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Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family
Help & Resources
Role of the Parent
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Examine closely your dreams and goals for your children and other loved ones. Are you over-emphasizing achievements, perfection, beauty and body shape? Reflect on how you may be expressing your expectation of accomplishments in all areas. A sense of self comes from who you are, not what you do.

The following are suggestions for helping create a healthier body image:

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," ageism and sexism. Then educate your children about the genetic basis for the natural diversity of human body shapes and sizes, and the nature and ugliness of prejudice.

2. Make an effort to maintain positive, healthy attitudes and behaviors. Children learn from the things you say and do. 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 foods into "good/safe/no-fat or low-fat" vs. "bad/dangerous/fattening." 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 your body or to compensate for calories eaten.

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. 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.

9. 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, such as by exempting males from housework or childcare. A well-rounded sense of self and a solid self-esteem are perhaps the best antidotes to dieting and disordered eating.

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