9 Things Parents Teach Children to Prevent Eating Disorders

prevent eating disorders parents outside with child

Our children are watching and listening.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), “Starting at a young age, we begin to internalize messages that can lead to negative body image. Having a healthier body image is an important part of mental wellbeing and eating disorders prevention.” Body image begins at home, and at Sanford Comprehensive Treatment for Eating Disorders, our Family Program, helps to educate family members and create recovery-friendly homes.


We can start today to prevent eating disorders by modeling our healthy relationship with food. We can also provide a wide variety of food, when possible, and start the conversation with our children. Instead of talking about calories or what foods are “good” or “bad,” we can discuss nourishing our bodies and enjoying food for that purpose. Food brings us together: our families, culture, and communities. So, the dinner table is a positive way to bring families together to connect and talk. Lori Kehoe, MA, Clinical Liaison Sanford Behavioral Health


9 Things Parents Teach Children – Preventing Eating Disorders

1. Provide a safe environment.

Begin by providing a safe environment to discuss feelings, body image, and pressures at school or among your children’s friends.


2. Model a healthy relationship with self-image.

Sometimes, we say things about ourselves that are critical, especially about appearance. Children are listening. Instead, begin to value and talk about yourself for your character and not how you look. Positive and neutral words of acceptance said aloud are helpful for kids (who are listening at an early age).


3. Admire individuals for what they do, not how they look.

Practice taking all people seriously for what they do, not how they look, and give boys and girls the same opportunities and responsibilities. Work for and speak out for the rights of those with marginalized identities.



4. Encourage critical thinking about media messages.

Talk with your children about the pressure to “look a certain way” and how media images can be manipulated. Discuss the dangers of dieting. Teach them to be critical viewers of social media. Negative body image can correlate directly with the use of social media platforms.


5. Concentrate on things you like (and do well).

The more you enjoy your life, the better you will model the uniqueness of individuality –  whether you are a black diamond skier or a fabulous jigsaw puzzler! Tell your children frequently that you love and accept them just as they are. This builds self-esteem and a positive self-image.


body positivity

The more you enjoy your life, the better you will model uniqueness.


6. Move for joy, not to change the size of your body.

Choose to move for your heart health or for the joy of it, not to change the size of your body. Do something together as a family. Have fun!


7. Spend your dollars wisely.

Support retailers who portray diversity in their advertising and hiring practices. Research the businesses whose values align with yours. Support them. Teach your children to be responsible shoppers.


8. Do not portray certain foods as off limits, good, or bad.

Lori Kehoe, says, “As a parent, we do not want our children to eat non-nutritious foods all the time, but portraying food as off-limits develops thought patterns in young minds. For a balanced diet, allow your children to have “fun foods” like pizza on a Friday night and birthday cake at parties. The key is enjoyment and presenting a variety of food,”


9. Read more on the subject!

Preventing Eating Disorders – A Parent’s Guide


Happy New Year!


Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit www.sanfordbehavioralhealth.com.