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This week on the Homeschool Highschool Podcast: Helping Teens Have Healthy Relationships with Food, Interview with Kassandra Baker.
Helping Teens Have Healthy Relationships with Food, Interview with Kassandra Baker
Note: The topic of food can be a trigger for some people. This episode contains an encouraging discussion with our friend Kassandra Baker in which she discusses healthy relationships for teens with the food they eat.
Vicki was happy that she could tackle a tough topic with a new friend, Kassandra Baker. Kassandra and Vicki met at a conference a couple of years ago and have been discussing the importance for teens of healthy relationships with food, as well as healthy body image. They were finally able to connect and record this episode.
Kassandra grew up in a Christian home. In that faith-filled family, she accepted Christ at the age of four while watching a Billy Graham crusade. From the outside looking in, things looked perfect. However, from the inside Kassandra experienced some struggles.
Having a highly sensitive personality can be hard on young people, especially middle schoolers and high schoolers. Kassandra was one of those kids. This sensitivity is a gift but also challenging because she felt emotions and compassion so deeply.
Kassandra, like many young people, was growing up in a culture that modeled for her that she had to look “a certain way” in order to be valuable and to be loved.
She did not necessarily look “that certain way” in her eyes. Thus by the time she was in middle school she began to wrestle with body image. Then she started dieting.
Soon this body image insecurity and dieting routines began to develop into a binge eating disorder. Then by the time Kassandra was in her early twenties, the struggles created a disorder called orthorexia: an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Interestingly, Kassandra’s orthorexia developed out of her trying to eat healthily but then becoming overly attached to the affirmations she was receiving for her “healthy lifestyle”.
As Kassandra started to become aware of the unhealthiness of her trying to be healthy, she gave a name to her struggles to help her label and detach from them: Ed and the Gang.
- Ed is the eating disorder
- The Gang is those struggles that prime her to have an eating disorder:
- People pleasing
- Needing to be in control
- Type A personality
To Kassandra, Ed and the Gang felt like a huge rock on her, pushing her into the ground. It felt overwhelming to her.
As a young teen, Kassandra’s “Gang” led her to a very high performance, especially academically. She strove the be the valedictorian of her school and other high-achieving accomplishments. This was not hard for Kassandra to do…for a while. She could work, work, work. Then she would “hit a wall”. By the time she would get home from school on those “hit a wall” days, she would crash on the couch, watch television and eat.
Unfortunately for her, this was not simply “emotional eating” (which can still be dysfunctional), it was more uncontrollable eating. Binge eating is the kind of food intake that cannot be controlled. It feels like the need to eat is a compulsion.
Next she would feel ashamed and so she would extremely food-restrict (eat very little). This would lead to her body feeling that it was facing famine or starvation because she was not taking in enough calories to survive.
This led to feeling deprived. Next, the deprivation led Kassandra to another binge-eating event.
By the time Kassandra was in college, she was trying to help herself by “clean eating” and lots of exercise.
Kassandra was so obsessed with her healthy eating that she would either not eat at events with her peers, or she would bring her own food. She missed out socially on so much in this rigid lifestyle! Even when she was not eating, she was thinking about food. In reality, she had simply moved to a different kind of eating disorder.
What brought Kassandra to a wake up moment was a traumatic event. In 2014, she experienced a traumatic brain injury and ended up in the hospital in the trauma room. Over night, she could not do all her “healthy behaviors”. In fact, she could not even get up and go to work.
As if that was not enough, Kassandra experienced three more traumatic brain injuries within a two year time period. Unfortunately, this led to chronic pain and vertigo. Thus, she simply could not do all the “behaviors”.
Fortunately, she had already started a Bible study about the underlying wounds that made her more vulnerable to her eating disorders. While Kassandra did not experience any “big T” traumas (things like abuse, natural disasters, family crises), she did experience many “small T” traumas. Like many of us humans, we encounter painful things through our growing years that teach us a fragile self-concept and anxiety. This Bible study helped her work on healing those pains.
