Approximately 30 million Americans suffer from eating disorders and many more suffer from negative body image issues. This problem is also impacting our children. More children are suffering from eating disorders than ever before and at younger ages. Here is everything as a parent that you need to know and tips to teach your children healthy habits.
Types of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are complex medical and psychiatric illnesses. People who suffer from eating disorders, become obsessed with food, body image, and their weight. Many eating disorders are triggered during the teenage years, but they are not limited to that age as anyone can suffer from an eating disorder. There are three main types of eating disorders:
- Anorexia: a child refuses to eat out of fear of becoming fat.
- Bulimia: a child overeats and then purges.
- Binge eating: overeating without the purging.
An individual suffering from an eating disorder does not necessarily have to fit neatly into one of the three categories. Some children have symptoms of both conditions, alternating between refusing to eat and binge eating.
There are many factors that contribute to an eating disorder. Genetic factors contribute to a predisposition to an eating disorder. If the person has suffered a trauma, such as sexual abuse, that can lead to the development of an eating disorder.
Inadvertently, as a parent, you can contribute to your child’s eating disorder, as you are the one that creates the home environment. Along those lines, a parent is the strongest role model in the child’s life. Children often model the behavior of their parents. Children mimic our best and unfortunately, our worst habits. If a child sees you have an unhealthy relationship with food, likewise your child may mimic that behavior. you have your own body issues and have an unhealthy relationship with food, that becomes part of your child’s environment.
Social Media’s Impact
Social media is a huge part of our lives. Naturally, social media plays a factor in body image issues, however, social media itself does not cause eating disorders. As a parent, it is important to be cognizant of the role that social media plays in shaping our children’s view of what is “normal.” Everywhere online you see the importance of a thin, muscular, or another way a body "should be." Our children are not immune from this message. Whether they are looking at their peers or famous people, it is creating pressure on our children to try to attain that perfect body type. That pressure can lead to children feeling unsatisfied with their own body image. So what can you do to encourage healthy habits?
For starters, you can help your child have a positive body image. Avoid negative language about your body or someone else’s body. This can be difficult as many people, including many mothers, are not confident in their own body. None of us are perfect. Have compassion for yourself, including the imperfections. As a parent, modeling positive attitude about your body sets an example for your child to have compassion for themselves.
Communication keeps the door open to discuss healthy habits with your child. Keep an open line of communication with your child about different body types. Teach your child to trust and listen to their own body and its limits. Let them know they are beautiful.
Eat healthy nourishing food. Avoid yo-yo diets that set a bad example for your child. There is no reason to categorize food as “good” or “bad.” If you eat unhealthy on occasion, balance is best. Do not push or encourage your child to go on a diet. Instead, provide nutritious food to your child.
Exercise is more than a calorie burn. It is a great way to have fun and bond with your child. Teaching your child to enjoy exercise will set a healthy habit for life. Encouraging your child to participate in sports will also help inspire confidence in your child.
Eating disorders can lead to life threatening problems, including death. If you think your child is suffering from an eating disorder, seek professional help. The NEDA Helpline is available Monday through Friday to offer assistance and support.
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