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To my 6-year-old when you told me your thighs were chubby

I don't know what caused you to say something like that. You probably heard it on the playground, another little girl parroting an adult's insecurities.

To my 6-year-old when you told me your thighs were chubby

[Trigger Warning: This essay discusses one woman's journey with an eating disorder.]

We stopped for ice cream on the way home from your last day of kindergarten. As chocolate ice cream dripped from your cone and melted onto your hands and smeared across your face, you talked excitedly about how we would spend the summer weeks that stretched out in front of us. The sun had already started to lighten your hair and send rows of freckles marching across your cheeks. My newly minted kindergarten graduate, the little girl big enough to order her own ice cream, but young enough to still ask politely for sprinkles.

Today, you told me that your thighs are chubby. I don't know what caused you to say something like that. You probably heard it on the playground, another little girl parroting an adult's insecurities.

I know for a fact you have never heard me talk about myself that way, because as soon as the ultrasound tech told Daddy and I that the little creature squirming around on the screen in front of us was a little girl, I made a promise to you that you would never hear me talking badly about my body.

Here's why: When I was 15, I had an illness called Anorexia Nervosa. If you were to read about this harsh sounding name on the National Eating Disorders website, you would learn that anorexics have an "intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight," and suffer from a "disturbance in the way in which one's body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight."

But let me tell you what it's really like to intentionally, deliberately, starve yourself.

I was a freshman in high school when I decided to stop eating. It wasn't a sudden, impulsive decision. My eating disorder was a long time coming, and, in some ways, a rather inevitable result of genetics mixed with my early love of cross-country and distance running.

I was always a very intense, goal-oriented people pleaser. In middle school, I was skipping dessert and wearing one-piece bathing suits because I hated the way my stomach looked. The stress of high school—being in a new school where I didn't make friends easily—and running varsity cross-country as a freshman-brought my eating disorder to the surface.

Also, I didn't know it at the time, but there was something different about the way my mind works. There was something electric, something wild, about how quickly my thoughts went racing around in my head, and I was desperate to find a way to tame the energy and anxiety that sent my brain spinning. And starvation did just that.

You see, anorexia tricks so many girls and boys into thinking that by controlling what you put into your body, you control the parts of life that you truly can't do a thing about. I couldn't help that I wasn't the most talented runner on my team, but I could starve and skip meals and count calories, and if I couldn't be the fastest, my sick mind would settle for at least being the skinniest.

So I starved. I restricted my diet until it consisted of only flavored water, ice chips and gum, but soon even the pieces of gum had too many calories. I starved until my pants became baggy and my cheekbones sharpened.

I became a master of deception. I knew how to trick my parents and coaches into thinking I had eaten, and I learned how to hide food and lie. I starved until my weight became dangerously low and I was forced to stop running.

I was starving when the bloodwork came back that showed my body was starting to break down my muscles because it so desperately needed something to digest. And then, when I couldn't starve anymore, when I finally realized what my lies were doing to my family and understood how much danger I was in, I had to recover and learn how to care for myself again.

It is hard for me to explain to you what it was like to recover from an eating disorder. 'Recover' is too gentle and far too passive of a word to describe what it was like to beat anorexia and learn how to eat again. Every small step forward, from giving myself permission to eat when my belly grumbled to finding the right medicine to help me worry a little less, was an exhausting, miserable, uphill battle that I wouldn't wish on anyone. And I promise you, sweet girl, that the desire to starve never fully leaves you. Not quite. The temptation to relapse and fall back into my old ways of skipping meals and counting calories is always there, lurking in the corners of my mind, ready to overwhelm me when I'm feeling stressed or sad.

That, dear girl, is the thing about anorexia: You either recover or you die. Eating disorders are the most lethal of all mental illnesses, and that's why your comment about your thighs worries me so much.

