Dear moms, I wish I could give you a formula for preventing eating disorders. Depending on the list you read, there are between 5 and 10 different types of eating disorders. And there are an infinite number of circumstances and personalities. Symptoms never look the same ( I know girls who struggled with EDs who never had noticeable weight loss). Treatment never looks the same. And eating disorders are often triggered by horrible events, not by an initial obsession with weight or beauty. Males struggle with eating disorders. EDs are not a one size-fits-all disease. Still, education for you, mom, and your daughter or son, can be preventative (I mostly use the word girls in these posts because I write about raising girls).
Today, Sadie Ussery and I teamed up on this post to bring you a few ideas about prevention of EDs.
From Sadie: Prevention is the first thing on my mind. Mainly because I was in the depths of it all. I had the very dark layers of eating disorders over take me and suffocate me. But also because I still feel it at times. When I sit down to enjoy a homemade apple crisp on a fall day, I ,at times, will still fight thoughts in my head about whether I deserve to eat it or not. There are days I find myself silently counting calories. There are days I just don’t want to eat. But I stop myself from thinking all these thoughts and from indulging in bad habits.
An ED is not a straight forward, easy to detect disease. The affected one may be in denial or working hard to keep her eating habits secret. Parents or caretakers may be busy, thinking their loved-one is caring well for herself, and fail to notice warning signs. Here are some suggestions we’ve compiled that might help you be proactive.
- Communicate. Communicating with a daughters, especially one in the midst of teenage angst can be tough. Why not try keeping a journal together? Journals should be safe places to share where your automatic body language won’t reveal your first impressions. Let her ask you questions or share about her day. Anything goes. Keep it safe and don’t let it be the place where you criticize or correct. If journals aren’t your style, make sure you take time each week with your daughter. This can be harder for some than others. I know…I have 5 daughters!
- Examine yourself. A mother’s view of her own body and her relationship with food will affect her daughter. Ask yourself these questions and then work to get healthy yourself. Do you have dreams or goals for your girl based on beauty and slenderness? Do you avoid certain activities like swimming because you don’t want to show not so slim thighs? Do you exercise too much to keep the perfect body? Do you criticize your own weight or looks? Are you always trying a new diet? Do you worry too much about how your daughter looks? Do you avoid talking to overweight people or frown when they pass by?
- Educate your children. The schools are not doing this for you. Before there is an issue, educate your child on the dangers of trying to alter body shape by dieting. Show her how media alters images on TV and in magazines (Previous posts here and here might help you.) Teach her about the prejudices of weightism and sexism. Talk about genetics and how a healthy 5’6″ women can weigh between 120 and 160 pounds. Genes will determine the frame of the woman. Show her pictures of women who are the same height at different weights (Body Gallery) . Do all this before you think you need to (4th gradish), before her mental images of beauty are strongly formed. But if she is already a teen and you haven’t talked about these things, do it anyway.
- Eat together. A girl who is hiding an eating disorder will claim she ate somewhere else. Establish an expectation that the family will eat together 5 times a week. Family meals are great for bonding and for watching your children’s eating habits.
- Be aware of deep trauma. EDs can go undetected due to their secretive nature. EDs can be a symptom of a deeper problem. Control is a big issue for someone who is struggling so look out for other things in their life that maybe effecting their eating behaviors. Things such as physical abuse, sexual abuse and verbal abuse or controlling relationships can trigger EDs.
- Know classic ED behavior before you need to. If you notice classic ED behavior, address it immediately. Dealing with early symptoms is far easier than waiting until your daughter’s life might be in danger. Does she rush off to the bathroom right after meals?Is she obsessed over food? Does she constantly talk about always wanting to cook but never eating? Does she scrutinize food labels and count calories or fat grams? Is she exercising excessively? Has she lost a lot of weight? Or maybe her weight goes up and down.?Have you noticed a change in her wardrobe? Is she wearing clothing that is baggier or that hangs on her? Has she become different socially? At one time was she outgoing and fun loving, but now she seems distant and secluded?
A final word from Sadie: The one thing I always stress is to be sure to be proactive in your daughters lives. Be there for them. Have a listening ear and shoulder to cry on. Keep the lines of communication open. If you notice something odd or different going on in their lives…reach out to them. Speak up about it. Seek help if you there are red flags.
You can find more life-saving help, including definitions of various types of EDs, symptoms and risk factors at Finding Balance. It’s a Christian resource site for those with eating disorders and those who care for them.
Books Sadie Recommends
- Nancy Alcorn’s books. Three Sadie recommends areStarved:Mercy For Eating Disorders, Violated:Mercy for Sexual Abuse, and Cut:Mercy for Self Harm. Nancy founded a free-of-charge Christian residential treatment facility for young women who want help. The website for this facility has great resources: www.mercyministries.org
- Mom, I Feel Fat: Becoming You Daughter’s Ally in Developing a Healthy Body Image by Sharron Herst
- Chasing Silouhettes: How to Help a Love One Battling an Eating Disorder by Emily Wierenga. This just-released book is being praised as filling a critical need for parents. Reviewers call Emily brave, vulnerable and practical. Emily’s story will be featured in the post here tomorrow and on Friday, there will be excerpt from her new book (out in May) called Mom in the Mirror: Body Image, Beauty and Life after Pregnancy.
Know someone with daughters? Won’t you share this series with them? Other posts in this series:
*In addition to Sadie’s advice, we used the Finding Balance website and 10 Things Parents Can Do To Prevent Eating Disorders by Michael Levine.