Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to Keep Your Child from Developing an Eating Disorder

      In this culture, with its emphasis on thinness and junk food consumption, 23% of girls and 6% of boys have eating disorders. Parents have a lot more power than they realize in this area, but it needs to start early. Intervening in adolescence, when kids need to assert their right to control their own bodies, is tricky and less effective. What can you do to prevent your kids from developing eating disorders?

1. Commit yourself to model good eating habits. Face it.  Whatever you do, they’ll do. If you drink soda, they'll drink soda. If you snack on that ever-present bowl of carrots, so will they. This may seem like a life sentence to drudgery, but your increased health, vitality and good looks will reward you as much as your children asking for more carrots.
2. Learn the latest in nutrition. The percentage of overweight Americans has more than doubled over the past century and has continued to rise, accompanied by similar rises in incidence of heart disease. Contributors include our sedentary lifestyle, large food portions, and our evolutionary propensity to eat (and store) extra food in times of plenty just in case lean times are around the corner.
But nutritionists increasingly suspect that over-processed foods are the biggest culprit. Consumption of saturated fat has actually decreased during this period of extreme weight gain, while consumption of processed foods has increased dramatically.  Designed to last during long periods of storage and shipping, and with taste rather than nutrition in mind, foods with hydrogenated oils, preservatives, corn syrup and carbohydrates stripped of their nutrients are simply bad for our bodies.  They create chronic disease as we get older.  But they start, even in childhood, by making us fat.
3. Don't talk about dieting.  In fact, don't diet, just eat healthfully, and make exercise and automatic part of life for everyone in the family.  Dieting, research tells us, doesn’t work; dieters regain the weight, and losing it the next time is even harder.  Only long-term healthy eating helps people not only lose weight, but keep it off.
4. Don't make your child self-conscious by commenting on it if you notice that your she's becoming a bit pudgy.Instead, ratchet up the physical activity level and decrease the fat and sugar content of the family diet. If you decide that your child needs to lose some weight, put the whole family on a healthy eating program.  Changing food habits is challenging to anyone, and to expect a child to give up treats that others in the house are eating is simply unreasonable.
5. Throw out the junk food and don't stock treats except for special occasions.  It’s bad for everyone in the family.  And if kids see others eating it, it’s too hard for them to resist. They’ll eat what’s around, and sneak it if they have to. Many teenage girls get started on a bulimic pattern by sneaking their parents’ ice cream and then vomiting.
6. Keep trying to get them to eat their veggies.  No self respecting child tries a new food the first time she sees it. But eventually, she’s likely to. That’s why kids who are exposed to more foods are more sophisticated eaters. Studies show that the major predictor in children’s willingness to eat a food is familiarity.
7. Discuss with sitters what your child may eat.  Being rigid will set up forbidden fruit, which will only sabotage your efforts, but an otherwise healthy diet can easily be overwhelmed by chips and soda every afternoon.
8. If you live in the city, make up for it by insisting on exercise every weekend.  Kids who can’t go outside put on more weight.
9. Nurse your baby to reduce his chances of being overweight as an adult.
10. Reduce TV use.  Children who watch two hours of television each day are much more likely to grow into overweight adults with high cholesterol.   It may be that advertising has as much to do with this correlation as inactivity.  US obesity specialist David Ludwig says recent research strengthens the case for a ban on food advertising aimed at children: "In an era when childhood obesity has reached crisis proportions, the commercial food industry has no business telling toddlers to consume fast food, soft drinks and high-calorie low-quality snacks -- all products linked to excessive weight gain." Did you know that in most countries, it's illegal to market to kids, including with TV ads?

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