My first reaction when I heard you say your thighs are chubby was disappointment. I try so hard to model self-love and how to have a healthy relationship with food. I try to teach you the importance of exercise and cook you healthy meals, but I also make a point to let you see me enjoying a donut or a cookie.

Yet, here you are, a 6-year-old who looks at her thighs and sees them as anything less than what they are: Healthy, strong legs that help you do things like chase after your brother or ride the big girl bike you were given for your sixth birthday.

But, I understand. I understand that no matter what I do, no matter how many times I tell you you're smart and beautiful, that your genes might render you vulnerable to a dark voice inside your sweet mind that tells you you're less than worthy. One day, that horrible voice might drown out all the behaviors I try to model for you and all the love that I give, and it might convince you that you aren't the thoughtful, creative, compassionate daughter I know you are.

Let me tell you what will happen if you give in. You will lose, and you will lose so much. Months and years of your life that should be spent chasing your passions, enjoying friendships, and simply being happy will instead be spent counting calories and hiding food as your body wastes away to nothing. You will never have those years of your life back, and I promise you when you do eventually recover, the years you have lost to anorexia will be one of your greatest regrets.

I promise you that if you find yourself on the path of self-destruction that I will never give up on you. I will hold your hand through your darkest days until you are able to treat yourself with kindness again.

I know I'm your mom and you won't think I'm cool in a few years, but please promise you'll always come to me and we will figure this out together. I want you to know that strong is more important than thin. That the ads you see in magazines are lies. That chocolate is good for the soul. That the person who you will spend your days with will love every part of you (including your love handles). That bodies are here to carry around our hearts. And my darling, your heart is the most beautiful heart I know.

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    Ara Katz/Seed

    We spoke to Ara Katz, co-founder and co-CEO of Seed, who shared her journey to (and through) motherhood—and gave us the lowdown on how probiotics can benefit mamas and children alike.

    Chances are, you're aware that probiotics can help us digest the food we eat, keep inflammation at bay, synthesize essential vitamins and more. But here's the thing: When it comes to probiotics, there's a lot of misinformation… and because of that, it's hard to know what's actually a probiotic and which is the right one for you.

    That's why we chatted with Ara Katz, who is a mama to son Pax and the co-founder of Seed, a company disrupting the probiotics industry. The entrepreneur told us about her motherhood journey, what led her to start her company and what she wants other parents to know about probiotics.

    Q. What was life like for you before you became a mama?

    I was bi-coastal after co-founding a mobile tech company in New York City with a partner in LA. My life was, for as long as I can remember, consumed by creating and work. I was fairly nomadic, loved to travel, spent many hours reading and practicing yoga, being with friends [and] waking up at the crack of dawn. [I] was fairly sure I would never marry or have children. And then something shifted.

    Q. What were some pivotal moments that defined your journey to motherhood?

    Ha, that makes it sound like motherhood is a destination when at this very moment, more than ever, it evolves daily. I lost my mom when I was 17 and spent most of my life believing I didn't want to be a mother. I had a lot of wiring about its limitations and constraints—I'm sure relics of grief and the fear of loss.

    My journey started with a physiological wanting to be pregnant and have a baby. There was a kind of visceral sense that my body wanted to know what that was like and a strange curiosity that, at least for that period of time, usurped my ambivalence about motherhood.

    Then I had a miscarriage—a beautiful inflection point in my story. I resigned from my company, chose a coast, committed to be more committed to my (then) boyfriend, now husband, and tried again. I got pregnant shortly after that and found pregnancy to be a profound journey within, a reshaping of my life and the tiniest glimpse of how motherhood would unfold.

    In the 55 months since giving birth (and I like to use months because I have learned in the moments that I am most frustrated as a mom that he has only been on this planet for less than 14 fiscal quarters), I have realized and surrendered to a definition of motherhood that is a process. One of cultivating, creating, recreating, shapeshifting, learning, feeling, healing, hurting and experiencing the most potent form of presence I have ever experienced—and an aching, expansive love I didn't know possible—not just for my son, but for all living things.