BTW- When teens, or adults, are experiencing pain, anxiety, depression or trauma, counseling is so very helpful. Take it from Vicki, who is a counselor and has been through her own counseling. Therapy is a road to health.
In experiencing healing from her childhood pains, Kassandra had more energy to start recovering from her eating disorders.
Then she discovered “intuitive eating“.
Intuitive eating is a self-care framework that integrates instinct, emotion and rational thought. To help her reorganize her relationship with food and become more intuitive with her eating, she worked with a dietician who specialized in helping people learn those skills.
Kassandra describes her life before recover as living in “black and white”. However, with the freedom from the bondage to Ed and the Gang, she feels life is now “in color”.
Intuitive Eating includes ten principles
A diet is an external program. It tells you from the outside how you should eat. On the other hand, intuitive eating helps you understand how your body is specifically created. Then learning how to eat according to what your body needs. These needs can be different at various times. For example, when Kassandra had the traumatic brain injuries, she had different needs for food. In fact, her brain communicated differently with her body due to the injury.
Thus, she had to learn to be aware of her needs for food and care in new ways. It was rewarding to Kassandra to learn to be gracious to herself and her body in every stage of life.
The principles include (from The Original Intuitive Meeting Pros):
- Reject the diet mentality
- Honor your hunger
- Make peace with food
- Challenge the food police
- Discover the satisfaction factor
- Feel your fullness
- Cope with your emotions with kindness
- Respect your body
- Movement- understanding your body
- Honor your health with gentle nutrition
The basic idea of intuitive eating is to learn:
- when you are hungry and full
- what foods you like and do not like
- to move our bodies to feel good rather than to burn calories
This is different than the current American diet culture, which tells us to look a certain way (thin) and must live your life working on becoming thin. Intuitive eating allows you to be your healthy weight and size (which often is not diet-culture thin). God created everyone’s body to be different and to be beautiful in the way God made them. For Kassandra, her healthy size and lifestyle is not “skinny”…it is allowing herself to be the person (body and soul) that God created her to be.
With this in mind, Kassandra has a heart to minister to church teens and women about healthy relationships with food and with body image. She has found that sometimes our American diet culture has invaded the church, informing women that the only way to be healthy is to be thin. Thus the only way to please God is to be thin. This gives so much shame and guilt.
Food for thought from Kassandra: If God created the elephant and ant, why would He create all women to be a size 0?
It IS important to take care of our bodies, however, you cannot tell if a person is truly healthy by looking at them. That is God’s business.
For Kassandra today, a healthy relationship with food looks like:
- Enjoying a cup of ice cream when she wants to
- Eating only as much of the ice cream as her body wants (stopping when she is satisfied)
- Knowing that all foods are permissible!
- Craving a wide range of foods
- Engaging in the craving as she listens to her body
- Eating with friends when she is with friends
- Allowing herself to accept a healthy body image
- Kassandra highly recommends a book: Compared to Who by Heather Creekmore
- She holds tightly onto the verses I Corinthians 4:3-5, where Paul talks about not accepting others’ judgement of her, but holding fast to God’s gift of a clear conscience and love for herself. God’s love for her never changes, no matter what she looks like
- The Gospel is a continuous source of freedom for her: Christ’s love and sacrifice for her personally
- Recovery is a process
- Kassandra accepts help from helpful people and continues graciously in her growth process
Today Kassandra Baker is now certified as a health, life and mental health coach. If you have questions about helping teens with a healthy relationship with food, visit Kassandra at KassandraBaker.com or info@KassandraBaker.com.
Join Vicki and Kassandra for an encouraging and helpful talk about helping teens find a healthy relationship with food. Here are some other resources:
- 7SistersHomeschool’s High School Health for the Whole Person is a health curriculum that gently addresses many of these topics.
- Homeschool Highschool Podcast episode: Having Hard Conversations with Teens
- How Parents Can Help Kids Develop a Positive Relationship with Food from Centers for Discovery
- How Can I Improve My Relationship with Food
- 8 Strategies for Maintaining a Healthy Relationship with Food
- National Eating Disorders Association
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