Although there's no sure way to prevent eating disorders, here are some strategies to help your child develop healthy-eating behaviors:

  • Encourage healthy-eating habits and avoid dieting around your children. Family dining habits may influence the relationships children develop with food. Eating meals together gives you an opportunity to teach children about the pitfalls of dieting and encourages eating a balanced diet in reasonable portions.
  • Talk to your child. Because there are numerous websites that promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice rather than an eating disorder, it's important to talk to your child about the risks of unhealthy eating choices.
  • Cultivate and reinforce a healthy body image in your children, whatever their shape or size. Talk to them about their self-image and offer reassurance that body shapes can vary. Don't criticize your own body in front of your children. Messages of acceptance and respect can help build healthy self-esteem and resilience that will carry children through the rocky periods of the teen years.
  • 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. 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 height and weight percentiles and body mass index, which can alert you and your child's doctor to any significant changes.

If you notice a family member or friend with low self-esteem, severe dieting, frequent overeating 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 the person to seek treatment.

Feb. 14, 2015

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