PARENTS, ADULT, PEERS
| MEN & FATHERS
Principles for the Prevention of Eating Disorders
disorders are serious and complex problems. We need to be careful to
avoid thinking of them in simplistic terms, like "anorexia is just a
plea for attention," or "bulimia is just an addiction to food." Eating
disorders arise from a variety of physical, emotional, social, and familial
issues, all of which need to be addressed for effective prevention and
disorders are not just a "woman's problem" or "something for the girls."
Males who are preoccupied with shape and weight can also develop eating
disorders as well as dangerous shape control practices like steroid
use. In addition, males play an important role in prevention. The objectification
and other forms of mistreatment of women by others contribute directly
to two underlying features of an eating disorder: obsession with
appearance and shame about one's body.
efforts will fail, or worse, inadvertently encourage disordered eating,
if they concentrate solely on warning the public about the signs, symptoms,
and dangers of eating disorders. Effective prevention programs must
cultural obsession with slenderness as a physical, psychological,
and moral issue.
>The roles of men and women in our society.
>The development of people's self-esteem and self-respect in a
variety of areas (school, work, community service, hobbies) that transcend
possible, prevention programs for schools, community organizations,
etc., should be coordinated with opportunities for participants to speak
confidentially with a trained professional with expertise in the field
of eating disorders, and, when appropriate, receive referrals to sources
of competent, specialized care. For personal information, contact us
at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out
the resources link on this site.
FOR PARENTS, PEERS, AND ADULTS (top)
explore, and if necessary, modify the appearance expectations you
have about your child or unborn child (e.g., will she grow up to be
your own attitudes, beliefs, prejudices, and behaviors about food,
weight, body image, physical appearance, health, and exercise.
unhealthy attitudes with healthy ones.
extreme eating and exercise habits with more moderate ones.
not talk about or behave as if you are constantly dieting.
not "model" or otherwise communicate the message that you cannot dance,
swim, wear shorts, or enjoy a summer picnic because you do not look
a certain way or weigh a certain amount.
balanced eating of a variety of foods in moderation.
all foods in your home.
eating in response to body hunger.
often and in a complimentary way, how varied people are -- how they
come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. (Show appreciation for diversity
and a respect for nature. Link respect for diversity in weight and
shape with respect for diversity in race, gender, ethnicity, intelligence,
a critical consumer of the media -- pay attention to and openly challenge
media messages. Talk with your children about the pressures they see,
hear, and feel to diet and to "look good."
to children that weight and appearance are not the most critical aspects
of their identity and self-worth.
self-esteem. The most important gift adults can give children is self-esteem.
When adults show children that they value and love them unconditionally,
children can withstand the perils of childhood and adolescence with
fewer scars and traumas. Self-esteem is a universal vaccine that can
immunize a youngster from eating problems, body image distortion,
exercise abuse, and many other problems. Providing self-esteem is
the responsibility of both parents. Girls especially need support
and validation from their fathers.
open communication. Teach children how to communicate. Encourage children
to talk openly and honestly and really listen to them. Let them know
that their opinions and feelings are cared for and valued. Being encouraged
to assert themselves helps young people say no to pressures to conform.
Feeling loved and confident allows them to accept that they are unique
critical thinking. The only sure antidote to the tendency to conform
to the powerful seduction of the media and peer pressure is the ability
to think critically. Parents have to encourage critical thinking early,
and educators have to continue the mission. We need to teach kids
how to think, not what to think, and to encourage them to disagree,
challenge, brainstorm alternatives, etc. Girls especially need to
learn that men are not the ultimate authorities and that they themselves
have something important to contribute.
a value system based on internal values. Help children understand
the importance of equating personal worth with care and concern for
others, wisdom, loyalty, fairness, self-care and self-respect, personal
fulfillment, curiosity, self-awareness, the capacity for relationships,
connectedness and intimacy, individuality, confidence, assertiveness,
a sense of humor, ambition, motivation, etc.
children accept and enjoy their bodies and encourage physical activity.
the idea that a particular diet or body size will automatically lead
to happiness and fulfillment.
use food as a reward or punishment. It sets food up as a potential
weapon for control.
constantly criticize your own shape ("I'm so fat--I've got to lose
weight."). Such self-criticism implies that appearance is more important
equate food with positive or negative behavior. The dieting parent
who says she was "good" today because she didn't "eat much" implies
that eating is bad, and that avoiding food is good. Similarly, "don't
eat that--it will make you fat" implies that being fat makes one unlikable.
aware of some of the warning signs of eating disorders. Understand
that these warning signs can appear before puberty. Watch for: refusing
typical family meals, skipping meals, comments about self and others
like "I'm too fat; she's too fat," clothes shopping that becomes stressful,
withdrawal from friends, irritability and depression, any signs of
extreme dieting, bingeing, or purging.
