Eating disorders can have severe consequences on both your health and self-esteem. As parents, we don’t want to see our children suffer physically or mentally.

Unfortunately, our culture tends to promote unhealthy diets and doesn’t place enough emphasis on exercise; this is also true for children as well. Worse still, the cultural obsession with thinness – mixed with lack of exercise and junk food consumption – easily forms a foundation for eating disorders.

The good news is that you can help your child resist these unhealthy behaviors before they take hold –teaching them to accept their own body. If you’re worried about your child developing an eating disorder, here’s how you can curb it in time.

Be a role model

Present a good example to your children of healthy self-esteem and respect for others. Place value on character and achievements, rather than outward appearance. Avoid actions or attitudes that highlight an ideal body image or encourage thinking that dieting and losing weight will lead to happiness.

Parents can help prevent eating disorders by modelling healthy eating habits -consuming a variety of foods, eating when hungry and stopping when full. In addition, if you suspect your child is already developing symptoms of eating disorders, treatment centers such as Sanctuary Lodge can help them recover and regain a healthy relationship with food.

Get your children involved in sports

Generally, every child needs regular physical activity. When children find a sport they love at an early age, they’re much more likely to stay fit for life. In addition, when girls get involved in sports, their attitude towards their bodies is more healthy and accepting.

However, the focus shouldn’t be on exercising as a way to tame body fat, but as a way to remain healthy and happy. You can help them understand the relationship between physical activity and the way we feel emotionally. The easiest way to begin is to insist on weekly physical activity for the entire family.

Teach healthy ways to cope with stress

Stress plays a major role in developing an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa and can come from different sources. Teach your children different ways to cope with stress, without resorting to comfort eating.

Some of these include practicing yoga or meditation, breathing deeply in stressful situations, getting adequate sleep and plenty of exercise. If they become embroiled in conflict with their peers or siblings, they may choose to cope through weekly rounds of bingeing or otherwise known as overeating.

You can offer them a toolkit of practical strategies, such as discussion, walking away or looking at a particular situation from different perspectives.

Throw out the junk food and serve more veggies

Junk food is not only bad for children, but everyone else in the family too. Most processed foods contain added sugar.

In fact, added sugar makes up over 10% of adults in the UK, which has negative effects on the entire body. It can be tempting to have unhealthy food lying around the house, but your children will likely eat what they see.

So, get rid of all the junk food and only stock treats for special occasions. Introduce your children to a variety of healthy foods and be sure to serve more fruits and vegetables at mealtimes.