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Parents can promote positive body image

by Collen Grandis
Dietetic Intern
Eating disorders affect millions of young women. At an early age, children begin to develop attitudes about their bodies. The attitudes children form are strongly influenced by their environment and are shaped by what they hear and see in the media, in school, and from friends and family.
The standard of an “ideal body” has become skewed and many children, especially girls, have unrealistic or unhealthy visions of their ideal body. It is a problem that is causing even preschool girls to think about dieting, and it can lead to the development of eating disorders later in life.
Have you ever asked yourself, “Do I look fat in this?” in the presence of your daughter? Many studies suggest that a mother’s attitude about her body strongly influences her daughter’s attitude toward her own body. Diane Zeckhausen, founder of Eating Disorder Information Network, has had various workshops and educational classes teaching moms to stop the negative talk, even if it’s about oneself. Zeckhausen has found that the first step to creating a positive body image is through example. For instance, showing your daughter how to cook healthy foods in the kitchen and describing how it is good for them not only shows healthy cooking, but also teaches them positive body image.
It is no surprise that if a mother has a poor body image and expresses it freely, then her daughter will have or develop a negative body image of herself. Not only can a mother’s example promote an unhealthy body image, it may encourage poor eating habits, as well. Creating or recreating your body image as a mother may take some effort, but it could benefit your daughter now and later.
Mothers may ask themselves: How do I feel about my own body? Do I make negative comments about my body or the bodies of other women? Am I often on a diet, over-exercising, or obsessing about my weight? Do I hide my body from my family and friends? Am I critical about my child’s body or make negative comments about my child’s weight or eating habits? Have I ever restricted my child’s food intake for fear that she would get fat? Have I focused more attention on my daughter’s weight than my son’s?
Parents can promote positive body image and healthy eating habits in many ways. Instead of on-and-off dieting, have the whole family focus on lifestyle changes. Get the entire family to focus on small realistic changes in eating and physical activity habits. For example, take the children to the grocery store or farmers market, and teach them about the foods they are buying. Teaching them about healthy foods is not only going to create healthy eating habits, it will help them form a positive self-image.
Another small change could be having the whole family walk every night after dinner. This will help children form healthy exercise habits, improve body image and inspire self-respect.



Friday, May 22, 2009

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