accept, acknowledge, appreciate, and value your children -- out loud
-- no matter what they weigh.
your children's appetites. Never try to limit their caloric intake
-- unless requested to do so by a physician for a medical problem.
about and discuss with your sons and daughters the dangers of trying
to alter their body shape through dieting.
support pornography or other "institutions" that cast women as objects
for the pleasure of men, objects without personal integrity.
boys and girls the same opportunities and encouragement (in assignment
of chores, choosing a sport, etc.) and avoid restricting children
to gender-specific activities (boys can enjoy cooking and girls can
fix cars). Take females more seriously for what they say, feel, and
do, and less seriously for what they look like.
children about good relationships and how to deal with difficulties
when they arise. Males and females alike may use food to express or
numb themselves instead of dealing with difficult feelings or relationships.
Because of messages that suggest that the perfect body will dissolve
all relationship problems, young people often put energy into changing
their bodies instead of their feelings or their relationships.
children about spirituality.
MEN & FATHERS (top)
a historical perspective on the politics of the control of women's
toward and speak out for women's rights: to fair pay, to safety, to
respect, and to control of their bodies.
a respect for women as they age, in order to work against the cultural
glorification of youth and a tightly controlled ideal body type. (Why
is it that only men should become distinguished as they age, while
women become wrinkled and need face-lifts?)
to and practice nourishing women's spirits, so they won't feel an
empty hunger for beauty and for unhealthy amounts of food.
your children about the existence, the experience, and the ugliness
of prejudice and oppression -- whether it is directed against people
of color or people who are overweight.
yourself to raising non-sex-stereotyped children by modeling and living
gender equality at home.
respect for all people.
close to and supportive of your daughters as they experiment and struggle
with body image, grooming and cosmetic issues, flirtatiousness and
to your sons about the way body shape and sexuality (for both boys
and girls) are manipulated by the media and the struggle their sisters
or girlfriends have in trying to conform or not to conform.
patience, compassion, tenderness, fallibility, and most importantly,
the capacity and desire to listen.
MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS (top)
yourself about the warning signs of eating disorders.
your work with children, emphasize self-esteem, critical thinking,
self-assertion, and communication skills. These strengths will inoculate
children against pressures they experience to change and harm their
bodies in the pursuit of "perfection, goodness, and happiness."
political and socio-cultural advocates (i.e. volunteer with S.P.E.A.K.!)
-- invite children you work with to challenge the ways in which our
culture glorifies thinness. 43. Encourage the young men you work with
to examine their own "weightist" attitudes and behavior toward females.
knowledgeable about and able to discuss the scientific evidence concerning
a variety of complex topics including: the physical development of
boys and girls during puberty, "set point" regulation and defense
of natural body weight, the futility and dangers of dieting, and the
ways in which our culture has exaggerated the "risks" of being overweight.
systems whereby you can connect to teachers and coaches who can, in
turn, reach out to help children who are expressing problems with
their eating and body image. 46. Strengthen and support families so
they are able to more effectively provide the security, acceptance,
support, and direction that children need in order to inoculate them
from negative media influences.
parents reclaim their rights as experts. Empower parents to listen
to their children and find solutions that will be best for them.
how our changing world alters what children need from parents today.
Socio-cultural pressures surrounding drugs, sexuality, body image,
and perfectionism require great character strength, self-assurance,
and decision-making in young children. Support parents to give more
attention to children in these areas.
with families how we all use food for the wrong reasons at times.
Help families understand the power and role of food in their own lives
as it soothes, rewards, and punishes. Both parents should be actively
involved in meal planning and preparations so that food and nurturing
do not appear to be exclusive responsibilities or burdens for women.
Encourage families to return to the traditional shared family meal
in any way they can.
your community about the risks and the dangers of eating disorders
while at the same time being careful not to promote or teach young
people how to become eating disordered. In some ways, children are
actually the highest risk audience. Audiences with less risk are school
personnel, parent groups, athletic directors, and day-care personnel.
Have a system in place if a child does have a problem and be supportive
of family and friends of the person with the problem. You may work
with the family while someone else is working with the identified
patient. Give information and support. Reduce shame and guilt. Blaming
parents guarantees treatment failure. Work with families to create
and restore healthy eating and interaction patterns.
Together we can make a difference.
above material was written by Linda Smolak, Ph.D. and Michael Levine,
Ph.D. and presented at the13th National NEDO Conference. This material
is copyrighted and may be reproduced or used for educational and non-profit
purposes only, with acknowledgment of Dr. Smolak, Dr. Levine, and EDAP.