When I meet parents in a non-clinical setting and tell them I am an eating disorder specialist, they often ask if there is anything I would suggest to help insure their child would not develop an eating disorder.
I do have some suggestions in response to that question. It is important, however, to be aware that we do not know exactly what causes an eating disorder. There was a time that parents were held responsible, which only added to the trauma of having a child with a life-threatening illness. What we do know is that there are multiple factors, different for each individual, which converge and lead to an eating disorder. Biology, cultural messages, media, family patterns, and life circumstances all play a role.
With that said, here are ten suggestions I do have for parents:
- Eat and enjoy food with your children!
- Create family mealtimes and protect these routines.
- NEVER criticize yours or anyone’s size, shape, or appearance or speak idealizing of people who are thin.
- Help your child find physical activities that he or she enjoys and emphasize the pleasure of sports, not the pursuit of fitness or weight management.
- Do not categorize foods as good or bad. Provide everything in moderation without restricting any one type of food.
- Be aware of the media your children view and discuss the influences of the messages and images to which they are exposed.
- Allow space for children’s big feelings and help them develop healthy ways of relaxing, comforting themselves, and expressing their emotions.
- Allow imperfection.
- Encourage children to ask for what they need and teach them how to cope when they don’t get it.
- NEVER, NEVER, NEVER encourage or permit dieting!!!
If you have any questions about any of these recommendation, feel free to email me or call me.