Ep 37 – Deconstructing Eating Disorders with Dr. Dara Bushman: Part 2

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Hey stepparents! Maria Natapov here, stepparenting coach and strategist. I am excited to present to you the rest of my conversation with Dr. Dr. Bushman, with whom we talked about eating disorders. This interview was inspired by my recent conversation with my stepdaughter where she delved into her trauma story touching on her issues with eating. Those episodes can be found at synergisticstepparenting.com/33 and synergisticstepparenting.com/34.

In Part 1 of our conversation with Dr. Dara Bushman we clarified the difference between eating disorders and disordered eating. We discussed how the key perspective is in evaluating whether something we are noticing is truly problematic or whether it’s just a natural developmental change that may be temporary in nature.

We also identified how to notice our own mindset around food and body shape. Because as we’ve discussed on the show before, kids are noticing everything you do and are deeply influenced by your behavior. 

This week we’re going to learn what’s at the heart of food related issues, what the precursors are to eating disorders, and how to have critical conversations with your stepchild to prevent these issues. Again, without further ado, I introduce you to the fabulous Dr. Dara Bushman!

Who is Dr. Dara Bushman, Eating Disorders Specialist?

Here’s a refresher on Dr. Dara Bushman’s background. She’s a licensed psychologist who specializes in rapid transformation, helping people move from crabby to happy from ordinary to extraordinary from surviving to thriving. She’s an author and featured psychologist in the media and a mom of two energetic school kids and two dogs.

Her clinical background includes working with individuals, couples, families and even groups to dissolve trauma triggers and eliminate recurring traumatic experiences license in the states of North Carolina and Florida. She was a lead therapist for 10 years at milestones and recovery, a comprehensive eating disorder treatment center, where she introduced a comprehensive approach to healing that involves mind body healing, she has cracked the code to the language of disordered eating and the secret to eating disorders through the language of foodenese.

Early in the pandemic, she saw a picture of a healthcare worker hugging an elderly patient in isolation and immediately felt a calling and recently began working in assisted living facilities in the Asheville area. She also works with aspiring professional athletes, as well as Olympians to break mental blocks and achieve peak performance, getting them out of their heads and onto the winner’s platform.

I can’t wait for you guys to get all the goodness of this incredible conversation. Here we go…

Food Related Issues Often Center Around Shame

MARIA NATAPOV:
So, would you say maybe inviting and exploring, “How do those words resonate with you? How do they make you feel?” And just inviting more of that exploration in those conversations so that we’re helping kids to build and maybe even ourselves? To tune in more to recognizing how to use kinder language? Or how to not let other people’s language penetrate so deeply and throw us totally off the rails?

DR. DARA BUSHMAN:

Definitely. I mean, if you’re going to talk a certain way, energy is going to go. And if it’s constantly telling your kids what you don’t want them to do, you’re going to get more of what you don’t want. “No jellybeans,” “no eating this,” “no eating that.” And they’re like, “Why?” Because if you tell me not to do something, I’m going to do the complete opposite.

And that’s when you’re going to notice kids sneaking in food. The big premise of a lot of stuff around food is shame. Whether you’re 55 years old, 15 years old, or 5 years old, it’s so shame based. So that’s where there’s the physiological or the physical part of it and also the emotional components. They get wired around food. We create these associations. We create that family night is Movie Night, and we get to go to the movies, and we have junk food, and we eat popcorn, and that equates to love and fun and family.

That’s a culture that’s so much of our society, that we integrate and communicate and have camaraderie around food. I’m just also welcoming that there be alternative ways of connecting, not the only time we don’t want to have conversation is at the dinner table. So then, you know, people put food in their mouth, and they’re kind of numbing out with it and not addressing things. So, it’s going to happen, you can’t avoid it. But let’s acknowledge it in a sense too. There can be other priorities around a dinner time other than just what we’re eating.

Noticing Problematic Patterns around Eating

And also, if there’s an integrity around food. Often, I’ll see if there’s problematic patterns around food, there’s problematic patterns in other areas too. I’ve really been honing-in the idea that the integrity of where we sit spiritually, interpersonally, healthfully, financially, and then work. And I understand some of that doesn’t apply to everybody, but doesn’t it? Because it all flows. So, if you’re in a space and you’re feeling uncomfortable with, “Oh, should I eat this? Should I eat that?” You’re probably questioning the other things you’re doing in your lifestyle also.

MARIA NATAPOV:
That’s a great point.

DR. DARA BUSHMAN:

And so that’s a great way to nourish ourselves and provide that fuel to show up in other areas of our life.

