Although there's no sure way to prevent eating disorders, some steps may help prevent an eating disorder in your loved ones:

  • Enlist the help of your child's doctor. At well-child visits, doctors may be in a good position to identify early indicators of an eating disorder and prevent the development of full-blown illness. They can ask children questions about their eating habits and satisfaction with their appearance during routine medical appointments, for instance. These visits should include checks of body mass index and weight percentiles, which can alert you and your child's doctor to any significant changes.
  • Encourage healthy-eating habits and avoid dieting around your children. Family dining habits may also influence the relationships children develop with food. Eating meals together gives you an opportunity to teach children about the pitfalls of dieting, and encourage healthy eating.
  • Keep an eye on computer use. Because there are numerous websites that promote anorexia (commonly called "pro-ana" sites) as a lifestyle choice rather than an eating disorder, it's important to monitor your child's computer use. You can do this by keeping the computer in a common location in the house, or by periodically checking the computer's history page to see what sites your child has visited.
  • Cultivate and reinforce a healthy body image in your children, whatever their shape or size. Talk to children about their self-image and offer reassurance that body shapes can vary. Don't criticize your own body in front of your children. Encourage your own children or family members to refrain from joking about other children or adults who are overweight or have a large body frame. These messages of acceptance and respect can help build healthy self-esteem and resilience that will carry children through the rocky periods of adolescence.
  • Reach out if you suspect trouble. In addition, if you notice a family member or friend with low self-esteem, severe dieting, frequent overeating, hoarding of food or dissatisfaction with appearance, consider talking to him or her about these issues. Although you may not be able to prevent an eating disorder from developing, reaching out with compassion may encourage him or her to seek treatment.
Feb. 08, 2012