    Q. How did motherhood change your approach to your career?

    Becoming a mother is certainly a persistent lens on all of my choices, but it was really my miscarriage that recalibrated my path. My pregnancy rekindled my love of biology and health and led me to my co-founder and the microbiome. My breastfeeding experience incepted our first product focus, and the newfound accountability for a human inspired our brand.

    Q. What inspired you to co-found Seed?

    I met my co-founder, Raja, during my pregnancy with Pax. [I] was immediately awestruck by his ability to both deeply understand science and to methodically break down a product, dietary question or piece of advice in a way that's educational (you actually learn something about your body), actionable (you understand what to do with the information) and foundational (you can build on that knowledge in the future to continue to make better choices).

    As we spent more time, our combined passion for microbes, their potential impact on both human health and the environment, and how to set up a child for a healthy life became increasingly clear. And through birth, seeding (the process by which we get our foundational microbes and the inspiration for the name of our company) Pax and my struggles with breastfeeding, my entrepreneurial spirit was lit to build something with Raja. His deep experience in translating science to product, and mine in consumer, community-building and translating through storytelling, culminated in a shared vision to set a new standard in health through bacteria.

    Q. Probiotics have been trending in recent years, but they're nothing new—can you talk a bit about the importance of probiotics?

    Interest in gut health and probiotics increases month by month. However, despite the quickly growing number of "probiotic" supplements, foods and beverages out there, there's still a lot of consumer confusion—particularly around what they are, how they work and why we should take them. Probiotics have been studied extensively across various life stages, body sites and for many benefits. Digestion is an obvious and immediate one (and the primary reason most people currently take probiotics). But other strains have also been studied for skin health, heart health and gut health (including gut immune function and gut barrier integrity). But this doesn't mean that any and all probiotics can do these things—this is the importance of 'strain specificity.' In other words, ensuring that the specific strains in your probiotic have been studied for the benefit you desire is critical.

    Seed Daily Synbiotic

    Seed

    Seed's Daily Synbiotic is a 24-strain probiotic + prebiotic formulated for whole-body benefits, including gut, skin and heart health.


    Q. How do probiotics play a role in your life?

    I mean, I take them, I develop them and I work with some of the leading scientists from around the world advancing the field—so they play a big role. As for my personal health, I take our Daily Synbiotic daily and my son also takes specific strains for gastrointestinal health and gut immune function. Beyond that, it's the re-orientation around my microbiome that guides many of my choices: how important fiber is, specific compounds like polyphenols found in berries, green tea and other foods, avoiding the use of NSAIDS like ibuprofen and antibiotics when not needed, exercise, sleep and time in nature [are] all aspects of our daily life that impact our microbiome and our health.

    Q. What are some misconceptions about probiotics that you would like to set straight?

    There's one main myth on from which all the other stem: that probiotics aren't considered a serious science. On the contrary, it's a field of inquiry that demands incredible rigor and extensive research. And when anything and everything from chocolate to ice cream to fermented food and kombucha to mattresses can call itself "probiotic" due to underregulation in the category, that grossly undermines the science and their potential.

    The term 'probiotic' has a globally-accepted scientific definition that was actually co-authored by our Chief Scientist, Dr. Gregor Reid ,for the United Nations/World Health Organization.

    At Seed, we work to reclaim the term for science, through the development of next-generation probiotics that include clinically validated strains and undergo the most rigorous safety, purity and efficacy testing procedures. Because why would you invite billions of unknown microbes into your body without asking "what's in here, is it the correct dosage that was studied, and has that strain in that amount been studied in human clinical trials to do something beneficial for my body"?

    Q. Can you tell us a little bit about what product you plan to launch next?

    We are developing a pipeline of consumer probiotics to target specific ecosystems of the body and life stages, including a synbiotic for children. Our next product will reflect a unique breakthrough in the field of pediatric probiotics, which we are excited to announce soon.

    This article was sponsored by Seed. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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