MARIA NATAPOV:
Yeah. What I’m hearing you say is that taking a wholistic approach, that it’s an organism. But also that our approach to, for example, food, like you said, illustrates our approach or mindset around other things and looking at that and not seeing part for a whole but actually seeing maybe opportunities where we can improve it or at least address those other areas.

Maybe it’s a scarcity mindset or something like that, or we don’t want to deal with it because it just feels uncomfortable, so we ignore it. So, addressing that, and starting to work through that. That’s fantastic.

Precursors to Eating Disorders

What would you say are the most important things to be aware of regarding precursors to – outside of what we just discussed, if there’s perhaps other things … that are little red flags that you’ve noticed, or some common ones that are precursors to disordered eating? Or it sounds like unwellness in these other areas as well. Since usually it’s in other areas of our lives.

DR. DARA BUSHMAN:
I think back to when my kids were small. And I remember one time, here’s me, Captain Health, and one of my kids was eating jellybeans under the table. And I was like, “Wait, am I restricting them that they felt like that wasn’t something that they could eat?” But they were making a gingerbread house so there was clearly candy. So, at the end of the day, there’s age-appropriate things. I do think sometimes in this culture and society today, we’re too stringent on it. We’re too hyper-focused. Let kids be kids.

So, in that moment, it wasn’t because I was a bad mother. Or it wasn’t because I was providing my kids with healthy alternative eating options because my child was under the table eating jellybeans. My child was under the table eating jellybeans, because kids love them. And they’re good. And it didn’t mean that he was chemically out of whack, and he’s going to have the potentiality of an eating disorder. It means he’s normal. I do think that there is a space.

But yeah, you do notice it is common for kids to go and sneak and take something out of the cabinet. Because any parent’s going to have a limit. Sure, you want to eat the whole gallon of ice cream? No, you can have a bowl. So, I think that a lot of it is finding the positivity of it opposed to the negativity.

How to Approach Your Stepchild’s Behavior around Food

Because we could be like, “Oh my gosh, that’s a problem.” But again, what are your patterns? You’re upset with your kids for wanting to have too much dessert or for sneaking food, but you’re standing at the kitchen counter, and you’re not putting it on a plate and you’re just picking at food. There’s such a correlation to those types of behaviors.

MARIA NATAPOV:
I’m hearing you say, this is something that has come up a lot in other conversations we’ve been having, but, going out of the way to praise the behavior you want to see more of rather than being so hyper-focused on all the things they’re doing wrong. And keeping in mind that just like with anything, we want they get to make mistakes.

Because that’s how they figure out what works and what doesn’t work and what’s a good thing to do and what isn’t a good thing to do. So instead of getting so worried that this is indicative of a permanent behavior or a permanent way that they’re going to be just letting them be and letting them figure it out. And maybe when finding those opportunities, say, “Hey, how did that work out?” Or “Did this feel good?” Etc.

How Can You Get to the Root of Your Stepchild’s Eating Behavior?

DR. DARA BUSHMAN:
A big piece of this is that parents don’t ask the hard questions, because they’re uncomfortable. Whether we’re talking about food, whether we’re talking about sexuality, whether we’re talking about so many things with kids. Especially in this world of social media, and the intensity and the maturity of content skyrocketing. It’s okay to ask hard questions.

And if you don’t ask them, if you’re uncomfortable, that’s your problem. But if you’re uncomfortable, then your kids are going to be uncomfortable. When it comes to food, I feel treat your kids how you want to be treated. Because parents are asking kids questions, like, you would be so embarrassed if somebody asked you a question like that!

“Did you take that cookie?” What do you mean? Of course, they’re going to say, “no!” Would you stand there and be like, “Yeah, I stole a cookie”? Or “I couldn’t do my schoolwork, because I kept thinking about the ice cream sundae that I wanted.” Or let’s get more intensified, “Yeah, I’m having trouble focusing on things because I threw up.” It’s a reality.

I mean, there are eating disorders, there’s not a question. But a lot of it can be organized or reorganized on different food patterns that are happening in organization. And again, it’s not just showing up in their food. I call food, It’s like I have a secret language – foodenese. And it’s just so interesting to me, because the behaviors that people doing around food speaks such a language and give their own story.

How to Start “Planting Seeds” for the Necessary Conversation

MARIA NATAPOV:
What questions do you suggest people ask so they can start “planting seeds”? If they’re going to start somewhere, even if it’s uncomfortable, at least if we give them a little bit of where they need to be going, it will help to move things forward in that direction. So are there specific questions that you think are great questions, or necessary – top three maybe – to discuss and ask with regard to that? And ways to be kind and chill?

