It has taken me decades to find my voice in and around Eating Disorders. It wasn’t until I decided to cast light on my own struggles, talk openly about them and find strength in them, that I became truly able to honour my journey and begin to lend a hand to others. That’s the way life works, I guess.
I have just finished a new certification that has empowered me with tools to work more closely with Eating Disorder Recovery, but I have been working with Eating Disorders since I began my work as a Nutritionist. Although RHN’s are not trained specifically to work with ED clients, I have been finding, over the years, that every one of my clients have had some history with eating dysfunction; they have all struggled with that negative voice that has influenced how they perceive themselves, have struggled to decipher between what’s healthy and what isn’t, portion control and restriction, and they are all trying to figure out how to have a positive relationship with food and with their bodies.
You may be aware that eating disorders are still running rampant amongst society: in our young children and youth, in our 20 somethings, in our adult populations and even in the older ones. EDs are not limited to women, do not decipher between the young and the old, nor are they obvious to see even when they are right in front of you. You may be currently trying to help someone through this difficult time, still struggling with your own food dysfunction, or are petrified that this heart breaking disorder is currently breeding within your young child.
No matter your relationship intensity with Eating Disorders, there exists great power in knowledge, awareness of risk factors, and strength in prevention.
And there is help.
May it begin here.
Some are more at risk than others. Personality traits, relationships at home and at school, tendencies towards athleticism or beauty, can signal parents to increase awareness and connection with kids.
Indicators That Your Child May Be At Risk:
Low self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy
Perfectionism, obsessive-compulsiveness or neuroticism
Negative emotions or cynicism
Stress, high expectations of self, worry about performance, grades, acceptance
Depression, withdrawal from family & friends, avoidance of social interaction
Overvaluing body image in defining self-worth
Excessive worrying, anxiety, fear, doubt and pessimism
Heightened sensitivity or inability to cope with negative evaluations
Excessive tendency towards looking in the mirror, clothes, makeup, beauty & the scale
Socio-Cultural Risk Factors May Include:
Internalizing beauty ideal of thinness, muscularity and leanness
Societal pressure to achieve and succeed
Involvement in a sport or industry with an emphasis on a thin body shape and size (e.g. ballet dancer, gymnast, model, athlete)
Teasing or bullying (especially when based on weight or body shape)
Troubled family or personal relationships
Prevention In Openness & Connectivity
Be a Positive Role Model: More often than not, our kids’ eating habits will mimic our own. If you, yourself, have a history with EDs and still have a tendency towards those behaviours, the time to address them is NOW! Modeling is your strongest tool in preventing dysfunctional eating in your kids, I cannot say this enough. AVOID bringing the dieting mentality in to the home. AVOID criticizing your own size or imperfections in front of your children – they are likely to normalize this behaviour and repeat it.
Encourage Open Communication: Ensure you make yourself available as a parent as much as you possibly can. Talk to your kids about how they are doing, how they are feeling, how their relationships and societal interactions are going. Try to avoid being separated within the home by doors and walls, screens and music, do things as a family and talk about matters of the mind and the heart, regularly. If you make yourself approachable as a parent, your child is more likely to come to you when they are struggling.
Discuss Media Messaging & Limit Exposure: Start this conversation as early as possible and keep an ongoing and open communication around social media. There is no doubt about the power of media messaging on young minds and emotions, discuss what may be happening for the people on the screen, in their lives, discuss the pressures and damaging lifestyles of those seen as famous and beautiful. Discuss real life beauty and the difference between what comes at us via the screen and what is really happening in the real world.
Strengthen Self-Esteem: Encourage your children to build up their strengths and relish in their individuality in personality and passion. The more in tune your child is with their true self, the less likely they are to want to be like someone else. Teach them to stand up for themselves and be true to who they are and who they want to be in this life.
Discuss Physiology: Too often I encounter young people who do not understand the workings of the body; they are unaware of the functions of the organs, the digestive system, blood pH levels, hormones, or the nervous system. Borrow a physiology book from the Library or enlist the teachings of a friend and learn together about how the body works and what the body needs from food. When we are encouraged to learn about the complex and wondrous workings of the body, our understanding of its needs are greater, as is our respect for food and the body.
Encourage Healthy Body Image: If mirrors and scales and screens are beginning to cause some distress in your child, reduce exposure and take aim on positive body image. Comment on how bodies can be all shapes, colours, and sizes and still have so much beauty and power. Find powerful role models of all sizes. Watch body image empowerment documentaries or videos and grab some positive affirmation books from the Library. Do whatever you can to expose your child to positive body relationships, maybe find a dance/yoga teacher, friend, Nutritionist or Therapist to help you.
Cook & Eat Together: Social media, fast food, boxes and flashy packaging have created a vast disconnect between humans and their food, in recent decades. When the connection between the food and the body is lost, so too is respect and understanding for where food comes from and how the body utilizes it. Teaching kids to connect with their food, practice intuitive eating, and prepare and cook good food, is imperative to a positive relationship with food. Break out some new recipes, shop together, teach kitchen skills and bond over food. Better yet, find a cooking class near you and do something fun together!
Discuss the Dangers of Dieting: As a Holistic Nutritionist and Eating Psychology Counselor, it is in my every day practice to undo the damage that the dieting world has elicited on my clients. For decades, our society has been obsessed with thinness and restrictive eating practices, denying our natural weight, straining to find some kind of balance in mind and body in and amongst a time when we are brain washed to deny our natural tendencies. It is time to teach the young people about real food, about connecting to the earth and its givings, and about creating a level of harmony between real food and real bodies.
Be Strong In Your Values: Decide as a family what your values are and write them out. Post them around your house. Say them to one another regularly. Tell your friends about them. Live them. When kids have strong values, they are more likely to know who they are, to place value on themselves, and to make all decisions from a place of intention.
Kindness. Generosity. Humanity. Love. Connectivity. Respect.
Define yours and instill them in your kids.
Know When It’s Time To Get Help
Recognizing when it’s time to get help is crucial to gaining the upper hand within the strong hold of an Eating Disorder. Remember that enlisting the help of a professional does NOT mean that you have failed as a parent. In fact, perhaps it is an indication that your job is not to guide your child out of Eating Dysfunction, but to support her through her own journey with it. Oftentimes, the help must come from an outside source.
REACH OUT, I’d love to hear from you!