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A New Look at Self Esteem

The Adonis Complex

Food Fight: A Guide to Eating Disorders for Preteens and Their Parents

A Broken Mirror: Understanding and Treating Dysmorphic Disorder

by Mary Ross

The number of overweight children in the U.S. has doubled since 1980. In a survey of 10-year-old girls, 81 percent said they were afraid of getting fat, and 70 percent of teen and preteen girls reported that magazine pictures influence their idea of the perfect body.Ó Since the average model stands 5'11Ó and weighs 117 pounds, the difference between how most kids look and how they would like to look is glaring.

ItÁs tempting for parents to nag kids who are overweight or obsessed with being thin, but experts in nutrition and eating disorders say this approach doesnÁt work. They suggest:

  • Give kids more autonomy in what and when they eat. Most children will eat relatively healthy food if we offer choices that they like. Instead of saying, DonÁt eat that! It'll spoil your dinner,Ó try How about having some apple slices (or pretzels or yogurt) to tide you over until dinner?Ó
  • Stock your kitchen wisely. Keep plenty of nutritious snacks on hand: rice cakes, whole grain crackers and popcorn (hold the butter). Find out the fruits your kids like best and keep some around. But donÁt become the food police and make junk food or sweets the enemy.
  • If your child is snacking too much, ask: Are you hungry?Ó The truly hungry will go for one of the healthy snacks you offer. On the other hand, if kids are just bored, help them come up with fun ways to pass the time.
  • Prepare yourself and your children for puberty. When kids have growth spurts, itÁs natural for them to eat more. Boys develop broader shoulders and more muscle. Girls add some body fat and develop wider hips, which shouldnÁt be dieted away.
  • Clue children in to media messages. Help kids become critical viewers who can recognize manipulation and hype and can see that there are few products we actually need. Help them understand too that pop idols rely on makeup artists, hair stylists, lighting experts, and personal trainers to look the way they do. Help them appreciate diversity in looking good and that looking good comes from inside.
  • Encourage your childÁs school to introduce a health weight/body image program. Groups like HUGS and EDAP can help.
  • Set a good example. Kids do model their parents, and overweight parents are more likely to have overweight kids. Be aware that when we eat in front of the television, we tend to eat more. So, as often as possible, sit down together with your family around the dinner table and turn off the television.



  • Accept your child and others at varying weights. Making kids feel ashamed will promote self-hate (and likely moreweight gain). Nor is it always beneficial to tell children how greatÓ they look if they lose weight. (TheyÁll worry about how bad they may have looked before.) ItÁs better to compliment them on taking good care of themselves.
  • Focus on your child's eating patterns. (You may need the help of a nutritionist to set up a healthy eating plan.) If the problem is deeper, for example, if you feel your child is eating excessively for comfort, focus on finding what's bothering him or her and try to address that.


  • Help kids get moving. Overweight children are often sedentary and self-conscious about participating in sports. ItÁs helpful to do more physical activity as a family--walking, biking, and swimming.


IF YOU THINK your child may have anorexia or bulimia, read How to help someone you care aboutÓ at the web site www.anred.com/hlp.html. The health risks of obesity mount over time, but anorexia and bulimia can be life threatening. ThatÁs why ANRED (Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders) advises that if you are concerned, get some help immediately. For the danger signs and medical consequences of these eating disorders, visit www.aabainc.org/general.


(adapted from Work & Family Life newsletter, edited by Susan Ginsberg)


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