Preventing Eating Disorders

This article gives tips on preventing eating disorders. Key factors in preventing eating disorders include encouraging healthy habits in teens, modeling healthy behavior, educating youth on the dangers of eating disorders, and monitoring eating habits.

Because not much is yet understood about possible genetic underpinnings of eating disorders, not a great deal can be done in that direction at this time. Nevertheless, there are strategies that can be employed to help in preventing eating disorders.


Because it has been reported that people with eating disorders often have low self-esteem or are perfectionists, it may help in preventing eating disorders if children explicitly know that they are loved and if a realistic but optimistic self-image is fostered. Situations which place unrealistic expectations upon children, either for school performance, athletic performance, appearance, family responsibilities, or any other area of life, or do not reward and praise them for accomplishments may take some time to rectify, but are worth the effort to remold.

Helping children maintain a healthy body weight to begin with, may also prevent low self-esteem and undue attention to appearance and weight before it starts.

Body image, as one would imagine, is an area of particular importance. Pointing out to children that a variety of body types are valued in various cultures, and making sure that they are aware of pop icons who do not have perfect faces and physiques maybe helpful. Helping children to choose appropriate role models is one key to good self-esteem, and playing team sports has also been found to be beneficial.


Because it has been reported that eating disorders occur in clusters and that people with eating disorders pick up ideas from others with whom they are in contact, it is important that children who are necessarily in the company of people with eating disorders - whether family members, friends, community members, or fellow students - receive clear information about and explanations of the situations they come in contact with.

For example, when I was in high school, an older girl in my gym class had anorexia nervosa. Another older student took me aside one day and told me and explained that it was a dangerous situation, so it was presented to me by a peer as something that shouldn’t be emulated.

Modeling also consists in fostering healthy eating habits, particularly when dieting and portion size are involved. If family members demonstrate and/or ignore unhealthy eating, then a child may see nothing wrong with those choices. Research reported in 2008 says that for teen girls, eating at least 5 meals a week with her family made her less likely to take extreme approaches to food in her early adulthood. The same effect did not hold true for teen boys.

Because eating is used by some in response to emotional upheaval, modeling positive ways to deal with negative emotions is useful. This includes grieving for the loss of a loved one, as well as more every day feelings of anger, worry, anxiety, stress, etc.


According to a recent study, the best way to prevent eating disorders is through education. Children need to know that eating disorders are dangerous, but they also need to know that they are treatable: if they have begun engaging in a behavior that they suspect is problematic, they need to know where and how to find help. They also need to know that eating disorders have complex causes and are not the fault of the person who has the disorder.


For a child who is developing normally, monitoring may be minimal, but it is important to keep an eye on food, friends, and Internet use. The reasons for watching a child’s eating habits are obvious: it’s important to know that s/he is getting the nutrition s/he needs. The person or people who are most often with the child at mealtime can best judge changes over time in portion size, time spent eating, etc. Keeping an eye on friends shows you the sorts of ideals your child’s group has and what they have in common that has drawn them together.

For the Internet, it is important to be aware that some forums that may seem to be eating disorder support groups may actually be promoting unhealthy behaviors. Children could happen on these sites in innocent ways - such as recommendations from friends or seeking information for a report for Health Class, but since a recent report found that nearly 2/3 of visitors to sites that promote eating disorders subsequently try out purging or weight-loss techniques mentioned there, it’s important to keep an eye on activity in this arena, and help children find appropriate sites for whatever their needs are.

The National Athletic Trainer’s Association (NATA) has pointed out that 58% of high schools do not have access to an athletic trainer. Especially for student multi-sport athletes, an athletic trainer can provide oversight that neither a family doctor nor an individual coach can. With his or her professional training, this individual is one of the best placed to pick up trends and/or warning signs in a young adults health.


Related Article: Causes of Teen Eating Disorders >>