This is a handout I got in my Medical Family Therapy class. The copyright at the bottom says “(c) 2005 National Eating Disorders Association. Permission is granted to copy and reprint materials for educational purposes only. National Eating Disorders Association must be cited and web address listed. www.NationalEatingDisorders.org Information and Referral Helpline: 800.931.2237.” I think that covers me. I’m willing to take the risk, anyway, because eating disorders are a huge problem. The most conservative estimates, using the most strict definitions, are that six million people in the US struggle with disordered eating. Estimates using less strict definitions (including Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified in the DSM-IV-TR), but still very realistic, are at about 20 million. And eating disorders are the most deadly mental disorder. If not treated, 20-25% of those with serious eating disorders die from them. You won’t find that statistic in many official sources, though, because for some very strange reason, coroners will not list Anorexia or Bulimia Nervosa as a cause of death. They prefer “Cause of death unknown” in those cases. Plus, eating disorders are learned behavior. Don’t let your kids learn the values that encourage disordered eating from you!
OK, here it is. It’s by Michael Levine, PhD:
1. Consider your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors toward your own body and the way that these beliefs have been shaped by the forces of weightism and sexism. Then educate your children about (a) the genetic basis for the natural diversity of human body shapes and sizes and (b) the nature and ugliness of prejudice.
*Make an effort to maintain positive attitudes and health behaviors. Children learn from the things you say and do!
2. Examine closely your dreams and goals for your children and other loved ones. Are you overemphasizing beauty and body shape, particularly for girls?
*Avoid conveying an attitude which says in effect, “I will like you more if you lose weight, don’t eat so much, look more like the slender models in ads, fit into smaller clothes, etc.”
*Decide what you can do and what you can stop doing to reduce the teasing, criticism, blaming, staring, etc. that reinforce the idea that larger or fatter is “bad” and smaller or thinner is “good.”
3. Learn about and discuss with your sons and daughters (a) the dangers of trying to alter one’s body shape through dieting, (b) the value of moderate exercise for health, and (c) the importance of eating a variety of foods in well-balanced meals consumed at least three times a day.
*Avoid categorizing and labeling foods (e.g. good/bad or safe/dangerous). All foods can be eaten in moderation.
*Be a good role model in regard to sensible eating, exercise, and self-acceptance.
4. Make a commitment not to avoid activities (such as swimming, sunbathing, dancing, etc.) simply because they call attention to your weight and shape. Refuse to wear clothes that are uncomfortable or that you don’t like but wear simply because they divert attention from your weight or shape.
5. Make a commitment to exercise for the joy of feeling your body move and grow stronger, not to purge fat from you body or to compensate for calories, power, excitement, popularity, or perfection.
6. Practice taking people seriously for what they say, feel, and do, not for how slender or “well put together” they appear.
7. Help children appreciate and resist the ways in which television, magazines, and other media distort the true diversity of human body types and imply that a slender body means power, excitement, popularity, or perfection.
8. Educate boys and girls about various forms of prejudice, including weightism, and help them understand their responsibilities for preventing them.
9. Encourage your children to be active and to enjoy what their bodies can do and feel like. Do not limit their caloric intake unless a physician requests that you do this because of a medical problem.
10. Do whatever you can to promote the self-esteem and self- respect of all of your children in intellectual, athletic , and social endeavors. Give boys and girls the same opportunities and encouragement. Be careful not to suggest that females are less important than males, e.g., by exempting males form housework or childcare. A well-rounded sense of self and solid self-esteem are perhaps the best antidotes to dieting and disordered eating.
[This post first appeared on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, March 16, 2010.]