Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any identified mental illness. Close to 24 million people of all ages, sizes, colors, religions, and backgrounds in the US suffer from an eating disorder (bulimia, anorexia and binge eating disorder). And what I find to be most worrisome is that around 80% of 10-year-olds worry about being overweight.
National Eating Disorders Week started on February 23 and runs through March 1st, and Forbes posted an article titled, “How Parental Behavior May Impact A Child’s Body Image.”
Dr. Aaron Krasner, psychiatrist, and Director of the Adolescent Transitional Living Program at Silver Hill Hospital in Connecticut, says that “Eating disorders are complicated” (source) because there is both an environmental and genetic component. In regards to the environmental component, “Krasner feels that parents need to be mindful of how they eat, their relationship with their own bodies, and the potential impact on their kids” (source).
There are many factors that contribute to a child or teen developing an eating disorder, and modeling a positive body image can make a difference. “One analysis found that a mom’s concerns about weight are actually the third leading cause of body image problems in adolescents and girls” (source). (On a side note, just because this article focuses on mom’s, I want to point out that dad’s and men can contribute to body image issues as well. For example, my mother was uber conscious about talking about weight (she wouldn’t even let me have a barbie) while my dad talked about weight all the time — and I ended up struggling with two eating disorders.) I also don’t want to exclude boys. “A study from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2013 noted that close to 18% of teen boys in their study were “extremely concerned” about their bodies” (source).
Overall, eating disorders are complex illnesses without one cause. Bottom line, we can’t always be perfect parents or role models for children and teens, but this week try to be more aware about how you talk about yourself and others.
Below are Dr. Krasner’s suggestions for parents (or adults) on how to help your children develop a positive body image.
- Avoid criticizing yourself or other people’s weight, shape or size.
- Avoid negative food talk, for example, “I won’t eat bread because it has too many carbs” or I can’t eat this brownie, I’m on a diet. Instead focus on the health benefits of foods and how we feed our bodies to nourish it (keep weight talk out of it).
- Praise your children for their achievements. Let them know they are loved no matter what grade they get or how well they did in a sport.
- Make sure your children know it’s totally normal for their body to change shape and size and that not everyone is or needs to be the same.
- Make sure your children know that only 5% of women in the US portrayed on TV are that shape and size. Make sure your children know they have their own unique and beautiful size and shape, and help them to love their bodies for all the things it does so well; run, swim, giving hugs, etc. (source)