called to do this work. It’s great. Now you get to help others.
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Now let’s get back to today’s episode. So let’s go ahead and talk about a really key point as part of your story is that as you were hosting so many workshops and speaking at events, you really saw a common theme and that theme was that it started with some kind of adult saying something some kind of comment, and obviously not intentional, no one wants to do harm. But these kids they just remember those, it’s like this life-altering like event and incident and then they create this story. So can you maybe share some of the the words or the mistakes that like some of us parents may tend to do that we could just avoid like, altogether, let’s just avoid these so we could really do our best to prevent this in our kids.
Dana Suchow 22:27
That’s a great question. I mean, there’s there’s a lot of things, but I don’t want it to be you know, don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this. You know, I definitely wanted to be tools, like what can you do instead, but I want to share something that I remember my mother doing. And you know, if we can kind of you know, empathize with kids and how they pick these things up.
So one of the big things I tell parents right off the bat is is not to body shame yourself, to not talk poorly about your body. You don’t have to love it, you don’t have to say wake up every morning you know, singing, the hills are alive with the sound of music you run around the house in a bikini. That’s not what I’m saying. But to not speak ill of our bodies in front of children is very important in it. And I’m going to give you an example. When I was younger, I had a an adult family member who made fun of their arms all the time, just really didn’t like their upper arms. And a couple things happen. So as a child, I’m looking up and you know, I looked up to this person, and I thought they were beautiful. And I didn’t see a flaw, until they kept pointing out how flawed their arms were. Another aspect of it is that I was related to this person. So I couldn’t help but say, ‘Well, if they have those arms, then I have these arms. And if they don’t like those arms, then they’re not going to like me because I have these arms.’ So you know, really, unless we have children who are adopted or who are you know, not biologically yours, every time you speak ill about your body, a child is saying, ‘Well, I have that. And so if I have that she’s going to hate me as much as she hates herself, or he’s going to hate me as much as he hates himself.’ And so we have to be very understanding of how children are looking up to us. And an important thing to understand about it is children look to parents and adults and caregivers for survival. They’re learning how to navigate the world. But you know, children can’t survive without protection and love from adults. And so if a child believes that you don’t like a body part, or you’re not going to like them, because of something that you’re doing, the child is going to internalize those things. It’s very rare that children become angry with their family. I mean, yes, you’re gonna have a kid that’s mad, but they’re going to do anything they can for your love and protection. And so instead of it being the parent is bad, the parent is mean the parent is wrong. It’s ‘I as a child am mean, I as a child am wrong, I as a child am bad.’ And so they’re going to do anything they can in their power to change their body and keep making sure that they have the body that you love and appreciate.
Elana Roumell 25:05
Oh, my god, there’s so much wisdom in what you were just saying, I’m thinking of my own childhood. But you know, you never really think the depth of the meaning that can be put on the meaning of these. And it’s so true that it’s so easy for these kids and even as adults to just take something and just fly with it in such a negative way. Because it’s a very sensitive issue. So I love that first bit of feedback. It’s such a big takeaway is us as parents really being conscientious of just how we like to communicate about our bodies. Yeah, I agree.
Dana Suchow 25:43
Yeah, thank you. And you know, and another very easy tip, if you’re listening right now that you can do is, is that complimenting your child’s body is complimenting their humanity. You know, so many times, we see little girls in pretty dresses, and we go, Oh, you’re so funny. Oh, you’re so cute. And you know, what we end up doing is saying, ‘When you are doing X, Y or Z, you look pretty you have value I approve of you.’ And I know that’s not what we’re trying to say, I know we just want to give children compliments. But instead a great ideas if you see a child and they’re just dressed so cool are so adorable. Instead of saying ‘You look great’ is saying, ‘You have a really cool sense of style, you are really talented at putting fabrics and and colors and designs together, you have a great eye for design,’ you know, those types of things is is complimenting a child like who they are on the inside, not who they are on the outside. You know, or another thing you know, ‘You’re really great at making sure no one feels left out,’ you know, you are, you’re just there’s these wonderful things that you do that make people feel seen and heard and loved are so kind to animals and people around you, the world’s a better place with you in it. I mean, there’s so many ways that you can compliment kids that aren’t you’re pretty, you’re handsome. And getting away from those kind of external appearance compliments.
