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Your Daughter's Image
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If you’re the mom of a preteen or teenage daughter, being aware of eating disorders is important. In an ongoing study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 40 percent of girls nine and 10 years old admitted they’ve tried to lose weight. At 13 years old, 53 percent were “unhappy with their bodies.” When they reached 17, those numbers grew to 78 percent. [1]

There are two types of eating disorders—and both are dangerous. Girls with anorexia look in the mirror and see a fat girl, even if they’re at a healthy weight. So they limit their food intake through diets or fasting and exercise excessively. Girls with bulimia may binge and purge (force vomit), take laxatives, or exercise excessively to prevent weight gain.

Various studies offer reasons why some of our daughters develop eating disorders. For one, it’s tough being a teen these days. On a daily basis the media puts in front of our girls, actresses, singers and models who are thin. Then there’s the stress of fitting in at school, wanting to be popular, getting good grades, making the team, and having that certain boy notice them. Unsettled family issues are an additional stress.

As moms, we can do a lot to help our daughters with their self-image. Here are some proactive steps to take:
  • Accept your daughter for who she is. Is she perfect? No. But refrain from put-downs and nagging.

  • Remember that daughters come in all shapes and sizes. What’s most important is that she eats a healthy diet and gets exercise.

  • Set an example of a physically healthy woman. Let your daughter see you eating balanced meals and being committed to exercise.

  • Set an example of an emotionally healthy woman. Don’t speak negatively about yourself or your weight. Let your daughter see you handle stress in ways other than eating.

  • Focus on your daughter’s strengths. Help her feel defined by things other than her looks. Her relationship with God, how she treats others, and her natural talents are what matter most--and won’t fade with time.

  • Don’t compare your daughter to another girl. “Why can’t you be like Lisa’s daughter?” or “Maybe if you wouldn’t eat so much you could look like Debbie’s daughter” are words will cut and cut deeply.
If you suspect your daughter may have an eating disorder, don’t delay. Watch for extreme weight loss, an obsession with food (over-eating or not eating enough), self-induced vomiting, speaking negatively about her body, taking laxatives, excessive exercise, or depression. Then talk with her. Not in a panicked or judgmental way, but in a caring way. Eating disorders are secretive, so she may not be open to talking at first. Go with her to see a trusted doctor or counselor for a diagnosis and treatment.

A daughter with an eating disorder doesn’t have an issue with food. The issue is something else that’s painful. This is a time for proactive parenting. And a time for lots of love and acceptance.

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By Nancy Canwell. Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines Scripture taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.

[1] http://depts.washington.edu/thmedia/view.cgi?section=bodyimage&page=fastfacts

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