Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia have been a grave concern amongst teens in Alaska for a while now, and the risk continues to increase. When we talk about prevention, we are referring to two different levels of prevention: primary prevention and secondary prevention.
PRIMARY PREVENTION OF EATING DISORDERS
Primary prevention addresses some of the causes of eating disorders, usually revolving around social, familial and individual factors. The goal is to negate the factors that are believed to expose teens to eating disorders.
SECONDARY PREVENTION OF EATING DISORDERS
The focus of secondary prevention is on early detection and swift treatment of an eating disorder. The goal is to prevent the disorder from worsening, knowing that recovery is more likely when treatment can be implemented early on. We’ve discussed a lot of secondary level prevention tips in our blog What is Anorexia and Bulimia in Teens?
PRIMARY PREVENTION TIPS
Here are some tips to equip you to help your teen avoid the trap of eating disorders.
- Focus on a healthy body image. Encourage your teen’s self-image and talk about the fact that there are many body shapes and sizes. Have open communication about how important it is to be healthy instead of focusing on being thin.
- Foster healthy eating at home. Learn about how foods affect our bodies and our mental and emotional health. Teach your teen or learn together what foods their bodies need to be healthy and active. If possible, make a habit of eating together.
- Promote a healthy understanding of food. Food is nourishment; it should not be used as a reward or removed as a punishment.
- Educate yourself on eating disorders, dieting, healthy eating etc. An important part of being able to help your teen is to make sure you know everything you can about these issues.
- Talk about the dangers of emotion or stress eating. Work with your teen on healthy ways to face and navigate through emotions and stressful situations. Not only will this help prevent eating disorders, but it will also teach them invaluable coping skills for their adult years. If you need to, involve friends, loved ones or a counselor to help.
- Encourage healthy self-esteem. Engage with your teen, applaud their accomplishments and what is important to them. Support them in the endeavors that make them happy and help them feel accomplished. Your teen needs to know that your love and acceptance of them is not based on how they look, but instead on the fact that they are your child.
- Set a good example yourself. It can be hard to be convincing when you are not walking the talk yourself. Look at this as an opportunity to improve your own health.
Even if you as the parent or caregiver follow all of the steps perfectly, there is still a risk your child could suffer from an eating disorder. It is not your fault! You are not alone! The important thing is to get help right away. If you suspect they are already struggling with eating problems, please talk your child’s counselor or physician immediately. We are here to help.