How Can I Protect My Child from an Eating Disorder?

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Like many other mental health problems, eating disorders are not limited to older adults or people who have undergone any kind of trauma. Anyone, even children, adolescents and young adults can develop an eating disorder.

As a parent, it can be difficult to wrap your head around the idea that your child might be at risk for developing problems with food addiction, body dissatisfaction or any other behaviors that have the potential to expand into a classifiable eating disorder. Thankfully, there are things you can do to serve as a positive influence on the way your child views and treats himself or herself.

Take the following steps to help protect your child from an eating disorder.

Talk about positive body image

One of the many risk factors of developing an eating disorder is self-esteem. Low self-esteem also happens to be what experts call a modifiable risk factor for developing an eating disorder, or something that can change with the help of a positive influence.

Therefore, it is important that you do what you can to build up your child’s self-esteem if other factors might be putting them at risk for developing an eating disorder. Talking to them about positive body image will help them learn to be comfortable with their bodies and confident in who they are. Help them grow confidently, and they are less likely to turn to destructive eating behaviors.

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Teach your child self-care

Another factor related to eating disorder risk has to do with sociology and culture. The way your child thinks about and perceives the food they eat and the way they look has an impact on whether or not they develop behaviors that can lead to an eating disorder. So does the way these things are talked about among their friend groups and in the books they read and shows they watch on TV.

Social and cultural influences, especially in pop culture and on social media, often teach children early on that diet and exercise are for the sole purpose of looking good, staying thin and feeling “fit.” As a parent, you can change the way your child views these things. Teach them instead to treat food and fitness as positive forms of self-care. Show them that preparing and eating meals can be fun, and that exercising feels good. Help them learn that in eating well and staying active, they are taking good care of themselves.

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Lead by example

Environment has as much of an influence on eating disorder risk as other psychological, genetic and social factors. Children who grow up in households that encourage negative self-talk, body shaming and destructive eating and fitness behaviors are more likely to engage in these thoughts and behaviors, which are direct risk factors for developing eating disorders.

Be mindful of the language you use when you talk not only about your child and his or her body, but you and your body as well. Raising your child in an environment that celebrates healthy eating, supports positive body image and encourages physical activity has a huge impact on the way they treat themselves. Children also look up to you and mimic your behaviors, whether you realize it or not. If you want to protect your child from an eating disorder, lead by example. Engage in activities that promote self-care and healthy living, and your child will follow along.

Protecting your child from an eating disorder starts with you. Practice careful ways to talk to them about their bodies, their food, their physical activity and their own self-esteem. Help them come to believe they are strong, healthy and smart, and that taking good care of themselves and others should be their number-one priority.

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