In honor of Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb 24-March 2), we’d like to highlight one of the primary, preventable contributors to this deadly illness.
While about 1 in 10 people have a genetic risk for eating disorders, it takes one universal factor to turn that risk into the illness: it is weight loss.
Unfortunately, weight loss has become such a ubiquitous national pastime, that few people escape its ravages unscathed. Our fear of obesity and obsession with so-called “health & fitness” has turned normal, healthy eating into a minefield of confusion and worry. Weight is often viewed as the most important health parameter, when it is only one single measure in an ocean of data.
We all know that adolescence is a time of enormous physical, mental and emotional change. As a girl puts on extra fat around the hips and belly in preparation for puberty, the alarm bells start to ring – OMG! I’m getting fat! Well-meaning parents, healthcare professionals, teachers and coaches preach about the dangers of obesity and avoiding “bad” foods without helping these kids understand the Normal Development taking place. It is normal and healthy for girls to gain an average of 40 pounds between the ages of 10 -14. There will always be individual body types and shapes inherited from the family gene pool that affect a person’s size and shape no matter what they eat or how much they exercise.
We can legitimately blame social media for promoting unrealistic body ideals. The most common reason kids are bullied is because of their weight, so parents’ concerns about weight are not frivolous. But body awareness and acceptance, including the profound changes of adolescence, start at home.
These concepts promote a healthy relationship with your body and with food, while dieting promotes disconnection from body cues, shame and guilt about eating, preoccupation with food, hoarding food and even binge eating.
What to do?
* First and foremost, DO NOT ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD TO DIET.
* DO encourage eating a variety of food from all the major food groups.
* Model healthy eating without obsessing about “good/bad” food, weight loss, etc. Just eat together and enjoy the inherent satisfaction of a good meal.
* Do encourage fun physical activity, but don’t ruin it with a lot of pressure and rules.
* Teach media savvy and challenge unrealistic body ideals and unrealistic standards, in general.
Discovering a loved one has an eating disorder can be difficult and confusing news to absorb. Many caretakers may not know what they can or should do to help. It is common for caretakers to wonder, “what caused this”, “is this really an eating disorder”, or “what can I do to help”. It is also common for caretakers to feel emotions such as guilt or worry. This article serves as a brief summary identifying useful tips for helping your loved one address and recover from an eating disorder.
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