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Counseling Services – May 2012

May 1, 2012

Scared to Eat

It Starts So Young
Eating disorders were once the domain of teenagers and college women.  These days, preteens and young children have joined the ranks of those obsessed with their bodies’ size and shape.  The seeds of future eating disorders can be planted at a very tender age. We’re teaching little girls, and increasingly, little boys to be scared and embarrassed by anything other than a thin body.

Studies Document Alarming Trends

  • A Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center study of 300 children found 29% of third grade boys and 39% of third grade girls had dieted. 60% of sixth grade girls and 31% of sixth grade boys had tried losing weight.
  • A recent study of Californian girls found that 80% of nine year-old girls had already dieted.

Why So Much Younger?
What has caused children to fear getting fat at younger ages than past generations?

Experts cite the constant media barrage equating thinness with attractiveness and parents’ obsessiveness with their own dieting, exercising, weight, and appearance.  Kids hear their folks complain ashamedly that they “have to lose weight soon”, and that they “can’t stand being this fat”.

Early Warning Signals
How can you tell if your child is becoming preoccupied and worried about her/his weight and body shape?  Here are some early warning signs:

  1. Constant talking about her/his body, usually in a negative manner.
  2. Continually wearing over-sized, heavy clothing and never revealing her/his body.
  3. Eating very little and skipping meals.
  4. Consistent Weight loss.
  5. Frequent, intensive exercising.
  6. Always asking how much fat is in food or requesting diet foods.
  7. Asking you to buy only non-fat, low fat, or diet foods.

What Can Parents Do?
There are many ways parents can help their kids develop and maintain a healthy relationship with food and a positive opinion of their bodies.  Here are some tips to help foster those healthy attitudes:

  1. Don’t criticize your children’s bodies.  Even a well meaning, “you’re a big boy but you could lose a few pounds” can devastate a young child’s self-esteem.
  2. Don’t talk in front of your children about your dieting, your displeasure with your body, or the fat content of foods.
  3. Stock a variety of healthy, appealing foods and snacks in your house.  Don’t be afraid to include some sweets.
  4. Don’t brush off your children’s comments about their being fat.
  5. Empathize with their worries while putting their concerns in perspective.
  6. Don’t put your kids on restricted diets unless it’s a medical necessity.
  7. Make exercise a fun family pastime.  Explain to them that regular, moderate exercise will help make them fit and strong, not thin.
  8. Limit TV time to a few favorite shows per week.
  9. Compliment your kids often on attributes other than appearance, like their honesty, humor, and imagination.

* All information provided here is proprietary to the Family Education Network.  If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your Family School Liaison Counsellor, Cindy Lerner (403) 863-2346 or


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