NEDAwareness spotlight: "How do I prevent eating disorders in my children or the children I work with?"

I've tried to balance my NEDAwareness spotlight blog series between 1) increasing knowledge of eating disorders by providing facts and information and 2) offering some practical techniques that you can begin using immediately in order to help prevent eating disorders.

Honoring this balance, I want to finish out my NEDAwareness spotlight blog series on a practical note and address one question I hear often from parents, grandparents, coaches, school teachers, and so on: "How do I prevent eating disorders in my children or the children I work with?"

My response? Be a model for children and practice healthy thoughts and behaviors. As a mother, father, grandparent, coach, or teacher you have a powerful influence on your children. Here are some general "guidelines" to follow that will help with this:

  • Do not make critical comments about your own body or others' bodies. When you criticize your body or other's bodies, children learn to be overly concerned about what others may think and then begin to criticize their own body.
  • Refuse to make comments about yourself, like "I'm fat," or "I need to lose weight," or asking, "Do I look fat in this?" Refuse to make comments about others, like "She shouldn't be wearing those shorts - she's too fat," or "He has a beer belly." 
  • Do not communicate the message that you cannot dance, swim, wear shorts, or enjoy a summer picnic because you do not look a certain way or weigh a certain amount.
  • Similarly, discourage the idea that a particular diet or body size will lead to happiness and fulfillment.
  • Begin to talk about "healthy" bodies versus "thin" or "skinny" bodies. Recent research has shown that weight or BMI is not a good indicator of health. Remember, health does NOT equal weight loss and weight loss does NOT equal health.  
  • Along these lines, it's especially important that family members do not diet. Three of the most powerful risk factors for eating disorders are 1. a mother, 2. a sister, or 3. a friend who diets.
  • Diets do NOT work according to research and they send a "quick fix" message to kids. 
  • You don't have to tell children about healthy behaviors, show them. Instead of dieting, eat with mindful awareness (eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full), eat a variety of foods, and eat in moderation.
  • Do not refer to foods as "good" or "bad." This includes saying statements like, "I was good/bad today."
  • Allow all foods in your home, but do not have "diet" foods like supplements, diet pills, etc. in the home. They are not necessary if you eat in moderation.
  • Lastly, get moving in a fun and healthy way. Do NOT focus on exercising in order to burn calories, lose weight, or maintain a certain appearance.

It's important to note that even though you may do your best to support healthy thoughts and behaviors, eating disorders can still occur. There are a multitude of interacting factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of eating disorders, including: genetics, personality traits, and sociocultural factors just to name a few. Families, teachers, and coaches ARE NOT to blame for an eating disorder; however, they can provide an excellent model and support for children who may be predisposed to or struggle with an eating disorder.

Related Resources:

Thank you for your interest this week and I hope you found this spotlight blog series helpful! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.