Posts Tagged ‘prevention’

Children mimic your behaviors!

Contrary to popular belief, children hear what you say and see what you do.  Your behaviors and comments can leave a lasting impression.  Even your body image or weight concerns can be passed on to your kids.  Evidence shows that stressing thinness and weight control promotes eating disorders, low self-esteem, decreased body image, and weight bias in children.  Furthermore, eating behaviors linked to a higher risk for obesity are known to develop very early in life.  A 2001 study showed family food environments and attitudes around food and eating affect even preschool-aged kids’ eating behaviors.  You may think youngsters don’t pick up on your drastic dieting or negative comments you make about your body like older children, but they do!

Several studies show that restrictive feeding can impair a child’s ability to regulate their intake, resulting in overeating and weight gain.  Worrying about your own weight can influence your feeding style.  For example, forbidding high calorie foods or sweets in your home can result in your child sneaking food or feeling deprived and overeating when given the opportunity.  Overly controlling or eliminating fun foods simply doesn’t work with kids – balance is key.

Have you ever found yourself saying out loud:

“I have got to lose weight, I am getting so fat”

“I am going to be good and skip lunch today”

“No more desserts for me, I don’t deserve it”

If so, you may want to censor your comments and think before you speak.   Remember, your words could promote your child’s weight gain!

As a parent, you can model  “good for you” behaviors without fixating on weight.  There’s nothing wrong with guiding your child towards adopting healthy habits that will benefit him or her – that’s part of your role!

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to promote a healthy weight for yourself while empowering your child.


  • Be physically active and limit your own sedentary activities
  • Aim to eat when feeling physically hungry
  • Have a neutral view about all foods
  • Stock a range of nutritious foods in your home and choose these options more often
  • Offer balanced family meals as much as you can
  • Choose to talk about yourself and others with respect and appreciation


  • Get caught up in the latest fad diet or encourage your child to diet
  • Skip meals
  • Eliminate all sweets or high calorie foods from your home
  • Use food for rewards or punishments for yourself or for others
  • Eat while standing up or distracted (may lead to eating mindlessly)
  • Emphasize effects of unhealthy eating
  • Focus on anyone’s weight, especially yours or your child’s

Bottom line:  You are your child’s biggest role model – do you want your child viewing and treating their body the way you do?

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN


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This is the last installment of our eating disorder series by guest blogger, Katherine Fowler, and we are ending with prevention.  Next week we will feature a post on the question many parents get asked, but don’t know how to answer.  Join us for an expert perspective on how to handle the tough question–Do You Think I’m Fat?  For now, read on for what you can do to keep your child in a healthy state of mind and body.

Part 2 of this series discussed the warning signs of eating disorders and what to do if you witness them.  This segment will focus on primary prevention, or what you as a parent can do to stop the occurrence of eating disorders before they begin.

Studies have shown that eating disorders do run in families.  Even if you do everything you can to control your child’s environment, he or she still has a chance of developing an eating disorder. So what is a parent to do? It’s impossible to control all the influences outside of your door, but your actions can have an impact.


  • Encourage positive body image.  Be a model of healthy self-esteem.
  • Become a critical viewer of the media.
  • Choose to talk about yourself with respect and appreciation.
  • Choose to tell your child you love him/her for what is inside, not because of how he/she looks.
  • Have a neutral view about all foods.
  • Allow your child to determine when he/she is full.
  • Emphasize positive aspects of healthy eating rather than effects of unhealthy eating.


  • Make negative comments about your own or others’ weight.
  • Label foods as “good” and “bad”.
  • Use food for rewards or punishments.
  • Follow fad diets or encourage your child to diet.
  • Focus on the calorie content and grams of fat or sugar in foods.
  • Restrict sweets and high calorie foods from your child.
  • Make your child clean their plate if they are full.

There are 3 major things you need to remember:

  1. What you say sticks. You definitely don’t want your comments about food, eating, body weight, shape, or size to affect your child’s self-esteem.
  2. Your feeding style is important.  An authoritative feeding/parenting style is associated with preventing childhood obesity and eating disorders and has a “love with limits” approach.  What type of feeder are you, and is it having a positive or negative impact on your child?
  3. Family meals matter.  Regular family meals are associated with preventing disordered eating and promote healthier body weight, less behavioral problems, and better grades in school.

