Healthy Bodies = Healthy Minds
The children of today are growing up in a world obsessed by body image, in which the idealised standards of beauty are becoming simultaneously increasingly unrealistic, increasingly unhealthy, and increasingly sought after. At the same time, we are experiencing a profound disconnection from our food, where it comes from, and what it does to our bodies. All of this results in an extremely fertile breeding ground for eating disorders – a fact which undoubtedly concerns most modern mothers. However, there is no need to despair. If you want to protect your child from eating disorders, there are ways and means to do so.
Promote Good Body Image
One of the major causes of many eating disorders is body dissatisfaction.
If you wish your child to grow up with a good body image, it is imperative that negative comments about their bodies are never made within their hearing.
If your child is getting chubby, do not accuse them of it – however gently and kindly. Telling them that they are fat will bring them into body-awareness with a nasty jolt, and potentially instill insecurities of the kind which can snowball into an eating disorder. Instead, institute a programme of healthy eating and exercise to deal with any obesity issues your child may have. This will ensure that they become physically healthy while remaining psychologically healthy.
Furthermore, try not to make negative comments about the weight or appearance of others within their hearing, as this, too, will pass on the message that skinniness and beauty are the most highly prized attributes one could aspire to.
This applies to yourself as well. Make sure that your attitude towards your own body is healthy. Don’t bemoan pudgy thighs, or put yourself through endless weight-loss diets. Your children look up to you, and will learn from your example. Model healthy eating habits and ensure that your focus is always on a healthy body, not a skinny one.
Be Alert For Depression
Watch out for any symptoms of depression or stress. Anxiety disorders are closely linked to eating disorders, and often serve as a precursor to them. Sometimes, they can manifest at the same time, each disorder fuelling the other in a vicious cycle which makes effective treatment more difficult. Depression is, sadly, becoming more common among young people.
Those with depression often feel as though they are losing control, and see calorie restriction as a means of self-assertion. If they cannot control their lives, they can at least control what they eat. This often develops quickly into an obsession with food restriction which erupts into eating disorders with very little prompting.
Alternatively, a young person’s depression may focus upon negative body image. They may think that their perceived ‘fatness’ is ruining their lives, preventing them from achieving happiness, and do all within their power to make themselves thin. Of course, the problem is in the mind, so the sufferer continues to try and lose weight, no matter how thin they get.
Depression lays the foundation for eating disorders, so it is important to know the symptoms in order to spot the problem and help your child should they become depressed.
- Social withdrawal,
- Persistent negativity and a melancholy attitude,
- Changes in sleep patterns,
- Difficulty concentrating,
- Increased sensitivity.
Value Health Above Size
One of the most important messages to give your children is that healthy bodies are to be valued above thin ones. Encouraging them to take up sports can help them to appreciate their bodies for what they can do rather than what they look like.
Try to encourage healthy eating habits, and remove junk food from the house. The modern world has a warped relationship with treats, viewing them with both desire and disgust in a complex set of psychological associations which can be profoundly damaging.
We desire junk food, yet feel guilt once we have eaten it, and attempt to mitigate its effects through dieting and exercise. This is precisely the same kind of mindset as that which leads to bulimia.
Ensuring that your children understand about nutrition and a healthy diet will hopefully mean that they never experience the first stage of this damaging desire/disgust dichotomy, and never want to reach for the junk food in the first place. Instilling a healthy relationship with food is paramount – and, if done successfully, will set them up for a lifetime of not only healthy bodies, but also healthy minds.