How Parents Can Help Prevent Eating Disorders

Mom and teenager

What messages are you sending to your teen impacting their self-image?  (Photo credit: Tammy McGary)

When it comes to preventing a child or teen from developing an eating disorder, the best place to start is with their parents.  According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), studies have shown that eating disorder prevention programs can help keep disordered eating from developing by shifting perspectives, changing attitudes, and discouraging disordered eating behaviors.  As parents play an important role in establishing and developing healthy attitudes about food and weight, their influence can make a real difference as their child moves through adolescence.

Follow these suggested tips and strategies to make sure you are doing everything you can to try and prevent your child or teen from having to deal with an eating disorder.

  1. Take a long look in the mirror.  Your attitude about your own weight has a direct impact on child.   Your attitudes about exercise, food, and weight will shape how your child feels about these things.   If you are obsessed with your weight, participate in yo-yo dieting, avoid any physical activity, talk negatively about other people’s bodies, or have a disconnected perspective of your own weight, your child may, too.
  2. Watch what you say.  Whether you are making disparaging comments about your own weight, your child’s weight, or the weight of that celebrity on television, you are telling your own child that weight is somehow related to worth.
  3. Focus on what you want.  Whether you are worried that your daughter wants to be too thin or that your son is overweight, the best approach is to focus on what you want for them rather than on what you don’t.  This means keeping your focus on developing and maintaining behaviors that promote health rather than focusing on how much they weigh.
  4. Make sure you send the right message.  We, as people, are less likely to feel pressured to change to meet the ideals of others if we feel like we are fine just the way we are.  This is the most important message parents can give their kids to keep disordered eating from developing.
  5. Be a role model.  Actions speak louder than words and if you want your child to live an active lifestyle filled with healthy food and healthy attitudes, you need to live in that world first and show them how.
  6. Don’t be a food dictator.  Help your child develop healthy eating habits by supporting their exploration into their own tastes.  Encourage them to stay tuned in to their body so that they can learn how to eat when they feel hungry and to not eat when they don’t.  Instead of requiring clean plates, suggest smaller serving sizes.  Rather than counting their calories, get them involved in meal planning and preparation and choose healthy nutritious options together.
  7. Be accepting.  Help your child develop a strong sense of their own self-worth by showing them it is ok to be who they are, no matter what that means.  Be accepting of other people and celebrate differences so that your child grows up understanding that who people are is more important than how they look.
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