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Written by:  Stacey Rosenfeld, MD
Date: June 1, 2011

With the incidence of disordered eating continuing to rise among children, being a psychologically savvy parent can help significantly decrease the chance that your child will develop an eating disorder or have a poor body image.

Disordered eating — whether obesity, anorexia, or other forms — can be prevented in many cases if you, as a parent, look at your own body differently. It's true eating disorders have genetic components and are influenced by peer groups and media exposure, but there are concrete ways you can help promote healthy eating and a positive body image for your child. You may not even realize how you may be sending cues to your son or daughter, which can have long-term and serious repercussions.

Here are some tips to help your child feel confident about himself or herself — no matter what shape or size he or she is — in order to have a healthy lifelong relationship with food.

• Don't count calories or talk about dieting in front of a child.

• Do throw out your scale and stop weighing yourself. Your child sees everything you do and seeing you weigh yourself has a significant impact on his or her perception of weight and body.

• Do limit your child's access to television, magazines and other places, where unrealistic images of how people should look, are presented.

• Do talk about food with regard to how it can nourish the body, rather than its effects on weight. Focus on health, not on calories, fats, or carbohydrates.

• Don't judge or criticize your body (or anyone else's) in front of your child. Never use the word "fat" or "thin" about anyone.

• Do encourage physical activity for the sake of health, rather than weight control.

• Don't deprive your child of food. Everything in moderation is better than deprivation ... and then a binge when parents aren't around.

• Do focus on all of your child's strengths and talents, and make it a point to tell him or her how beautiful he or she is.

This summer, encourage your child to participate in daily physical activities he or she enjoys (even running through the sprinkler) and get moving as a family.

Dr. Stacey Rosenfeld is a New York City-based psychologist and eating disorder specialist, who is in private practice and affiliated with Columbia University Medical Center.



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