Elana Roumell 27:11
Yes, I couldn’t agree with you more. And those are some great ideas to with how to communicate. And it’s interesting, I think, when you really want to be more mindful in your communication, those all make complete sense. And yeah, we oftentimes have such learned behaviors from our parents that we just end up adopting the same type of compliments or feedback, just simply because that’s how we were parented.
Dana Suchow 27:37
That’s also how society places value on us – society places value on women’s appearance. So of course, we’re going to when we see little girls, we’re going to tell them, they’re pretty, they’re cute, they’re adorable, you know, that, that it’s all about external appearance. And so I again, like agree with you, I do not blame us at all of these are taught and learned behaviors, and they become habit of how we want we want want to make other people feel good, we want to make little kids feel good and confident and positive. But if we really start deconstructing the actual language, or if you want to give someone a compliment, say it in your head first say it a little bit in your head and go, what am I truly complimenting here. Or, this is a touchy one, is complimenting weight loss. One complimenting as somebody usually has acne or psoriasis, and their skin is clear and complimenting. Oh, you know, your, your skin’s really clear right now, you look like you’ve lost weight, you know, what ends up happening is yes, it can feel like a good compliment. But in the back of that person’s mind, they’re taking it as ‘Oh, so I look ugly other days, or, oh, I now have to wear this lipstick, or this makeup so that people find value in me, or, oh, I’m terrified now to put on weight because people think I’m attractive now.’
Elana Roumell 28:55
Yep, I totally agree. And it’s so easy to like, stumble on that now. You know, I see a therapist regularly. I think I’m very proactive in this type of work. And she’s really big into catching me, because I’ll bring my daughter and she’s like, ‘Why did you say that? Like, why did you do that?’ Anf I’m like, thank you so much for catching me. I said, I really do practice. I think by like my third kid, I’ll get it. You know, I try to get myself so your grace, and by my grandkids I get it. And I think it’s just a matter of just being so mindful. And my husband, I were so committed to working on that, that we’ve kind of given each other permission to acknowledge. ‘Hey, did you notice you said that?’ like, we can give each other the feedback to say, ‘Hey, babe, you know, you just said she’s so smart.’ And he goes, ‘Oh, my God, I didn’t mean to do that we should say something different.’ So you know, it takes some work. And I just want to kind of give some grace to some of the mom listeners, because we’ve all been there.
Dana Suchow 29:52
It takes a lot of work. But also, I mean, somebody said this to me, and it really resonated, they were like, ‘No child comes out of childhood trauma free, it just doesn’t happen.’ Even if you are feel like you were a perfect parent, there’s someone it’s some child is going to have something that they come out and they got trauma, are there different levels of trauma? Absolutely. You know, I mean, are some are drowning in the ocean, and some are drowning in a puddle, of course, but no child is going to come out unscathed. And so I think if we can kind of remove that, you know, fear of like it has to be perfect and just go, you know what you’re doing the darn best that you can. And that’s got to be good enough, no child is going to come out perfect. It’s just how it is.
Elana Roumell 30:39
I couldn’t agree with you more. So we just have to accept it and do our best with it. So I totally agree with that. Well, let’s go ahead, I have some more questions for you. Because I just I find this so fascinating. So I appreciate all your wisdom here. Specifically with eating disorders, you know, I personally see it a lot in my clinic, I don’t know the exact statistics, or the ones that are out there. And I just wondered if you could teach us a little bit about that. And then also like, what age we should really be looking out for that. So we just could be so proactive as parents.
