Resources for parents who want to help their children avoid, or heal from, disordered eating and body image issues.
How To Help Your Child Be Normal About Food and Body Image
While family environment does play a role, parents do not cause eating or body image disorders—that’s one message Ovidio Bermudez, M.D., medical director of child and adolescent services at the Eating Recovery Center in Denver, wants to make clear. “Parents don’t have to be perfect,” he says. “But by looking at your own attitudes, you can reduce the potential that your behavior will send the wrong message to your kids.” His advice:
1. NIX TEASING Nicknames like “Butterball” or “Our Big Girl” may be meant endearingly, “but even with the best of intentions, teasing isn’t always a benign experience,” Bermudez says. “You don’t know how it may affect your child.”
2. STAY POSITIVE “Motivation by fear, like saying, ‘Honey, if you don’t lose some weight, no boys are going to like you,’ doesn’t work,” Bermudez says. Your motivation for kids to eat healthy and be active has to be positive. “If the whole family is enjoying healthy foods and being active, that’s an example to follow,” he says.
3. DON’T ENCOURAGE DIETING, even if your child is overweight. Just like adults, when kids “diet,” they initially lose weight—but then gain it back, plus some, Bermudez says. Even worse, “if you study the development of eating disorders, many of them begin with diets.” So what do you do if your kid’s weight is truly unhealthy? Improve everyone’s diet at home. “You can’t feed one child cottage cheese when the rest of the family is eating pizza,” Bermudez says. “Changes in lifestyle will lead the whole family to be healthier and help an overweight child stabilize their weight.” —Sunny Sea Gold