Disordered Eating

Parenting Matters

Disordered Eating

Does your family have disordered eating habits?

By Kathy Cunningham, RN

We hear a lot about eating disorders in teens, especially girls. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are the top headline grabbers. But there exists another type of eating that can also cause undue stress on the body and spirit. It is disordered eating.

Disordered eating refers to unhealthy and irregular eating habits such as not eating enough, eating too much, skipping meals, fasting and/or using food substitutes. In other words, these eating behaviors lack balance and are typically too much or too little. While these behaviors do not meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia, they are often viewed as gateway behaviors that might ultimately lead to a more serious mental health problem.

Parents might find nutritional information to be overwhelming and confusing as recommendations routinely change. They might even miss the signs of disordered eating in their kids because they have personally developed a negative relationship with food. Not surprisingly, poor eating habits may be passed down in families as kids look to adult family members to model appropriate eating habits.

Recently, the Let’s Move national campaign was launched to specifically target the unhealthy eating habits associated with childhood obesity. This has left many parents wondering how they should help their child develop a healthier lifestyle without causing their kids stress or worse, negatively impacting their self-esteem. Here are a few tips for parents:

  • Set regular mealtimes for the family
  • Have a variety of nutritious food available for your kids to try
  • Focus on the positive aspects of food (i.e., taste, aroma, energy)
  • Try new healthy recipes as a family
  • Lead by example

Remember that children's tastes change over time just like ours do. Seemingly strange eating habits may not be a cause for alarm or for a trip to a therapist. The thing to pay attention to is the overall health of the child. For instance, do they meet the normal height and weight parameters for their age?

Most kids take vitamins, which serve as a kind of nutritional insurance. Therefore, parents can help their kids develop good eating habits by allowing them to experiment with foods at their own pace. Experiment with different types of food preparation to enhance the natural flavors of foods, especially vegetables. This is a good chance to teach kids how to pick food at the store and how to cook it once they get home. Try farmers markets with your kids for a field trip that can become a family event.

There are many nutritional web sites geared towards children of all ages. Give them a try and help your children develop healthy eating habits.


Let's Move! National Campaign

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