Dana Suchow 31:11
Yeah. So this is a great question, actually. And, you know, it’s interesting. So even sort of statistics are tough, because well, is this person absolutely emaciated? Are they in-inpatient treatment? Or are they completely binge eating? And “overweight?” And so while I think it was, like 30 million people of all genders have eating disorders in the US, I would argue that it’s much higher, but also that we have to kind of look outside the box of what we’re classifying as eating disorders. Because while sure 30 million people have clinically diagnosed eating disorders, I would argue that like 80 to 90% of people in the United States, and many developed countries have disordered eating. Now, it’s not the same thing. But I classify disordered eating as anyone who if you eat, and you have guilt, if you eat something, and you have shame, if you abstain from eating something, because you don’t think it’s clean or healthy enough, or if you feel like you have to exercise or work out to justify eating something. Or if you look at your body, and you are just so completely dissatisfied with it and feel like you have to lose weight to be considered value and loved. And I think that almost everyone has qualifies in one of those categories. And so I think when we just look at the statistics, it makes it look like eating disorders aren’t, you know, yes. Are they? Are they important? Are they a mental health issue, or we’ll be having a crisis of self hate? Absolutely. But it kind of puts them down in the ranking of importance of in the things that we care about. And I think if we start looking at, we are in an epidemic of self-hate, and how that self-hate comes out, it comes out in different people, but most of the time, it’s coming out in something that we dislike about our bodies. And I think that really is a common thread that we all share. We all you know, almost everyone has something they dislike about themselves themselves specifically about their bodies. And so while Yes, we there’s a percent and exact percentage that the CDC reports every year people having eating disorders, I really try to stay away from that number, because I think it is so much larger. And I think we’re only scratching the surface when we’re really looking at statistics for EDs.
Elana Roumell 33:37
You know, I really love your answer. And I couldn’t agree with you more, because I think a lot of disorders just go undiagnosed. Yeah, and it’s true, then this statistic, whatever the number is really does a disservice to the validity and the prevalence of this.
Dana Suchow 33:53
And, you know, we also were looking at, well, what portion of people don’t have any access of care, what portion of people have an eating disorder that’s not specified, because it’s not bulemia or anorexia, you know. And it’s really is like, what kind of people are reporting it? Also, eating disorders or disordered eating is so normalized. And that’s the thing is, it is so normalized that we have people with eating disorders or you know, with, with really like a big issue with food in their bodies, and it goes undiagnosed, and it goes unchecked. And they go without help, because everywhere they look, they’re being encouraged to continue this behavior.
Elana Roumell 34:32
Yeah, I think this is so brilliant. I almost wish I didn’t ask that question. It was a perfect answer, really, to segue into really just dismissing the fact that there could be a clinical diagnosis or not, or there could just be minor body image, insecurities, that’s still all need to be addressed. And they’re still all very valid, I think when it’s clinically diagnosed, that’s when intervention in a medical clinic needs to be addressed simply for malnourishment, and you know, long term health impacts. But there are day to day, just occurrences that just need some of these emotional coaching and, and help transform some of these stories that these kids have arisen. So let’s talk a little bit about then the prevalence just between male and female, because I really think that we, there’s a stereotype that oh, this only happens to girls, but I just see it happening to boys often and in your experience. And in your work. Do you agree? Do you see the same?
Dana Suchow 35:29
Oh, absolutely. So eating disorder are not just in in boys and girls, but eating disorders are very, very high, especially in the gay community, because there’s an emphasis on exercising and muscles and you know, really cut and tone bodies and kind of in the same way that women’s bodies are now increasingly on the cover of, you know, Shape magazine, and health and wellness magazines. And so, you know, anytime we have like an ideal body, and that is now being increasingly marketed into marketed to boys, we get a rise of eating disorders. And so we are seeing more and more binge eating disorder in men, we are seeing more anorexia in men, bulemia in men, all of these things are on the rise. And you know, this, it’s kind of interesting, because we sort of understand that we kind of have to look at capitalism, you know, and I’m not going to go into a deep, deep debate about capitalism or anything. But if we look at it in a way that if a business isn’t growing, it’s dying. So business always has to be increasing profit, increasing profit. And this is just to keep up with paying their workers a standard wage, or any other thing, but if a business is growing, is dying, and so businesses have to look at more and more ways that they can profit, especially in the health and beauty industry, how they can profit and make you insecure, so you think you need to buy something? Well, the problem is, women only have you know, most of the women only have two legs, we’ve got two eyes, we’ve got one nose, we got two lips, we only have a certain amount of body parts that you can make us hate. And we are maxed out, you’re kind of we sort of hate all of those body parts. And so who’s next? Well, it’s men. So now let’s tell men that they need Botox and fillers. And now let’s tell them that they need laser hair removal. And now let’s tell men that they can’t be plus size and that they can’t have, you know, bellies and that they need to exercise and now let’s start marketing to them. So do we see this rise in self hatred and body dysmorphia and body hatred in men and young boys because we have to follow what’s happening with the market trend and what’s happening with advertising and media.
