HOW FAMILIES INFLUENCE BODY IMAGE

According to Perfect Illusions, Eating Disorder and Family, five to ten million American women suffer from eating disorders, which means they also are facing body image issues as well. Females can have body image issues even without being diagnosed with an eating disorder. Children can easily pick up on comments about dieting concepts that might seem harmless, such as setting a boundary to high fat foods or eating less. When girls enter their teen years, they develop perceptions about dieting can lead to body distortion. Many factors can be stimulus for weight anxieties in girls and add influence to their eating habits in harmful ways, including:

  • Mothers concerned about their own weight
  • Mothers who are overly concerned about their daughters’ weight and appearance
  • Natural weight gain and other body changes during puberty
  • Peer pressure to look a certain way
  • Struggles with self-esteem
  • Media images showing the ideal female body as thin

Many teenage girls of average weight think they are overweight and are dissatisfied with their bodies. Having risky weight concerns, and acting on those worries can harm girls’ social, physical and emotional growth. Actions such as skipping meals or taking diet pills can lead to poor nutrition and difficulty learning. Extreme efforts to lose weight might lead to eating disorders. For some girls and women, the burden to be thin can lead to a binge eating disorder and overeating can be followed by heavy guilt. Attempts to lose weight by cigarette smoking also contribute to poor health.
Signs a Child Has a Negative Body Image
Warning signs of an unhealthy body image in children can help parents recognize problems early. Parents should watch for these signs:

  • Signals that a girl values herself only in terms of her physical appearance
  • The language a daughter uses to describe herself and her physical development and attractiveness
  • Excessive dieting
  • Frequent comments about the weight of other girls
  • Worries about sexual attractiveness
  • Depression and low self-esteem

How to Talk to Kids about Weight
Encourage open dialogue: Talk with your children about weight and try to inspire them to share their thoughts and feelings about body image whenever they arise. Children need to feel supported when they want to share their feelings about their weight struggles. Be sure to listen and recognize that all feelings are real. It is okay to share your experiences if you have had body image issues. It is best to explain that children and teens come in all different shapes and sizes and support inner beauty exploration.
Take action: Children learn quickly, and they learn best by example. Teach children habits that assist them to stay healthy for life. If your child is elementary age or younger and you have weight concerns, don’t talk about it negatively, rather start making lifestyle changes as a family. The goal should be to serve regular, balanced family meals and snacks. Try to reduce the time a child spends watching television or playing video games. Be creative in finding ways to spend time together actively.
A united front: Parents and other important adult relatives are should be on the same page. Mixed messages about weight can make unhealthy concerns for a child’s self-esteem.
Talk with a doctor: Speak with your family doctor privately about weight concerns without your children being present. Talk about precise concerns and solutions about a growth pattern and ask for suggestions for positive changes in your family’s eating habits and activity levels.
Seek advice: Check out local programs and professionals who specialize in youth advocacy. Look for a registered dietitian nutritionist with experience in pediatric weight management. Many hospitals and clinics have comprehensive programs with educational activities for both kids and adult family members. Some of these options may be covered by reliable health insurance plans.
Personal perceptions of weight gain for individual teens can be a struggle. All communication between parents and teens should be a fair and non-judgmental interaction; otherwise, teens will not want to talk to their parents when they most need their support. Parents need to have open communication with other teen advocates, such as family doctors and registered dietitian nutritionists to find healthy solutions to teen weight problems.

AUTHOR: TRACY WILLIAMS

Tracy Williams has her degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Dominican University. She enjoys freelance writing and public speaking on nutrition topics. If you want to connect with her, please feel free to contact her at www.tracysplate.com.