No parent can prevent an eating disorder in his or her child – our children are their own individual people who must walk their own paths. But at the same time, the more aware we are as parents of our own eating issues and difficulties, whether we have a true eating disorder or are “just” yo-yo dieters who hate our bodies, the better able we are to show up for our kids as they face a world in which eating disorders flourish.
Dr. Anita Johnston is the author of Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling and co-founder of the Light of the Moon Cafe. She is currently the Clinical Director of ‘Ai Pono Maui Eating Disorders Residential Treatment Program in Hawaii.
In 1986, she developed Hawaii’s first inpatient eating disorders treatment program at Kahi Mohala Hospital.
“I found that those that were struggling with eating disorders were the most interesting, creative individuals I had ever met,” says Dr. Johnston. “But they didn’t seem to see themselves that way. I wanted to understand.”
In addition to her work at both inpatient and outpatient facilities, Dr. Johnston trains professionals in eating disorder treatment. “It’s a joy for me,” she says. “I get to see people recover all the time.”
Through a series of three 8-week courses, participants receive daily emails containing audio recordings, stories, poems, questions, drawing or writing exercises, and other activities to guide them through the book. Participants gather daily to support each other and chat with Dr. Johnston in a private online forum. There are also three live calls during which participants can interact with Dr. Johnston and with each other.
“It’s a very interactive, live experience,” says Dr. Johnston. “And it’s been so interesting because I’ve noticed that there are times when online participants, because they can’t see each other, don’t get triggered and do body comparisons. As a result, they are sometimes able to find common ground more quickly.”
If you are a mom who has an eating disorder, or if you are a mom who struggles with your own body image and food, then it may be helpful to look into the book and/or the Light of the Moon Cafe.
Because while we are not in control of our children’s bodies and life experiences, we can only do the best we can to heal ourselves as we seek healing for our children.
“It’s such a humbling experience to be a parent,” says Dr. Johnston. “We do the best we can, but at the same time we have to accept our limitations. The best thing you can do for your child is the hard work that’s required for your own disorder, if you have a struggle with food or your weight. That’s not a guarantee, but it certainly will improve the odds.”
Dr. Johnston co-founded the Anorexia & Bulimia Center of Hawaii in 1982. In 2001, she founded the ‘Ai Pono Intensive Out-Patient Eating Disorders Programs in Honolulu, and most recently opened ‘Ai Pono Maui Residential Eating Disorders Program http://www.aiponomaui.com on the island of Maui. She provides individual consultation, conducts workshops on disordered eating across the country, and lectures widely to professional organizations, medical institutions, and the community at large. Website