It’s unfortunate, the lack of education and resources our school systems provide about body image and mental illnesses when globally, one in seven 10-19-year-olds experiences a mental disorder, accounting for 13% of the global burden of disease in this age group.* 2.7% of teens will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime and 13% of adolescents will develop an eating disorder by the age of 20. TWENTY! And that is only the percentage that meet the full criteria (a conversation for another day) and have been diagnosed.
I’m hopeful that one day continuing education on mental health and actual resources on proactively addressing concerns will be as prevalent as the years of mathematical classes we all endured. Until then, here are some things that YOU can implement within your house to help create a healthy home for positive body image.
1. Educate yourself.
You don’t have to be a psychologist, but loosely educating yourself on prominent mental illnesses and their warning signs can open your eyes to what you may have missed otherwise.
Don’t let your naiveté stand in the way of helping your child. Yes, it’s entirely possible that your child isn’t being completely honest with you about their relationship with food, movement and/or their body. And no, it’s not entirely your fault. (Maybe a little, but as my therapist once jokingly said, “we’re all a product of our parent’s fuck ups”).
Understand that there is a lot of shame associated with eating disorders specifically, and there’s so much pressure on kids, not to mention the impact social media plays on their mental health every single day. To grasp the reality, you need to see the statistics. And in order to make a difference, you need to be aware of potential warning signs.
For an extensive list on disorders and warning signs, you can visit: eatingdisorderhope.com
2. Know that YOU are a reflector.
Your child learns their habits from YOU. They notice the way you look at yourself in the mirror, they can hear the way you criticize your body and are equally impacted by your constant cycle of yo-yo dieting.
The next time you’re at the dinner table or in the kitchen, just notice the way you speak about it. Are you constantly pointing out why “this” is good or why “that” is bad. Are you outwardly calculating how many miles you’ll have to run tomorrow to “work it off”? These comments matter. Your thoughts become their thoughts and your actions, well… how many diets did you go on with your parent…
2. Encourage the importance of movement, not the results from movement.
Notice I didn’t say sports– sports are great, but to me, sports were mostly influential in terms of things such as leadership, teamwork, and conflict/resolution. I think it’s crucial to understand what movement means to them beyond the sports they play. Once school ends, once your child wraps up his or her last sporting event, that’s it. Now it is up to them to find a way to joyfully incorporate movement into their lives. It’s important for them to view movement as more than a “means to an end”. Movement has so many more benefits than simply how it can change our body and learning that from a young age can be greatly beneficial as they grow older.
3. Create a safe space for conversation.
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that rarely present alone. Between 55-95% of individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder will also experience a comorbid psychiatric disorder in their lifetime. It’s not just a recommendation, it’s imperative that they get the help that they need as soon as they can. If you are looking for help but don’t know where to start, I’ve attached a link that provides a laundry list of resources in the area for specific needs.
*I am very much aware that the access to resources/health care/etc. is a privilege. There are some incredible programs out there that provide scholarships and resources for those in need. Reach out if you’d like more information on making this possible for you or someone you love.*
3.5 Now that you’ve created a space for conversation… slow down and listen.
One of the toughest realizations I’ve made during the course of my training as a recovery coach were the amount of times I DID speak up, the number of people I TRIED to turn to. Only to be heard but never actually addressed. The invalidation of the pain I was feeling and the normalization of how I was treating my body only catapulted my disorder even further. I hold no resentment towards these individuals, but it’s clear that turning a blind-eye, writing it off as a “phase”, or continuing on in ignorant bliss will only give a struggling individual the “green light” to pursue their problems even more.
I encourage you, listen to your kids, listen to your neighbors, your colleagues and sister’s kids too. There’s a good chance they’re calling out for help, but no ones fully listening.
4. Give Better Compliments
We hold so much power in our words and it’s about time we become more intentional with how we are using them. In order to revolutionize the way we (women in particular) feel about ourselves, we have to work on how and what we verbalize to each other. If we begin changing the way we speak to our children, I believe in turn we can too, change the narrative we tell ourselves.
What would happen if we started to shift the way we applaud our daughters, our sisters and our friends? What if we focused a little bit more on our internal qualities opposed to our external ones. Maybe, just maybe then we as women can start to see ourselves in a new light. One that shines no matter what we weigh, how nice our hair looks or how fancy our clothes are.
Here are 10 compliments to start giving more of:
- You are brave.
- You are strong.
- You are loved.
- You are capable.
- Your opinion matters.
- You are enough.
- You make me smile.
- You are resilient.
- You are powerful.
- You are important.
In closing, I don’t have all the answers, I don’t have a magic potion to make social media less toxic or mental illnesses disappear completely. But I do know what it’s like to grow up with an eating disorder and I know how much of a difference it could have made if some of these things were talked about in my home.