A big topic related to eating disorders is self esteem, body image, confidence, and overall happiness with one's appearance. Girls, unfortunately, suffer dramatically from issues with these topics.
Some statistics from http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/
95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.8
Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight within 5 years
47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.
42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991).
81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991)
It's scary. Especially for those of us with daughters.
Preventing an eating disorder from happening is the best thing a mom can do. Especially for girls. Of course, genetics and many other factors happen to come together to cause an eating disorder. But there are some things you can do to encourage healthy body image and self esteem in your young girls.
Here are a few tips:
*Don't talk negative about your own body. Don't say you feel fat or wish certain pants would fit, etc.
*Don't go on a diet or have certain foods off limits or labeled as "bad." Eat dessert. Eat fruits and veggies and whatever else in moderation.
*Encourage a love for food in general. It's fun to eat! It's a happy time to sit at the dinner table and talk and eat!
*Say you think you look beautiful. It's a weird one to do, when getting ready in the morning and turning to your child and saying, "I think I look great, don't you?" but it sends a great message to your child.
*Don't always comment on appearances. Talk about someone's strength, creativity, curiosity, intelligence, problem solving skills, etc.
*Let your daughter be who she wants to be. Don't push her to wear dresses if she's a "tomboy." Have trucks and sand toys and play in the mud and get dirty. Don't stick to stereotypical gender roles.
*Encourage sports or something to be physically active for the sake of feeling confident, strong and part of a team - all of which raises self esteem.
*Help her build her talents. Dance classes, yoga, gymnastics, sports, art or music lessons, etc. for the sake of having FUN will help your daughters feel good about themselves and appreciate their bodies.
*Know the signs of an eating disorder. Notice if your child starts eliminating certain food groups or refusing to eat certain meals. Notice and take action for help.
*Do not encourage perfectionism. If you notice a child who has to get it right all the time or else, intervene early and accept their shortcomings. Admit your own imperfections. Say you're sorry when you make a mistake. Show your child that you have flaws, too. It's OK! They will respect you even more.
*Read books about strong women. Things like girls playing sports or wearing hiking boots or playing as a super hero.
*Have lots of dress up clothes that include police officer and firefighter and construction worker outfits, veterinarian outfits, etc. so she can try on various versions of herself for play.
*If you have Barbies or other types of similar dolls, that's OK but talk about how that's not how we all look. If you watch princess movies, again those are great, but explain that it's not always like that in real life and we don't all have bodies like that and that's OK.
*Use nice language and teach positive communication. If you hear your child comment on someone's weight, appearance, or call someone fat, etc. speak up immediately saying that's not nice and explain why.
*Be a positive role model. Be someone your daughter can look up to.
*Be open to talk about whatever is on their mind, without judgment, just empathize with them. Don't always try to fix their problems. Just listen. The more open communication you have, the more likely they are to come to you when they feel down or fat or not included with peers. Take their woes seriously.
*Teach them to cook! Have fun in the kitchen!
*Go natural sometimes! If you wear makeup a lot, take a day a week and skip the makeup routine. Let your child see you in your normal state, let it be OK to go out in public like that.
*Limit media exposure. Don't have magazines in the house that have unrealistic advertisements in them of women's bodies.
Do what you can in the home do improve your daughter's self esteem and hopefully it'll carry with her when she's facing challenging situations or media stereotypes in the real world. It's never too soon to start these things either. Our girls need us build them up.