An eating disorder is a serious, life-threatening illness that requires intensive medical intervention. Eating disorders are considered a major public health concern, and they often co-occur with other mental health problems like anxiety or depression according to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration. Moreover, eating disorders can cause devastating health problems, and they’re closely associated with suicidal thoughts.
Being an adult with an eating disorder can be scary. There’s no doubt that being a child with an eating disorder or having your own child develop an eating disorder is terrifying, too. Handling an eating disorder is no easy feat, so working to nip the problem in the bud can help prevent issues.
In this article we’ll give you the tools and info you need to help prevent eating disorders in children and give your loved ones the best outlook you can.
Understanding the prevalence of eating disorders
One of the first things you can do as a parent to help reduce the risk of an eating disorder is to learn about the prevalence of eating disorders. When you’re aware of the factors that contribute to eating disorders at an early age you’ll know when you start taking action.
In the United States, girls start to express concerns about their body image and weight by age six, with 40 to 60 percent of girls age six to 12 expressing concerns of “becoming too fat” according to the National Eating Disorder Association. While this might seem extremely young for an eating disorder to take root, it’s not uncommon.
Initiatives aiming to stop eating disorders before they develop are growing in importance for numerous government agencies and organizations across the nation. Although genetics has a role in their development, most eating disorders are preventable.
Once you equip yourself with knowledge around eating disorders, here are four important things you can do to learn how to prevent an eating disorder in your children.
Educate yourself about eating disorders
Understanding the facts about eating disorders and knowing their signs is essential for prevention, but there’s a lot of misinformation surrounding them. Common myths about eating disorders include the broad misconception that they’re a lifestyle choice based on vanity, a phase or a cry for help.
A large body of research on eating disorders has given us a great deal of information about their underlying causes, how to diagnose and treat them and their effects on other areas of physical and mental health. Arming yourself with accurate information about eating disorders is one of the most important ways you can intercept an eating disorder in its tracks.
Address mental health issues
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 7 percent of all children ages 3-17 experience clinical anxiety and over three percent have a diagnosis of depression. Unfortunately, largely due to the stigma of mental illness and limited access to treatment, fewer than half of teens with a mental illness get help for it.
While some children do not receive treatment for mental illness, the research overwhelmingly shows that treatment leads to healthier patterns of thinking and behaving. Professional services help youth develop essential skills for coping with stress, trauma and other triggers that may underlie an eating disorder.
Set a good example
Modelling healthy self-esteem for your child by talking about yourself and others with respect can be a game-changer. Work to place value on accomplishments and character rather than appearance, and avoid attitudes or actions that promote an unrealistic body image or the idea that dieting and losing weight will lead to happiness.
You can do more than just prevent negative body image — you can encourage a positive body image. Promote healthy eating habits by eating a variety of foods, and avoid categorizing food as “good” or “bad.” Teach your child to eat when she hungry and stop when she is full.
Encourage healthy coping mechanisms
Stress is a major factor in developing an eating disorder, and it can come from anywhere. Help your teen deal with stress in healthy ways, such as by getting adequate sleep and plenty of exercise each day, breathing deeply in stressful situations and practicing yoga or meditation.
You can prevent stress in advance by supporting organizational skills at home and school. Moreover, you’ll want to encourage them to handle conflicts with their peers, their siblings and others by offering a toolkit of strategies such as looking at situations from different perspectives, walking away to cool down and talking it out.
Don’t go it alone
If you suspect that your child is struggling with an eating disorder, you don’t have to make the call yourself. Getting the support of a professional early on is one of the best ways to prevent an eating disorder in children, or prevent it from getting worse.
At Seeds of Hope, we provide the help you need to put eating disorders behind you. Call 610-644-6464 today to schedule an assessment. The sooner an eating disorder is addressed, the better the outcome of treatment.