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Mothers could be passing down eating disorders to their children

 Your child may be at risk of developing an eating disorder because of your extreme diet (Shutterstock)

If you are a parent on an extreme diet, your child may be at risk of developing an eating disorder from observing your food and eating habits.

Over the years, society has created this ideal body image and size that everyone wants to have. As a result, countless extreme diets have been developed with a promise to achieve this ideal image.

From low carb diet to no carb diets, one-meal-a-day diet to high fat diet, tape-worm diet to cabbage soup diet. And of course, those diets that blame weight loss and illnesses to particular foods. A lot of people engage in such diets with little regard to the impact their habits have on the children around them.

The obsession of achieving one’s health goals and societal ideal body image and weight conveys a message to children especially the adolescents and young teens. This message makes them form unrealistic expectations about their own bodies which can easily lead to mental and emotional distress and cause extreme eating behavior.

Although there are many factors that can lead to eating disorders, parents have a huge influence on how children view food, how they behave around food, and their view about their own body image and that of others. This is truer for mothers and daughters. Mothers act as role models for their children’s thought process and behavior and are usually the ones making dietary decisions at home.

When your child sees you modifying your diet, obsessing on what you eat, labeling food as good or bad, and demonizing particular foods they may form an undesirable relationship with food.

Children also pick up on conversations that make frequent referrals to body image and weight, causing them to have skewed opinions about body image which in turn affects their eating habits as the grow.

Eating disorders in children are on the rise due to the changing social attitudes towards body image. These disorders may start out as harmless behaviors but if not corrected can have a long term effects on children’s mental, emotional and physical health.

Often, such children will have intense fear of weight gain, distorted view of body weight, size or shape, may engage in excessive physical activities and have curious eating behavior.

A child who grows up surrounded by conversations about ideal body image may start body shaming their peers who they think don’t fit within this ideal. On the other hand, children who think they don’t fit in this body image may develop low self-esteem and turn to binge eating for comfort.

It is therefore crucial to teach children from an early age that healthy eating is about balance. Not about strict limitations or deprivations.

Teach your children that they can enjoy their favorite food, even the ones deemed less healthy.

Teach them that the key is to eat such foods once in a while and balancing them with healthier options. Healthy eating is not complicated. There is no bad food. What matters is a person’s overall dietary pattern.

- Faith Biongo is a registered nutritionist and dietician with Afya Bora Nutrition and Wellness Centre

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