To reap the benefits of family meals:

  • Make mealtime peaceful. Save arguments, TV, and phone calls for another time.
  • Make mealtime fun! Involve kids in planning meals, shopping, and cooking.
  • Offer balanced meals. To create balance, serve nutrient dense foods like lean meat, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains in larger quantities and serve less nutrient dense foods like high fat dairy and processed grains in smaller amounts. Offer fried foods and sweets less often.

You have a number of chances to interact with your child each day.  Each is an opportunity for you to promote a confident eater that has a healthy relationship with food.  You can make a difference!

Contributing Author: Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN

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With growing concern and rising numbers of eating disorders in our youth, we are launching our 3-part series on Eating Disorders, written by eating disorder specialist and colleague, Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN.

I am sure you have heard discussions about diets and resolutions of weight loss in past weeks.  Your child is probably listening to these conversations and may be thinking about going on a diet or losing weight.  Did you know that dieting is linked to disordered eating behaviors?  Studies have found that young dieting girls are seven to eight times more likely to develop an eating disorder than girls who do not diet.  Because dieting talk is everywhere this month, I thought this an appropriate time to launch a series on the parent’s role in preventing, identifying, and treating this growing problem.

So what exactly are eating disorders? They are a serious disturbance of eating behavior.  Eating disorders are not diet strategies or trends, rather, they are serious psychological disorders that have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. There are many types of eating disorders and they are not limited to gender, age, socio-economic status or ethnicity.

This issue is affecting kids at younger ages than ever before.  According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Ten Year Study, 10% of those affected report an onset before the age of 10 years or younger. Not a surprise considering one study found 81% of 10 year old girls are afraid of becoming fat.  Kids’ exposure to thin idealism and dieting from TV, movies, magazines, and the Internet is not fading anytime soon. The National Eating Disorders Association’s description on factors that may contribute to an eating disorder provides more information.

There are three categories of eating disorders; you can view the DSM-IV criteria for eating disorders for more details.

1. Anorexia nervosa (AN)

Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a normal weight for the child’s age and height; an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.

2. Bulimia nervosa (BN)

Uncontrolled or binge eating accompanied by behaviors to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting, laxative use, fasting, excessive exercise, and others.

3. Eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS)

Disordered eating that meets some, but not all, of the criteria for anorexia or bulimia; includes more uncommon eating disorders.  Binge eating disorder (BED), or compulsive overeating without behaviors to prevent weight gain falls into this category. Most people with BED are overweight or obese.  Binge eating is often done alone and parents may not be aware their child’s weight gain is related to binge eating.

Even though EDNOS is not as “well-known”, it can still be just as serious as anorexia or bulimia.  Complications of eating disorders can create countless health consequences that can be lethal in severe cases.

The most important thing you need to know is that parents can help prevent eating disorders in their children. And, the earlier treatment is sought, the higher the likelihood of a full recovery.

Raise awareness by sharing this post with other parents!

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this series, Warning Signs Parents Need to Look For.

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Why Weight?

If you have read this 12 part series, you are well aware that there are many things to think about in regards to children and their weight.  Activity level, food selection, hunger response and management, and feeding techniques are just some of the many considerations.   Childhood obesity isn’t simple–it is a layered, multi-faceted condition that involves what you eat, how you eat/feed it, how you feel about your body and self, whether you exercise, and a multitude of environmental influences including school, community, and economic status.  Wouldn’t it be easy to point the finger at one contributor?  Rarely in counseling  am I able to name one single issue as the culprit–there is usually a multitude.  Pinpointing the critical contributors can build awareness, and change.  Childhood obesity is a complex issue– treating it is far more difficult than preventing it.  Yet prevention hinges on knowledge and commitment, so building awareness, especially among parents, is critical.

Why Weight?

Excess weight gain in childhood is no party.  The psychosocial impact begins at a young age and may last a lifetime.  The physical impact may perpetuate the problem, challenging children in their efforts to be active.  The medical toll is well known, from the affiliated conditions of heart disease to diabetes, as well as the exhorbitant cost to our nation.  One thing we know for sure, we cannot wait to address this weight problem in children.

