As a parent (or a grandparent or aunt/uncle or caregiver) do you hope to do EVERYTHING you can to help your child grow up to be a happy & healthy adult? I am sure you do as I have never met a single parent that does not hope this for their child. And I too felt this way with my children; however, I was ridden with fear after hearing stories in college that children of dietitians are at greater risk of having an eating disorder and I was all too familiar with the dangers that lurked with an eating disorder. So I took this as a personal responsibility to “prevent my children from having an eating disorder”, but I did so out of complete fear and it does not have to be that way. It can be out of compassion, growth, and awareness. With that said, if you think this does not affect your family, here are a few facts that may help you to reconsider thinking about this important fact:
Eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid overdose.1
10,200 deaths each year are the direct result of an eating disorder—that’s one death every 52 minutes.2
42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.3
81% of 10 year old children are afraid of being fat.4
46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets.5
35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives.6
In a college campus survey, 91% of the women admitted to controlling their weight through dieting.7
What do you think? Curious to learn more? Would you like to contribute to the future of our world by learning what you can do to prevent eating disorders? And when do you think this starts?
There are potentially so many questions running through your mind. But let’s start with… when do we need to think about this… Ideally a healthy relationship with food would start as an infant and it would be started by all caregivers thoroughly understanding hunger and fullness cues of our infants AND respecting those cues, not by helping them finish off the last of what they are drinking. And please note, this feeding relationship transformation can really be done anytime. It is literally never too late!
If you are someone who has children that are a little bit older, I would recommend utilizing the Division of Responsibility by Ellyn Satter, MS, MSSW, is a dietitian, family therapist, and internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding. Here is an overview of the Division of the Responsibility 8 for feeding:
Your jobs with feeding are to . . .
Choose and prepare the food.
Provide regular meals and snacks.
Make eating times pleasant.
Step-by-step, show your child by example how to behave at family mealtime.
Be considerate of your child’s lack of food experience without catering to likes and dislikes.
Not let your child have food or beverages (except for water) between meal and snack times.
Let your child grow into the body that is right for him.
Part of your feeding job is to trust your child to . . .
Eat the amount he needs.
Learn to eat the food you eat.
Grow predictably in the way that is right for him.
Learn to behave well at mealtime.
This likely all feels too good to be true, but I promise you… it IS completely possible and actually quite needed. We need to turn away from foods being morally unequal (broccoli is better than cake and the only way to get cake is to eat broccoli, finish our plate club, or my favorite, demonizing sugar, etc). When we lay the foundation of our children having a healthy relationship with food, they do not end up with disordered eating patterns, and they in turn will not develop an eating disorder.
Not all disordered eating patterns/ unhealthy relationship with food will turn into an eating disorder, but everyone who has had an eating disorder has had a disordered relationship with food prior.
So focus on what you can do, make the small shifts where you can, and seek assistance for help as needed. The relationship our children have with themselves and food greatly impact the future of our world.
Arcelus, Jon et al. “Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. A meta-analysis of 36 studies.” Archives of general psychiatry 68,7 (2011): 724-31. https://doi.org/10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.74
Deloitte Access Economics. The Social and Economic Cost of Eating Disorders in the United States of America: A Report for the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders and the Academy for Eating Disorders. June 2020. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/striped/report-economic-costs-of-eating-disorders/.
Collins, M., H.S.D., M.P.H. (1991). Body figure perceptions and preferences among preadolescent children. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 10(2), 199-208. https://doi.org/10.1002/1098-108X(199103)10:2%3C199::AID-EAT2260100209%3E3.0.CO;2-D
McNutt, S. W., Hu, Y., Schreiber, G. B., Crawford, P. B., Obarzanek, E., & Mellin, L. (1997). A longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment: the NHLBI Growth and Health Study. The Journal of Adolescent Health, 20(1), 27–37. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1054-139X(96)00176-0
Gustafson-Larson, A. M., & Terry, R. D. (1992). Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 92(7), 818–822. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1624650/
Boutelle, K., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., & Resnick, M. (2002). Weight control behaviors among obese, overweight, and nonoverweight adolescents. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 27(6), 531–540. https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/27.6.531
Noordenbos, G., Oldenhave, A., Muschter, J., & Terpstra, N. (2002). Characteristics and treatment of patients with chronic eating disorders. Eating Disorders, 10(1), 15–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/106402602753573531