How Can Parents Help Prevent Eating Disorders?

Sadly, eating disorders are becoming more and more common in young girls and boys. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are serious psychiatric illnesses. So, how can parents help prevent eating disorders? Read more to find out.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of all mental illnesses. Individuals who suffer from one of these disorders use food in unhealthy ways to cope with difficult emotions and life situations. Obviously, it’s important to know how to help your child learn healthy coping mechanisms and stop disordered eating early on.

Though the average age of onset is 14, girls as young as eight suffer from eating disorders. It is estimated that roughly 11 million women and girls struggle with anorexia and bulimia. Importantly, young men and boys also suffer from eating disorders. It is a common misconception that these issues only affect girls, and that tends to inhibit boys from seeking treatment.

How Can Parents Help Prevent Eating Disorders?

It’s hard to pinpoint one single event that triggers an eating disorder. Usually it is a combination of factors that can include genetics, peer pressure, trauma, media influence and life transitions.

Young people may display a variety of warning signs but the most common are developing an obsession with how they look. Boys and girls may suddenly display an extreme preoccupation with food, carefully counting calories, carbohydrates and fat grams.

While your child will be heavily influenced by numerous outside factors, you can play an important role in preventing the development of an eating disorder. To start, throughout their life, food should never be used as a reward or punishment. It’s common in our culture to reward our kids with ice cream or punish them by sending them to their room before they’ve finished dinner. This must stop because it instills in them the very idea that food is something other than nourishment.

It’s also important to walk the walk.

This means preparing healthy and balanced meals in the home. Exercise should be done to stay healthy and to have fun (biking, kayaking) not because you are trying to lose weight.

Even if your doctor has told you you must lose weight for your health, choose your words carefully. “I am getting up early and walking before work to be healthier.”

Mothers in particular must recognize how their behavior and actions with food and body image impact their daughters. A mother who herself is obsessed with being “skinny” and counting calories will encourage these behaviors in her own daughter.

With both young girls and boys, parental focus should be put on the child’s efforts and achievements, not on their looks, beauty, muscles etc. And, most importantly, all encourage all children to focus on qualities such as kindness, compassion or generosity.

If you know a child who may be suffering from an eating disorder and would like to explore treatment options, please get in touch with us by requesting an appointment here. If you’re not quite ready, you can find other resources here: and here:

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