Treatment of childhood obesity is challenging.  It generally requires a lifestyle change that involves the entire family.  Success is dependent on motivation and commitment, and that is a large and variable factor among families.  Children hold little power and generally assume a “follower” position, relying on parents to lead the effort.  Parents make the food shopping decisions, the dining out rules,  and the TV allowances–children’s weight status is a by-product of many of these decisions.  As children grow older, they tend to mimic their family habits, adopting behaviors that may or may not support their health.   A positive parent leader is a key component to a child’s weight management treatment. 

Prevention is the key and it begins in the highchair.  Yes, the early decisions count.  Allowing little Sally a Dum-Dum sucker at the bank drive-through, or Baby Sam a soda in his bottle are the decisions that set the foundation for future tastebuds.  Research shows that feeding habits in the first 2 years of life set the precedence for future eating habits.  In other words, if you want your child to eat healthy and be at a healthy weight, you’ve got to pay attention early on.  Further, recent research suggests that infants as young as 6 months of age are showing signs of obesity.  As the age of 4-6 months is the time to transition to “real food”, this research is compelling and urges parents to pay more attention to what and how they feed their infants in the highchair.

We owe it to our own and our nation’ children to become educated about food and nutrition, be involved in teaching and modeling a healthy lifestyle, be more thoughtful about feeding and role-modeling, be committed to activity, and be committed to prevention, rather than await treatment.  As the parent, the gatekeeper, and the leader–it’s up to YOU.

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Forget the old adage “less is more”.  When it comes to fruits and vegetables, “more is less”.  Focusing on more nutrients, fiber, servings, and colors can mean a healthier weight for your child and less tendencies toward obesity and its’ complications.  

There are a lot of quick and easy ways to turn your kids into lean, mean, fruit and veggie-eating machines!   

Don’t be dense, use common sense: When it comes to food choices, fruits and vegetables are a no-brainer.  They are nutrient-dense, not calorie-dense, which allows you to eat more than almost any other food.  And, you get the added benefit of fiber, a nutrient that promotes satisfaction after a meal. Two cups of fruits or veggies contain a similar amount of calories as a 100-calorie snack pack, minus the added fat and sugar. 

Look at the “whole” picture:  Experts recommend that children get at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.   This can be accomplished by adding a serving of fruit to every meal, and a vegetable to at least 2 meals or snacks.  Talk about convenience!  Fruits and veggies are the original convenience foods– pre-packaged, pre-portioned, and portable.  Check out the many forms of produce available in supermarkets today.  You’ll get more fiber from whole produce, but frozen, canned in natural juices, juiced, dried, and even freeze-dried fruits and vegetables are great options, too. 

Taste the rainbow: Choosing a wide variety of color for your child’s diet is the best way to ensure that they get a wide variety of key nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are a natural way to add color.  Vary your colors each day and within each meal.

Perception Deception: It’s all about the way you look at things.  Food should provide pleasure, not pain.  Approach eating fruits and vegetables with a positive attitude and your kids will follow suit. Focus on what you get to eat instead of what you think you can’t eat. A healthy outlook and attitude are just as important as healthy behaviors. Studies have shown that focusing on increasing fruits and vegetables is drastically more effective than focusing on eating foods with lower fat and sugar.

Patience is a virtue: The name of the game is exposure.  It may take as many as 10-20 exposures to a new food before your child will find it acceptable.  So if you are trying a new veggie, don’t despair.  Ask them to try a bite, but don’t force them to eat it if they don’t want to.  Just try again another day, or with another food.

Double Duty- The Role Model and Gatekeeper:  Leading by example is the most effective way to change your child’s behavior.  If you want your child to eat more fruits and vegetables, then you need to model this behavior.  Likewise, you are the decision-maker when it comes to purchasing food—if you want more fruits and veggies to be eaten, make sure you have ample choices in the kitchen.

Why Weight? to bring more fruits and vegetables into your home and add satisfying, healthy foods to your child’s diet?  Why Weight?  to take yet another step toward helping your child be healthy?  It’s up to YOU.


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