Recently I was at a community market event that had many local food vendors. What was different about this event was the large number of high school students in attendance. This was a rare chance for me to observe the high school animal in action. For a nutritionist that is all about watching and observing the food choices. Not surprisingly the healthy juices and smoothies and the cookie seller were the two most popular booths followed by the Mexican food vendor.
Seeing students with cookies in one hand and green smoothies in the other , laughing and clearly enjoying their choices was very encouraging to me because in the end eating should be a joyful experience. I have seen too many young people who struggle with eating all in the name of trying to achieve a healthy diet. Mealtimes are not a joy to them but an anxious trial.
Please understand that I am not advocating we feed our children fast food and doughnuts but I do think that in our collective efforts to reduce the rising rates of obesity and to improve the health of our young we have forgotten to tell them that eating is a pleasure not a chore. Have we taught them too well?
The message that children need healthy diets comes through strong and clear. Children ( and adults ) hear it daily from the media, in school and even right here on this blog. Unfortunately for some of our children the message triggers behaviors that can lead to an eating disorder. There is no one cause or reason a person will develop an eating disorder and the factors differ from person to person. Recent studies show that some people are genetically predisposed to developing eating issues just like some people are genetically predisposed to have heart disease. And just like heart disease there are steps we can all take to reduce the chance of a person developing an eating disorder.
The two most common forms of eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia. People with anorexia severely restrict their food intake or may eat and then vomit , in an effort to lose weight. They have an intense fear of getting fat. Bulemics share this fear of gaining weight but they will eat normally and then purge, either by vomiting or using laxatives. As disturbing as these behaviors are what is most worrisome is that these disorders are life threatening. Young people ( both boys and girls) die from these disorders.
There are approaches that can reduce the risk of an adolescent developing an eating disorder.
1. This recommendation should be a requirement, eat together as a family. It doesn’t matter if your family is large or small, eat with your children. Children need to see eating as a positive social event. Food is for sharing. Children who have family meals even a few times a week are at a lower risk for all kinds of chancy behavior.
2. Cook together. Have your children help you in the kitchen. Ask them for ideas on what the family meal should be. Make it a family activity to try a new food each week or each month.
3. Balance less nutritious foods with solid meals. Don’t be afraid to allow kids to experiment with food you think is junk. If they have a regular diet of wholesome, real food they will recognize junk food when they taste it.
4. Offer a variety of food but allow children to make their own choices from the table you set.
5. Food is only part of the meal time experience. Enjoy being together they won’t be home for long!
For more information on eating disorders log on to www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or contact your pediatrician or family doctor.
Eat Well, Live Well, Have Fun!