Elana Roumell 37:33
This hurts my heart. Yeah, I just like..
Dana Suchow 37:36
Sorry, sorry to interrupt. So if we look at GI Joe, the action figure, GI Joe, back in the 70s used to have an absolute normal body and it was, it was a realistic body there was actually it was modeled off of the human body. GI Joe now is so unrealistic that a human would collapse, not be able to breathe properly if they had that body. The same with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I remember when those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came out and that, you know, they were they were buff ripped turtles, but if somebody went to the gym enough, I’m sure they could look like that. The new movie came out I think was about two years ago was kind of an action action movie for kids with teens, it was a remake. Those ninja turtles were so cut and had so much muscle definition that it would have been absolutely impossible for anyone to look like that without surgery or steroids or Photoshop.
Elana Roumell 38:35
Yeah, these are subliminal messages that are very intentional by marketing companies. But for us, we know we don’t really realize it. And then it just again, plants another seed and another seed. So this is interesting, because you know, you started off sharing your story about how a lot of big theme was that an adult said something in particular about a body part. But it sounds like it can come from a movie, or it can come from a toy, it can come from so many other sources.
Dana Suchow 39:03
So of all the tools that I say with parents, really being careful about the media that your children are consuming, and making sure they’re consuming diverse media and with a wide array of body types. You know, I think we can look at a movie and think, Oh, it’s harmless, because you know, there’s a strong female lead or you know, the boy is allowed to feels emotions, but, you know, we also have to look at are all the characters then are all of them able body? Does anybody have body hair? Does anybody have an acne? And and look, I understand that we are just scratching the surface with diverse representation in media, but it’s being aware of those things that most parents are not aware of, you know, being aware of what what’s the body type that your child is looking at over and over and over again? And I say this on social media also. And even for parents – who are you following Instagram? How are they making feel? Are you looking at is your Instagram when you look outside your window, and you see people on the street, do the people you’re looking at on Instagram and social media look that way? Or are they so ideal, and so quote unquote, perfect, that they just make you feel bad about yourself after you’re done scrolling. And so that’s important for parents, but also parents of teens and young adults who are who are on social media is really, you know, checking the social media that kids are following, checking the accounts and having discussions about how does this make you feel? And you know, realizing that that’s probably Photoshop and helping children kind of discern from from true and true and false.
Elana Roumell 40:40
I like that a lot is really getting in your child’s world, and really helping them wrap their brain around what they’re seeing. I think that’s great. I wanted to share actually a personal experience. This doesn’t have to do with body image. But it was definitely an incident for me. And I think we can relate in in the body image kind of context is that when I was growing up, I was a singer and I loved singing and dancing. And I remember this very clearly, I don’t know what age I was, but I had a boy in my class, comment on my singing and he said, ‘You sound like a chipmunk.’ Yeah. And I remember that I was so hurt by it that I stopped singing and I just decided, well, then I must not sound good. Well, I’ll just stop singing. And anyway, years went on, I mean, it’s okay. I’m totally complete with it now, which is why I want to share with it, but this is just another example of anybody just saying, gosh, like, your legs look fat right now. Or, hey, you have cellulitis on your ______, and then all of a sudden, every day, the child’s now looking at the cellulitis. And I just, I find that to be so sad and harsh. But remember, these are some kids your age you, you know, we as parents can’t necessarily control how that child talks to the other child. My question to you and where I’m going with it is, what can we do as parents to really do our best to help prevent the child from kind of spiraling out to like, for me, I stopped singing or for another child is like it that kind of turns into an eating disorder just simply from that one bit of feedback from a kid in their class, not even just an adult saying that, you know, what can we do to try to prevent that from getting out of hand?
