How My Recovery From Eating Disorders Affects My Daughter

By Pauline Campos 03/05/17

What I see and say about myself now will form the narrative inside of my daughter's head as she grows. But that doesn't mean that I can suddenly start thinking like a non-eating disordered person.


When I was eight years old, I was hiding in the pantry to binge on whatever pre-packaged baked goods my parents had bought for school lunches. I didn’t know that bingeing was even a word (let alone an eating disorder). That knowledge, and eventual self-diagnosis and acceptance of my identity as an eating disordered woman, would not take place for many more years. We've just finished National Eating Disorders Awareness week, and I’m writing this piece to help that little girl in the pantry, because maybe if I go back in time to answer the questions I couldn’t back then, I just might be able to help shape a future for my own little girl free of self-hate, body dysmorphia, and self-harm through food.

I didn’t know why I felt the need to force-feed myself an entire box of ding-dongs. I just knew that I had to eat because if I ate enough, my feelings wouldn’t have any room to make me sad. 

That same year, I started wearing my mother’s pants. I was five feet tall and maybe an inch, and stood eye to eye with my mother. My father worked two jobs to support her and three daughters, so naturally, it made more sense to share mom’s clothes than buy me new jeans for school. Relatives constantly told me how big I was, but I didn’t know that “big” meant “tall," so I just spent more time in the pantry eating until it hurt. I was already fat, I reasoned. Another Hostess cupcake wasn’t going to change anything. 

When I was 13, my hips made a man say uncomfortable things to me; my hips made my father mad. I was working as a busser at a family-owned Mexican restaurant with him where he’d been waiting tables as his second job since before I was born. A man had decided my hips made me old enough to hear things my ears and mind were not ready for, and he called the restaurant asking for me, pretending to have left his wallet in my section when the manager answered the phone. My father had seen the way the man looked at me before he left. He grabbed the phone away from me, told the man what he’d do to him if he ever set foot in the restaurant or tried to contact me again, and told me to get back to work. 

That same year, I watched a TV special about a last-chance treatment center for eating disorders while my parents and younger sisters were away. This is when I learned what bulimia is. That night, after stuffing myself so full that my body ached, I knelt down in front of the toilet, put my index finger as far back into my throat as I could, and then I pushed deeper. The release I felt when I stood back up to clean myself up shocked me. I flushed the toilet and watched as my feelings swirled away into nothingness. I could breathe. 

When I was 18, I left for college. I didn’t go very far. Campus was just 20 minutes from my home, but I insisted on student loans and the freedom of dorm life. Never having learned healthy coping skills for life and the uncertainties that come with freedom after a sheltered childhood, I alternated between binging and purging and starving myself. When I was out of control, I’d find myself slinking away to the campus cafeteria for pints of ice-cream and cheeseburgers I pretended I was gathering for a dorm-room party. It made sense to my broken thinking that control, then, meant the ability to limit my intake. 

I survived for months on one slice of cheese and an apple per day. I’m curvy. I’m “big-boned." When concerned friends told me that they thought I was getting too thin, I feigned gratitude for their concern and made a point of eating a full meal in front of at least one person who would vouch for the fact that I’d eaten that day. 

And that’s all I would eat, for a while, anyway. I always ended up breaking and eating and then purging because that was my punishment, I reasoned, for being such a horrible anorexic. Looking back now, I see the warning signs that led my first of two suicide attempts. But in the moment, I couldn’t see beyond the number on my jeans and calories in vs. calories out. The scale defined my self-worth. 

When I was 21, I begged my father for forgiveness and asked to move back in to the home I’d left in tears just six months before. I’d met a 28-year-old man who just turned out to be looking for a plaything while he and his estranged wife worked things out on the weekends when we went to see his kids. I had no car and could barely pay my cell-phone bill. The only time we had “friends” over to drink and play cards, I blacked out and woke up length-wise on the bed, naked. The couple that had been hanging out with us was gone without a trace, and I found my boyfriend passed out in the bathroom, his body wrapped around the toilet. Neither one of us remembered anything so we didn’t bring it up as he finally announced that he was going back to his family and I tried to make amends with my Mexican-born father. I walked on eggshells. He did, too. And then one day, the awkwardness melted away and we could laugh again.

That same year, I met the man who would become my husband. We pretended not to be serious with each other even though we’d both stopped dating other people after our first date. He thought I was cute when I pretended to be mad, and I realized he was in for the long-haul when I gained 50 pounds in six months after moving in together (with my father’s blessing). I was diagnosed as hypothyroid and forced to figure out how to not hate the body I could no longer control.

When I was 24, we got married. I lost 15 pounds on doctor’s orders and had a great reduction to correct the curvature of my spine and went from a 38GGG to a 38DDD. I started working out and feeling better, but I still secretly binged and purged when I didn’t know how else to deal with the thoughts inside my head. I knew that this had to change when, four years later, I learned I was pregnant with our now nine-year-old daughter. 

She will watch me and learn. What I see and say about myself now will form the narrative inside of her own head as she grows. I knew this then and I know this now, but I can’t tell you that I suddenly started thinking like a non-eating disordered person. It doesn’t happen that way. I say that I am a life-long recovering bulimic because that’s what I am. I may have stopped the behaviors but the thinking means I wake up every day ready to try and retrain my brain to see myself through the eyes of my husband and daughter because my own still try to break me with what they see when I look into a mirror. 

My todays shape her tomorrows. For her, I am learning to love what my body as it is in order to feel worthy of self-care and the exercise I know both my body and mind require for peace and health. My todays shape her tomorrows; which means her tomorrows shape my todays. 

Last week was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, (Feb 26-March 4) spearheaded by The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). #NEDAwareness week is to bring awareness to eating disorders and life-saving resources. This year’s theme: It’s Time to Talk About It. Click here for information on getting screened and getting help. Find me at

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