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How to Help Children and Teens Avoid Anorexia

by Amy Morin

Despite being underweight, children and teens with anorexia continue restricting their caloric intake as their weight drops to dangerous levels. According to the Boston Children's Hospital, anorexia places children and teens at risk for cardiovascular problems, renal failure, anemia, low bone density and hormonal problems. Anorexia most likely results from a combination of genetic, social and cultural factors. Give your child positive messages about her body to help her avoid developing an eating disorder such as anorexia.

Encourage a Healthy Lifestyle

Teach your child to make healthy food choices so she can maintain a healthy weight. When children are overweight, they may be more prone to dieting. According to the Mayo Clinic, compliments about weight loss reinforce a person's desire to continue losing weight, which can cause some children and teens to take extreme dieting measures.

Encourage moderate amounts of physical activity to help your child keep her body healthy. Place an emphasis on fitness and health rather than weight loss and appearance.

Educate your child about healthy ways to cope with stress. Children and teens often experience stress related to family problems, peer issues and school work. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress and difficulties dealing with transitions can be a risk factor for anorexia.

Model a healthy lifestyle for your child. Show your child how to be healthy by eating healthy portions and exercising in moderate amounts.

Promote Self-Esteem

Explore your child's interests and talents to help her feel good about areas of her life that are not based on appearance. When children feel good about themselves, they are less likely to focus solely on their weight. According to Brigham Young University, "A well-rounded sense of self and solid self-esteem are perhaps the best antidotes to dieting and disordered eating."

Show your child that you accept her for who she is, not what size she is. Avoid placing an emphasis on her appearance or body shape but instead, praise her for her accomplishments, talents and efforts.

Model how to love your body, no matter what size you are. If you avoid wearing a bathing suit or make disparaging comments about your appearance, she's likely to do the same. Instead, teach her how to have confidence in her body by showing her that you have confidence in yourself.

Be Aware of Media Messages

Instruct your child about the dangers of media messages that promote thinness. Many magazines, TV shows, music videos and movies place a large emphasis on appearance and weight. Help your child learn how to spot media messages that equate thinness with success or happiness.

Limit your child's use of media. Advertisements often promote unhealthy food while also stressing the importance of being thin. Limiting a child's media use prevents them from constantly being bombarded with commercials for fast food alongside commercials for diet pills.

Set guidelines about your child's use of media. Encourage media that offers healthy messages about body image and use parental controls to restrict access to media that sends unhealthy messages about dieting, weight control and appearance.

Tip

  • Seek professional help if you suspect your child might have an eating disorder.

Warnings

  • Avoid using food as a reward for good behavior as a reward.
  • Be aware that some sports activities, such as dance or wrestling, place a big emphasis on weight for children and teens and might increase their risk for developing an eating disorder.

About the Author

Amy Morin has been writing about parenting, relationships, health and lifestyle issues since 2009. Her work appears in many print and online publications, including Mom.me and Global Post. Morin works as a clinical therapist and a college psychology instructor. Morin received her Master of Social Work from the University of New England.

Photo Credits

  • Chris Amaral/Digital Vision/Getty Images