Dana Suchow 42:22
Yeah. So I wasn’t even planning on talking about this. But thank you for bringing this up because this really this question, talking about, you know, being bullied by a classmate is almost the core of body positivity. So, you know, I am a very, staunch anti-bullying advocate, I talk about it all the time, I you know, I have been cyber bullied, I’ve also been bullied as a child, like, I’ve had a lot of bullying happened to me. But at the end of the day, the society that we’re living in, bullying is not going to stop anytime soon. We can put all the money and the resources into anti bullying that we want. But again, in the next 10 years that your children are in school, they’re going to get bullied. And I think we have to look at it in a realistic sense. You know, first of all, we can’t protect children every single moment of the day. But we also need to understand that people are going to say bad things about you, people aren’t going to like you and people aren’t going to like your kids. And that’s just how it’s going to happen. Because not everybody is liked by everybody. Everyone, you know, everyone has some somewhat, there’s someone out there that doesn’t like you, but what can you do as a parent? You can raise your kids to know that they are still loved by you, they still have value, and they are still important, even if someone doesn’t like them. And so when I think about my childhood, I was not raised that way. I was raised to very terrified that somebody was going to say something bad about me, somebody was going to bully me. You know, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was always waiting for the hat to drop or whatever the saying is, I was always expecting if somebody said something nice about me, I was waiting for the “but.” I was waiting for the you know that they wasn’t true. And I always questioned every time I got, you know, a compliment or something because I just didn’t believe it.
If we can raise children to believe that they are good enough, they won’t be looking for that external validation from others. And this doesn’t come with you know, saying, oh, you’re such a yummy. Yes, we can tell kids where they’re a great singers. And they’re wonderful, but how hard they’re trying again, complimenting their humanity, and saying, I see you trying. And I love how you don’t give up until you got the right answer. I love how hard you’re trying. And if we can do that, and saying you are still a good person, even if someone doesn’t like you. So I the way I kind of view how to raise body confident kids is this look, we’re going to go out into the world and the world is harsh, the world can be mean it can be beautiful, but can also be mean. But if we can create an armor for kids, if we can set them out into the world with this self-love armor, it makes those messages a lot harder to get through. Are some of them going to get in? Of course, because we’re human. And you know, no one is no one is like Teflon. But if we can make it that much harder for the negativity to get in, we are setting kids off on such a better foot of really accomplishing what they want really setting out for their goals and dreams and not worrying about making mistakes. And using those as learning, you know, as feedback, not failure.
Elana Roumell 45:54
I’m just soaking in that whole idea of self love. And if you can armor them with that they really almost have this shield against the bullying and the peer pressure and such. And that’s a really wise way of going about it. And as parents, we can absolutely equip our kids with that. And also, I think creating a very safe and vulnerable space for them to share so that you know if they do get bullied, they know that there’s a safe space to share that with you.
Dana Suchow 46:24
Yeah, oh, you know what, you know what I wish I had heard when I was young as if I had said somebody bully me, I would have love for a caretaker to first of all, just listen, just get on my level, sit on the sofa, hug me just listen, let me get it out. And then you know what I would love to hear, you know what I was believed to, but I lived through it, I made it through. It didn’t you know, it’s you know, when we when we just talk is? Well “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?” Words hurt, words hurt! And when we say you know, well, you know, chin up you’re okay, at least XY and Z or you know all these things, we de-validate what a child is going through, and we say that what you’re feeling is not important. And so they become less likely to be open with us to be vulnerable with us. And so if you can say, ‘Look, I’ve gone through it, too, I get it, you are not alone, but you’re going to live through it. But let’s help you get through this together.’ I think that can be some of the most comforting words that a child can hear when they’re really going through it.
