Girls and Body Image

So, you think your daughter is overweight or heading in that direction? How should you handle it? Below are some guidelines and tips.

But first, know that generally, the more pressure you put on your child to lose weight the harder it will be for them to lose it. You see, when you make a child feel badly about themselves ("Can't you stop eating?! Get out and exercise! Aren't you ashamed of the way you look? You're getting a little chubby.") , they'll think that it's not worth even trying.

A child who is abusing food (anorexia, bulimia, binge eating) is usually using food for emotional reasons -- more often than not, weight gain is not a will power problem. For many, it's a way to deal with anxiety, self-esteem problems or a lack of love in their life. So, instead of giving your child diet or exercise tips, shower them with love. Hug them more, tell them how pretty they are, praise their accomplishments. Be there for them. Buy them some new clothes so they can feel good about themselves now – not when they lose 15 pounds. Above all, don't criticize them. Do you really think they want to be overweight?

Here are some additional amended guidelines from the National Eating Disorders Association:

10 Things Parents Can Do to Help Prevent Eating Disorders

1. Consider your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors toward your own body:

* Accept the genetic basis for the natural diversity of human body shapes and sizes, and
* Make an effort to maintain positive, healthy attitudes & behaviors. Children learn from the things you say and do!

2. Examine closely your dreams and goals for your children and other loved ones. Are you over-emphasizing beauty and body shape, particularly for girls?

* Avoid conveying an attitude which says in effect, "I will like you more if you lose weight, don't eat so much, look more like the slender models in ads, fit into smaller clothes, etc."

3. Learn about and discuss with your sons and daughters:

* The dangers of trying to alter one's body shape through dieting;
* The value of moderate exercising toward stamina and cardiovascular fitness; and
* The importance of eating a variety of foods in well-balanced meals consumed at least three times a day.
* Avoid dichotomizing foods into "good/safe/no-fat or low-fat vs. bad/dangerous/fattening".
* Be a good role model in regard to sensible eating, sensible exercise, and self-acceptance.

4. Make a commitment to exercise for the joy of feeling your body move and function effectively, not to purge fat from your body or compensate for calories eaten.

5. Make a commitment not to avoid activities (such as swimming, sunbathing, dancing) simply because they call attention to your weight and shape.

6. Practice taking people in general and women in particular seriously for what they say, feel, and do, not for how slender or "well put together" they appear.

7. Make a commitment to help children (both male and female) appreciate and resist the ways in which television, magazines, and other media distort the true diversity of human body types and imply that a slender body means power, excitement, and sexuality.

8. Make a commitment to educating boys about the various forms of violence against women, including weightism, and their responsibilities for preventing it.

9. Encourage your children to be active and to enjoy what their bodies can do and feel like. Do not limit their caloric intake unless a physician requests that you do this because of a medical problem.

10. Do whatever you can to promote the self-esteem and self-respect of your daughters, nieces, and sisters in spiritual, intellectual, athletic, and social endeavors. Give boys and girls the same opportunities and encouragement.

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