Mom Speaks: Her Thoughts on My Eating Disorder Journey

We love food in this family. My husband and I look forward to meals and plan out fun things to eat for days at a time. We go out a lot. We shared our love of food with our daughters as much as possible. We were always encouraging them to try new things and laughing because we were all physically active and did not need to watch what we ate and communicated this clearly with the girls.

My mom couldn’t have explained our family’s attitude towards food any better than that. I grew up in a household where food and the love of it was encouraged. We ate everything in moderation. We weren’t banned from desserts. We had a healthy portion of processed food with healthy whole food dinners. I would say that perhaps the bad attitude about bodies/physical shape in general came more from the similar attitudes society had towards overweight individuals: “Fat,” “looks bad in that dress,” and “lack of discipline and control” were not uncommon phrases heard inside and outside of the home.

NAIA nats 2010 074

Those kind of attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors are not uncommon but they are destructive. My parents and I didn’t realize how destructive they could be until they began to dictate my changing attitude and thoughts about food and my own body. And because my mom never realized how much had changed in my mind until nearly two years after the seed had been planted, it took her a while to catch up and understand my eating disorder.

Thus, I feel it is only fair to give my mom’s side of the story by sharing her voice on my blog–and to show that even with misunderstanding and ignorance, there can be change with learning and never giving up to understand it all. My parents’ constant love and support is what allowed them to do everything they could to help me–and they are a huge part of the success I have had through all of this.


Rachael was the perfect daughter: obedient, smart, hard working, conscientious, disciplined, honest, careful, healthy, beautiful (to us, her parents – even through that geeky stage of red unruly hair, white skin, glasses, braces, awkward limbs, long flat feet), athletic, humble, shy, and loyal. She strove to be perfect. Every assignment or workout or practice was completed on time or early and was prepared above and beyond expectation or requirement. She did everything she was supposed to do plus extra. She would check her work over and over before she turned it in just to be sure it was absolutely correct. Some might call it obsessive-compulsive behavior. Nothing but A’s would satisfy her. Her sister and “normal” kids were not like her. She had very few peer friends and craved the attention and approval of her parents, teachers, and most adults. She couldn’t control her awkwardness or her peers so she poured herself into controlling everything she could.

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As a candidate for an eating disorder, Rachael was the perfect storm.

When Rachael finally admitted to herself and then to me, her mother, that she thought she might have a problem with food, I took her out to eat (!) to discuss whatever she had on her mind. I said every wrong clichéd thing I could have possibly said. I had meant well but I triggered all the negative derailment that exists.

My husband and I eventually went to an eating disorder counselor to learn about what she was going through and started reading the books they suggested. Rachael began reading everything she could get her hands on about the topic. She sent me a list of the ones she thought would help me most to understand and educate myself for her sake. I learned how horribly wrong-headed everything I had said to her that night she tried to tell me of her problem was.

We communicated. We made our peace with each other. We explained what we meant by what we said and explained how it was interpreted and why. We spent hours and hours talking. She wrote pages and pages of prose about her journals and experiences and research and goals for rescuing herself. That was the best turning point–when she told me of her plan for self-rescue.

I was so relieved. I knew she would make it. She chose health and life and I will be eternally grateful to the people who came into her life to support her and love her and tell her their stories and re-assure her that recovery is possible and she could most definitely be happy and secure again.

Through reading all the books, I knew there were parts of the eating disorder experience that were not written about. Not everyone with an eating disorder lands at death’s door weighing fifty pounds dragging loads of drama of soap operatic proportions. Not everyone hates their body for lack of beauty or excess of fat or feels it’s necessary to starve all the way to death in order to run or dance or perform gymnastics to perfection. Rachael began her self-rescue way before it was too late.

Rachael has always given me many opportunities to be proud of her throughout her life with her performances and accomplishments. But there is nothing that gives me more pride than how she has chosen to handle this struggle.

Order your copy of Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It here.

2 replies
  1. Jeri Kessenich
    Jeri Kessenich says:

    Well said and (better yet) well done. You and Dave have circled the wagons to support Rachael, while encouraging her to take the lead on healing. Proud to call the entire Steil family great friends. No wonder you have such wonderful kdis!!

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