How Parents Influence Eating Disorder Development and Recovery

How Parents Influence Eating Disorder Development and RecoveryThere has been a fair amount of research on eating disorders, and clear patterns have emerged regarding their development and recovery. While a variety of genetic, social and environmental factors contribute to the development of an eating disorder, parents also play a significant role in this process. Parents often unknowingly contribute to attitudes in their children that affect eating disorders; being aware of these pitfalls can help you avoid them. Conversely, there are things that parents can do to minimize other contributing factors.

How Parents Increase the Risk of Developing Eating Disorders

There are many factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder. A prime culprit is society’s obsession with an ideal standard of beauty: thin. However, recent studies have found direct correlations between attitudes and behaviors displayed by parents and the likelihood of a person developing an eating disorder.

Children are constantly barraged with media images that are intended to sell a product, and it is up to parents to help their children put these images and messages into perspective. Growing up in a household that subscribes to society’s narrow ideal of beauty may significantly increase a child’s risk of developing an eating disorder. A mother who is dissatisfied with her own body image, continually diets and keeps pictures of thin models for inspiration tells her children that she is discontent with her body and they should also strive for that perfection.

These same studies have shown that a father who is a perfectionist, whether toward a body image, athletics or grades, can also contribute to the development of an eating disorder. This may be explained by the fact that eating disorders are often a manifestation of a desire for control.

How Parents Reduce the Risk of Developing Eating Disorders

There are several ways parents can reduce the risk of their children developing eating disorders, including the following:

  • Set a good example; be healthy, eat well and exercise, but do not be overly concerned with appearance or a little extra weight.
  • Teach your children to view media images with a critical eye; children must understand that most media images are designed to sell something, and that the people in the pictures are costumed, coiffured, made-over, airbrushed and digitally enhanced.
  • Develop family values that focus on being a whole person; encourage your children to know themselves and to take pride from activities that interest and stimulate them. Playing team sports, pursuing artistic interests, learning a musical instrument, being active in your church or volunteering in the community can go a long way toward developing a healthy self-esteem.

Help Finding Treatment for an Eating Disorder

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