Elana Roumell 47:27
As I agree with this, I teach actually, in my courses, I teach a lot of moms how to really feel empowered, when their child is sick. And I find that a lot of parents that I work with, they’re very uncomfortable in this in the state of suffering. They’re very uncomfortable in discomfort. I want to teach parents how to feel comfortable when their child is suffering because it’s just an inevitable part of life. Kids get sick, kids get bullied, kids will have negative thoughts, kids will have x, y and z. And so I a very similar context in that you sit with them and say, ‘Yeah, I was bullied too. And it’s not fun,’ and be in the suffering and be in discomfort with them. So you are validating them, and then say, through these challenging times we get through them. And here’s how I got through it. You know, we kind of started the interview with that is, you know, through your struggle through my struggle, we found our gifts and if we can really help our kids learn and understand that then really, you’re right. They go out with this like self-love armor. I just love that the self-love armor and their shield.
Dana Suchow 48:35
Beautiful. Yeah, I think all of us wish that we had more armor when we were young. Because again, you know, if I had, I mean, who knows what I would have been doing. I’m grateful for what I’m doing now. But again, who knows the path that I would have taken if I was set out going, it’s okay. People don’t like me. I it’s not the end of the world, I will get through it. And I’m still a good human being. And it’s just if if all kids felt that way, and not in a way that’s elitist or snobby, but in a way that says, You know, I hold I hold space, I understand that everyone’s got their own stuff. And I’m not everyone’s person, but I am my own person. And I will always have my own back.
Elana Roumell 49:16
Well, I think that comes with time and maturity as well. But it’s very much there. And absolutely, as parents, we get to be role models of that. So it starts with that. So I just have to last question just to wrap up because we’re already kind of I could talk about this for hours. Again, I love these interviews. But I do want to just provide resources and tools for parents who already have children who they already suspected eating disorders going on, whether it’s a clinically diagnosed eating soda, or whether they’re just suspicious of, you know, body image or body dysmorphia, what are some tools and resources that you can help direct them to so that they can you know, dive into this even more?
Dana Suchow 49:54
Yeah,, great question. And I actually on my website, I worked very hard to put together a resource page on my website, it’s free. You don’t have to enter your email address or your sign up for anything but you literally just go to danasuchow.com/resources. And I have social media accounts you can follow I have body positive podcasts, I have eating disorder hotlines, I have parenting help hotlines. I have also age appropriate body positive book lists for kids, teens, and also adults. So if anyone who is whether you have a child that you really do feel like you need to reach out to the National Eating Disorder Association, I have the numbers listed there. Or if you’re, you know, want to start dipping your toe into body positivity and start learning about this stuff. Go to my resource page, everything is there. And it’s laid out to help you navigate where you need to go.
Elana Roumell 50:50
Okay, this is excellent. I’m going to add it to the show notes. So for moms listening, please just know it’s there. This is going to be a great resource. And I appreciate it. So I can even share this with my patients. So thank you so much. That’s excellent. And then really my last question, it’s a community question. And I just didn’t even really get too much into these. But I just think this one is so great. There’s still so much value in this show. Thank you. But I really liked this question. And she asked specifically is like how do I not let junk food put such an emphasis on my kids potential eating disorder like she’s leaving, like, that’s bad for you don’t eat that that’s not healthy. Like, I think we can so often do that, especially as moms who want to be so proactive and feed our kids healthy food. We don’t really want to label food is bad or good or whatnot. So what’s some of the tips that you have for this mom who has a question that I’m sure so many other moms out?
Dana Suchow 51:44
I understand the the idea that, do we want kids eating chips every day? Or candy? You know, breakfast, lunch, or dinner? No, of course we don’t, that is not a balanced diet, I get it. But when we call foods good and bad junk, good, clean, dirty, what we’re doing is we’re adding kind of a moral emphasis on to these foods and they become larger than life. And what happens is it it ends up being well, when your kid eats that your child is now junk. Or if you eat that, you’re junk, or you’re bad or you’re dirty. Instead of just being you know, you know what, I ate food. And I think there’s a couple things here.
