Eating disorders and body image…or what kids learn from watching us, part 3

Eating disorders.  Does every kid who thinks she needs to lose a few pounds have one? No.  Many people, female and male, have body image issues.  While Hollywood and magazines can be partly to blame, kids also pick up these insecurities and problems at home.  Listening to their parent(s) always complain about how many pounds they need to lose or watching them go from one diet fad to the next rubs off.  They hear mom or dad call each other fat or tell the other to get their lazy butt off the couch and exercise.  Similarly, when mom or dad talk about or make fun of people they and/or their kids know for being fat, the kids are learning that their parent(s) don’t approve of fat people or that it’s okay to poke fun at them.
Here’s an example of a mother admitting that her struggles with an eating disorder exposed her daughter to it and may have led to her daughter’s problem:

“I had issues I needed to work on as well because I wasn’t setting a good example for her,” Dianna said. “I had a terrible eating disorder that I had for many, many years and I didn’t realize it and I had to face up to the fact that I was suffering as well. And a lot of what [Demi] went through with an eating disorder had to do with what she had seen growing up.”

I’m not a shrink or a medical expert, but in my opinion, an eating disorder doesn’t have to be anorexia or bulimia or some other “named” disease.  If someone is punishing herself in some way for being overweight, including severe anxiety or depression, she probably needs some help.  And remember, she doesn’t have to look or be overweight, she just has to think she is.  Pay attention to your kids so you aren’t surprised by your child’s teacher or daycare worker tells you that he was talking about how fat he is or that he needs to lose weight, or, God forbid, the phone call from the school about him passing out in class.  Talk to them…about everything.  Pay attention to how they dress and what parts they are trying to hide (or reveal).
As parents, be careful about always bemoaning what the scale says or talking about those who are overweight.  I’m not saying that it’s okay to be obese…there’s lots of medical studies that show the detrimental effects of increased weight on the body.  What I’m saying is watch how you talk about weight and pay attention to your children.  It’s your job to help them grow up healthy.  That includes keeping them active, controlling how much and what they eat, and talking to them about weight if it becomes an issue.  Don’t tie attractiveness to weight, though.  Don’t tie their body image to some “ideal numerical weight”.  Make the conversation about being healthy.
Mostly, it all comes back to being careful about what we say and do around our kids.  They will learn from our examples, both positive and negative.  Try to make more of them positive.
Since I am writing about eating disorders, I’m including a few links to resources about them:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: