According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, anorexia has the highest mortality rate among mental illnesses and is the third most common mental health issue among teens. With the fear of obesity and becoming overweight coupled with the desire to achieve the North American ideal of beauty, over one-half of teenage girls and up to one-third of boys are using unhealthy methods to control or lose weight. From smoking and skipping meals to vomiting and abusing exercise or laxatives, the number of eating disorders and body image issues are increasing. So what can a parent do to help prevent their child from not only developing a disordered relationship with food, but also help to promote a positive body image?
1. Take an Inventory on Parental Beliefs About Fat
To say we aren’t influenced by our culture’s beliefs about fat and body is to suggest we live under a rock. The fact is we are all influenced by what we read, see, and hear in the media and even from our health professionals. The beliefs that fat is evil and to be fat is to be unhealthy continue to poison our minds and influence our behaviors. We join weight loss programs and take steps to ensure we have eliminated fat, sugar, or carbs from our diet. We talk about weight gain like it is worse than losing an arm.
As adults, we have a responsibility to role model healthy beahviors and to do what we can to ensure we are not passing our own fear of fat onto our kids. To create positive change, it is important to examine our own feelings about food, weight, and the body because whatever those attitudes are, they are being passed down to our children. If a parent is chronically diet and/or exercise or celebrating the last 10-pound loss, the child may be soon to follow.