Nurturing a Healthy Eater
While parents don't cause eating disorders, moms and dads can push a vulnerable kid into the danger zone -- or out of it, says Dr. Ovidio Bermudez. Many of the strategies for discouraging anorexia and bulimia are actually the same as those that curb overeating, he adds.
Model moderation. You can help prevent hang-ups about "good" and "bad" foods by serving well-rounded meals -- fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean meats -- and treats. "There is nothing wrong with sweets in moderation," says eating-disorders expert Lynn Grefe. "Don't use a 'treat' as a reward or take it away as a punishment. It's just a food to be enjoyed."
Avoid the "D" word. Talk of diets can lead to trouble. "When a mother says something as seemingly innocuous as, 'I'm skipping lunch today -- my clothes are too tight,' it can have a powerful effect on her daughter's own body image," says Andrea Vazzana, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at New York University's Child Study Center. Likewise, talk about how the right foods give you energy and keep you healthy, says Dr. Vazzana.
Cook for your kids and with your kids. Keep a variety of healthy foods readily available at home, serve nutritious and well-balanced meals, and eat those meals together as often as possible, advises author Abigail Natenshon. Research shows that kids who regularly dine with their family are less likely to develop an eating disorder. Involving children in meal prep -- measuring flour, pounding dough, topping a pizza -- can help them learn to respect and appreciate what they're eating.