Let’s say we look at a bag of potato chips. Do we want to eat the children eating them breakfast, lunch or dinner? No, but do they have salt? Do they have fat Do they have carbs Do they have oil, all of these things that have a healthy brain and cell and heart function all that our bodies need? Absolutely. And so I think we need to start looking at things at a at a deeper level than just this is a bag of chips. So this is calories in nutrition and for growing child or even for you if you want it, its food and its sustenance. I you know the other idea to is when we restrict, we are setting ourselves up for binge behavior. And so especially when for children, and this is proven is when we have kids and we say you cannot eat this or this food is not allowed in the house, or this is bad food or this is dirty, what kids are more likely to do is they’re more likely to eat it in secret, they’re more likely to eat it at their friend’s house. And they’re more likely to you know, do behaviors where they’re involved, you know, involved with this type of food or this this thing without you knowing and doing it in secret. And that leads to binge behaviors that leads to binge purge behaviors. So you know, a lot of times I have parents that want to work with me, and they say I found candy wrappers in my kids pockets and in their backpacks and in their school stuff. And it’s you know, it’s getting more and more and more, but I don’t allow that in the house. And so you know, it’s about neutralizing foods and and if parents are struggling with the language, a language that I like using is “sometimes and always” like language, sometimes food. And again, we can’t set up sometimes food a`s only a Monday, Wednesday, Friday, but sometimes food is you know, it’s sometimes we eat it. But always we have these foods that we can eat always no matter what and these foods help you run faster, these foods are going to help you do better on your math test, these foods are going to make you feel better, these foods are going to help fight inflammation. And we can talk about food in that way. But we really it’s about neutralizing food and making all food safe. And soon we start getting kids back in touch with intuitive eating behaviors.
Elana Roumell 54:33
Yeah, you know, it’s funny, I was just going to bring that up intuitive eating because that’s very similar philosophy. And, and I love that because again, kind of going back to our job as parents is to obviously love adore and provide safety for our kids. But it’s also creating the safe spaces to be vulnerable and to share. And so if we are restricting, and then they’re hiding things for us, then they clearly don’t feel like it’s safe for us, for them to say hey, I can’t today because we’re rocking them or shaming them or, you know, depriving them of something. So I find that to be a really great tool is to have the sometimes food and the always food and again, just teaching them what that what they are and what that looks like. And something that I like to do in my house is my husband loves chips. And I, I just I say to him, I’m like, Look, if I have chips around, I will eat the bag. It’s just something that I it’s like, I don’t have breaks like I I just eat them. And I know that about myself. So how about I buy chips once a month, and I keep them in the house. And then you know, I have control over it and you have it and then also that it’s not around the kids so much because I know that they like the chips. And he’s agreed. So we made this agreement. And so when the chips are around and my daughter wants them, she always says here eat chips like eat him with me and I say ‘You know what, honey, if I eat too many it hurts my stomach.’ And I’m just honest. Like, if I eat too many it hurts my stomach and she goes, Oh, that’s interesting. And I don’t say to her if she eats too many it hurts her stomach. Let her decide if that does over, maybe we’re out to eat something and she tries to shove bread in my face. Well, I don’t do well with gluten, gluten in me just don’t go along together. So I just say to her, ‘I’m sorry, honey, that doesn’t make me feel good. I can’t eat that. But maybe you can you know,’ and I actually encouraged him like maybe you can, but I want her to learn that there are foods that actually don’t agree with some people and that’s okay. And let her let her start being curious about well does this work for me? Or does this not work for me? I mean, I have such wise little kids in my practice who I’ll do food panels are and I’m like hey look at your body doesn’t like dairy and a 10 year old just yesterday was like ‘Yeah, I don’t like dairy either. I never eat it. I just don’t like how it feels.’ And I’m like god you’re so wise like you’re really listening. Right?