For example, with my kiddo … I love everything you just said about how uncomfortable parents are with different topics that absolutely need to be discussed, and that’s something we’ll be delving into on the podcast soon … but we talk a lot about shame busting. In society, in general, there’s so many opportunities for “Oh, we need to be this way.” And all these perceptions and all these ideas, and they’re just BS. So, we try to bust those myths.

Because ultimately, all of that messaging is getting hardwired in if we’re not talking about it and if we’re not addressing it and if we’re not showing an alternative to how that can be. Now, it doesn’t mean that that goes away. Because we have no control of things outside of ourselves. But we can at least explore it so that we can remove some of the intensity and some of the buy-in into those concepts. So, do you have any thoughts?

DR. DARA BUSHMAN:

You just have to lean in honestly. And just talk to your kids and maybe let them know that you’re uncomfortable. Because I think sometimes there’s this idea of being a parent that we’re supposed to be in such control and we’re supposed to not show our vulnerability. And reality is these are tough topics. So, to model to your kids not to have emotion, I think you’re doing an injustice to your children.

How to Begin the Difficult Conversations

I think it’s okay to say, “Look, I feel uncomfortable. Can you help me with this?” Or “Can you help me understand what you’re experiencing and what this looks like? I’m uncomfortable, so help me here.” And then it opens the door for kids to realize that their parents are vulnerable. And I think that’s a big piece. You’re not supposed to get it. We weren’t given manuals for our children, and we’re protective of our kids. And we only want the best.

So, to even embark on this territory is 100%. Because if you care, even when you’re like, do you have specific questions? I’m like, “No, I don’t.” Because what comes to mind for you, it’s okay. You’re not going to mess your kids up any more than what’s already happening in the world. We survived our parents messing up. It just circles back to that idea, it’s not our jobs to protect our kids. Again, I have little babies. NO! My job is to help them when someone makes fun of them, not keep them from being made fun of because it’s not realistic to life.

And so I can’t stop them from having pain, but I can help them navigate through it. That is a game changer. Because even when it does come to food, you don’t have to do it for them, just guide them. And how can you not have a thing with food, in a certain sense? It’s in our society. It’s in our culture. There’s so many mixed messages around it. The media literally makes money off of us by confusing us.

Allow Yourself to Be the Novice and Your Stepchild to Be the Teacher

MARIA NATAPOV:

Yeah, it’s so true. I love what you suggested around parents, first of all, modeling that it’s okay to be vulnerable, and that they’re things that they’re uncomfortable with. Because, Hello! – We all have that experience! Talk about normalizing it and showing that it’s okay.

But also that it puts the child now in the position of being the teacher. That there are things parents don’t know, and it’s okay to say, “hey, I don’t know this,” and to be a novice at it. And being open to learning and having your kids witness the fact that you’re open to learning. That’s really beautiful. I love that.
Thank you so much. I know that we’re at the end of our time, but this was amazing. And we just so appreciate you being here with us and sharing your wisdom.

DR. DARA BUSHMAN:
Thank you so much. And if I can be of any more value or offer parents assistance, we’re in it together, right?

MARIA NATAPOV:
Thank you so much. And if I can be of any more value or offer parents assistance, we’re in it together, right?

DR. DARA BUSHMAN:
Yes, absolutely. I will share all of your links in the show notes.

MARIA NATAPOV
Great. Thank you.

DR. DARA BUSHMAN:
Thank you.

MARIA NATAPOV

Take care.

DR. DARA BUSHMAN:
Take care.

This was such an important conversation full of soundbites that I’m taking away and hope you are too. To sum it up we learned what’s at the root of food related issues and the precursors signifying food issues. We identified how critical it is to start planting seeds and how to begin the difficult conversations with your stepchild.

We also discussed the benefits of being a novice and letting your stepchild be the teacher around what’s going on for them regarding any concerning behaviors you notice and how kids need this support now more than ever. Kids are deeply influenced by your behavior and where you put your attention and how you go about doing that.

Please check out the show notes for links to Dr. Dara Bushman’s website and a wonderful planner and journal she has just released called S.H.I.F.T.

If you’re enjoying these episodes go to SynergisticStepparenting.com/subscribe to make sure you don’t miss a thing!

Until next time, be well!

Links to Dr. Dara Bushman and her S.H.I.F.T. Planner and Journal

Dr. Dara Bushman’s Website

Dr. Dara Bushman’s S.H.I.F.T. Powerful Planner and Journal

Related Episodes:

Confessions of a Stepdaughter – Broken Silence: Part 1

Deconstructing Eating Disorders with Dr. Dara Bushman: Part 1

Building your Blended Family Dream Team

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