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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Lott

How parents can help prevent eating disorders in their children



Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder, are complex mental health conditions that have serious consequences on physical, psychological and emotional well-being.


While genetics, psychological, biological and cultural pressures play significant roles, parental influence and early-life experiences also contribute to the development of eating disorders. Parents are powerful factors in a child's life and can therefore play a crucial role in fostering healthy attitudes towards food, body image, and self-esteem in their children.


In this article, we will explore some effective strategies that you can implement from birth onwards to minimize the risk of your child or teenager developing an eating disorder.


1.Promote a Positive Relationship with Food:

  • Responsive feeding practices: Making sure that the eating context is pleasant with as few distractions as possible; that your child is comfortable, ideally facing others; that expectations are communicated clearly; and that the food is balanced, tasty, developmentally appropriate, and offered on a predictable routine.

  • Introduce Variety: Expose children to a diverse range of foods from an early age to encourage acceptance of different tastes and textures.

  • Avoid Food Restrictions: Restricting certain foods may lead to a heightened desire for them and contribute to disordered eating behaviours later in life. Instead, focus on balance.


2. Foster a Healthy Body Image:

  • Lead by Example: Try to model positive body image and self-acceptance, avoiding negative self-talk or critical comments about your own body.

  • Encourage Physical Activity: Emphasize the importance of physical activity for pleasure and well-being rather than for weight control or appearance.

  • Focus on Health, Not Weight: Shift the focus away from weight and size towards overall health and wellness. Encourage your child to appreciate their bodies for what they can do rather than how they look.


3. Communicate Openly:

  • Create a Safe Environment: Foster open communication where children feel comfortable discussing their feelings, concerns, and experiences without fear of judgement.

  • Educate About Media Influence: Discuss the unrealistic standards perpetuated by media and social media platforms, emphasizing the importance of critical thinking and media literacy.

  • Address Peer Pressure: Help your child to navigate peer pressure related to appearance and dieting by building their self-confidence and assertiveness skills. If this is difficult or challenging for you, seek professional help and support to help you learn how to communicate on these issues with your children. It's ok if you feel a little out of your depth sometimes and need some extra support.


4. Monitor for Warning Signs:

  • Be Attentive: Pay attention to changes in eating habits, weight fluctuations, preoccupation with food or body image, and emotional distress. Seek Professional Help: If you're worried for any reason, seek guidance from healthcare professionals such as your GP, specialist therapists and support groups.


5. Cultivate Self-Esteem:

  • Encourage Strengths: Focus on nurturing your child's talents, interests, and strengths to build self-esteem and resilience.

  • Teach Coping Skills: Equip your child with healthy coping mechanisms to manage stress, emotions, and peer pressure without resorting to disordered eating behaviours.


Preventing eating disorders requires a multifaceted approach that begins in infancy and continues throughout adolescence. By promoting a positive relationship with food, fostering a healthy body image, communicating openly, monitoring for warning signs, and cultivating self-esteem, you can significantly reduce the risk of your child or teenager developing an eating disorder. Ultimately, creating a supportive and nurturing environment at home lays the groundwork for lifelong habits of self-care and well-being.





References:

  1. National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/prevention

  2. Micali, N., Solmi, F., Horton, N. J., Crosby, R. D., Eddy, K. T., Calzo, J. P., ... & Field, A. E. (2015). Adolescent eating disorders predict psychiatric, high-risk behaviors and weight outcomes in young adulthood. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(8), 652-659.

  3. Neumark-Sztainer, D., Wall, M., Story, M., & Standish, A. R. (2012). Dieting and unhealthy weight control behaviors during adolescence: associations with 10-year changes in body mass index. Journal of Adolescent Health, 50(1), 80-86.

  4. Berge, J. M., Wall, M., Larson, N., Loth, K. A., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2010). Family functioning: associations with weight status, eating behaviors, and physical activity in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(6), 601-607.

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