Dana Suchow 56:42
You know kids are kids are born intuitive eaters, it’s society and you know, the people around them that that we we beat it out of them, you know, people have evolved gotten out of touch and our brains are more in tune with our food than our stomachs and our hearts and so it really you know if we can trust children a little more to just you know, understand there’s also really great account on Instagram I just want to throw it out there if anyone is having issues with actually feeding their little ones and figuring out how to talk about food or or you know, what’s what’s the right right amount of food that a toddler needs to eat? There’s a great account on Instagram called kids eat in color.
Elana Roumell 57:23
I knew you’re gonna say that I love that page. She’s fabulous. She has grown so quickly and I am so impressed with her and her the graphics and the messages and everything so yes I totally agree
Dana Suchow 57:35
She works really hard on doing that and and I think she just comes from such a genuine loving place us and yeah, so she’s a great resource you know, I like to think that I’m really more on the emotional and the love and and sort of the you know, the prevention side and then she’s really gets into the nitty gritty of of really feeding and kill em calories and nutrition things and yeah, and she she’s great.
Elana Roumell 58:00
She’s also a registered dietitian. Yes absolutely. All right, well let’s go ahead and wrap up I like I said I could talk to you for hours this has been so great having a really nice day here summer course and I hope that the you know listeners I’m sure are getting so much value from this as well. Would you mind those sharing some resources that you provide or services that you know for moms listening who just wants a little bit more because we’re ending now what where can they find more about you and what are your off?
Dana Suchow 58:25
Yeah, so you know I am I don’t know if this is annoying or if this is good marketing but my everything is Dana Suchow – so if you go to Instagram slash Dana Suchow, FacebookDana Suchow, DanaSuchow.com, my email is Dana at DanaSuchow.com It is like Dana Suchow overload. But it’s also it’s, it’s easy to find me so I can be reached, you know, my major platform is Instagram, but I also have my website, my email me. But yeah, so if anyone is listening to this, and you’re like, you know, I just would love to meet with someone and, you know, really talk about what’s happening specifically in my home because I, I feel like I got some tools from the podcast. But you know, there’s really some major things or even some small things happening, that I just want some tools, I want to tweak what I’m doing so that I can do the best and, you know, helping my kids along to love their bodies. I do one on one training. And I also do speaking, I speak at schools, I speak with students and I also speak with parents and teachers in a group. So please reach out to me if you’re interested in doing one on one training, learning more, I do it via Skype. So I have clients all over the world. And then I also travel so I based in New York, but you know, if you want me to speak at your school, and you are in California, or Colorado or wherever, reach out to me and maybe we can figure something out.
Elana Roumell 59:44
I love it. What a great offering. Thank you so much for all the things you do in the world. And for all the support and love you are really making a big difference for a lot of parents and kids. So thank you. And
Dana Suchow 59:55
If anybody if there’s any listeners in Colombia, I’m going to be actually doing a week of work workshops and talks in Colombia, the last week of September so please reach out to me if you’re there or if you have family there. You know, anyone that I should meet up with? I am very excited to be over there.
Elana Roumell 1:00:11
Good. Enjoy your travels. I love it, spreading it around the world. Great. Well, Dana, I had such a great time with you. Thank you so much again for all your expertise and time and passion. So hope to connect again. Soon I’ll be following your Instagram account as well and seeing what you’re up to and hopefully others too.
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- The importance of raising body confident children
- How the language we use can impact our children’s body image
- The prevalence of eating disorders and what we can do as parents to prevent them
- What signs to look for in a child who may be heading toward an eating disorder
- How to navigate bullying or peer pressure around body image
- Resources for parents who suspect an eating disorder in their child
- Dana’s resources to support parents in raising body confident kids
- Connect with Dana on Instagram
- Read Dana’s article on our website
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This episode's guest
Dana Suchow is an award-winning speaker, educator and coach. Since overcoming Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder and exercise compulsion, Dana Suchow has become an expert in the field of body image and eating disorder prevention. Offering a nonclinical and holistic approach, Dana gives parents, teachers and caregivers the tools they need to prevent eating disorders in kids before they start! Learn more at www.DanaSuchow.com For free daily tools and help, follow Dana on Instagram: @DanaSuchow!