Prevent Eating Disorders

Eating disorders (DCA) are one of the weaknesses of a society that idolizes thinness, punishing adolescents with models of beauty that are impossible to replicate. Thus, in the light of these perverse influences, parents play an essential role
Prevent eating disorders

The causes of eating disorders are unknown, but several factors are evaluated. There are many elements at play in order to prevent eating disorders (DCA). Despite this, a stark reality seems to exist for everyone: they are influenced by the cultural context.

This means that DCA, anorexia, bulimia and forms of obesity, respond to values ​​and lifestyles that predominate in the context in which the person lives. At this point, questions must be asked about the influence of society on adolescents, but also about the role of parents in preventing eating disorders in their children.

In many psychological disorders, age is a determining factor. In others, such as personality disorders, specific changes begin to manifest in early adulthood.

Others can systematically influence a part of the population, such as women, with regards to anxiety and depression (even if one could speak of overdiagnosis and little help from the man).

Prevent eating disorders

90% of adolescents with DCA are women. This data is not surprising. From an early age, women suffer more pressure from a society that believes in a certain canon of beauty and discourages all others, as happens with anorexia.

A group of Spanish researchers, Pinedos, Molano and Lopez de Mesa (2010), highlighted that one of the main reasons why the socio-economic aspect is not relevant in the emergence of DCA is that the stereotypes of beauty and thinness also affect less susceptible to this variable: rural areas.

According to the Italian Association for Eating and Weight Disorders (AIDAP), the average age of onset of a DCA is around 16-17 years. Most cases occur before the adolescent is 20 years old.

The age group at risk is that between 13 and 24 years for women, an age which coincides with the period of stay in the home of the parents. Given the role that parents seem to play in preventing their daughters’ eating disorders, we may wonder what they can do.

Attention of DCAs

What is the role of parents in the prevention of DCA?

Before addressing the role of parents in the prevention of DCA and, consequently, what could favor it, we must clarify that an eating disorder is associated with multiple factors. The presence of certain characteristics in the family that can be associated with the problem does not mean that the developing DCA is the fault of the family.

Martinez and Martinez (2017) studying the relationship between DCA, family and gender in Bogotà found the existence of typical patterns in the families of patients. They thus came to the conclusion that family problems were proportional to the appearance of a DCA, with two pivotal elements: the lack of cohesion and the low tolerance for frustration of these young people.

Here both researchers speak of the presence of overprotective, authoritarian parents who do not stimulate the independence of their daughters. This can lead young people to think that they have no control over their surroundings, in an age group in which they should have already acquired a sense of responsibility and power over their own life.

Is a permissive parenting style the solution to preventing eating disorders?

The role of parents in preventing daughters’ ED should not be permissive or take on the guise of neglect. In the study cited it was found that lack of affection and supervision are associated with low self-esteem. The latter is one of the main triggers of all DCAs.

Indeed, there has been discussion about the existence of a single family model in which a DCA could appear. In the absence of consensus, it seems interesting to cite the observations of Espina, Pumar, Garcia and Ayerbe (1995), who in their meta-analysis of AD and family interaction tell us that:

  • Bulimia tends to occur in the most conflicted and pathological families, often characterized by hostility, nutritional deficits, impulsiveness, and a lack of bonding and parental support. There is generally no marital conflict.
  • In many cases, restrictive anorexia appears in families with parents who, although positive, have serious marital and cohabitation problems.
  • Families of adolescents with purgative anorexia also tend to have marital conflicts. However, hostility and lack of parental support tend to be more subdued.

What can parents do to prevent eating disorders?

Given the enormous impact a parent can have on the emergence and development of a DCA, it is fair to ask what he or she can do about it.

Martinez, Navarro, Perote and Sánchez (2010) present us with some useful tools in their manual on health education and growth, dedicated to the role of parents and educators in the prevention of eating disorders.

The shocking comments on the physique of the daughters

Teenage bodies change and they aren’t the only ones noticing it; even those around them talk about their physique. Some comments can be instrumental in building your self-esteem.

Many adults who have suffered from DCA remember comments such as: “don’t overeat, you get fat”, “chubby face”, “with that hair you look stupid”, “look at that body, your cousin!”.

Tools for dealing with uncertain adolescence

Adolescence is a challenge for some teens – it can come before they’re ready. Some think they can alleviate their malaise with fake solutions, such as DCA, which gives them the illusion of being in control of their body (already a source of constant malaise) and over food.

It is vital to educate, provide useful tools, deal with frustration and teach them to manage it, so that they do not experience adolescence as a confused stage due to a lack of information from parents.

It is recommended to talk about DCA, the warning signs, the possible associated thoughts and the existence of different forms of beauty, even if the messages they will receive from other channels will be totally different.

This role does not belong to friends or to a society that largely lives off the existence of this problem. You will have to be the one to tell your daughters that thinness is not synonymous with beauty. Otherwise, they will be exposed to an adolescence full of physical changes with the model of extreme thinness in mind, sometimes unattainable.

The limits, as necessary as they are complicated to manage in the prevention of DCA

Being too permissive has outlined a parenting model that, while wanting to set rules, doesn’t know how to do it. For this reason, setting boundaries with affection and acceptance and distinguishing between what we want for our daughters and what they want protects against any DCA.

Part of the role of parents in the prevention of DCA therefore passes through the imposition of limits. Perhaps it is one of the hardest jobs in the short term, but with the greatest effects in the medium and long term.

The idea is that if they don’t learn how to live with limits as a child, they will reject them as teenagers, even if they need them. Experts assure that love and rules are the only antidotes to ward off eating disorders.

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