How Can You Avoid Passing Your Eating Problems On To Your Children?

How Can You Avoid Passing Your Eating Problems On To Your Children?

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by Guest blogger Mel Dodworth 

Binge eating disorder, anxiety, and problems with food are extremely distressing on a personal level. They wreck many a life, and cause not only health problems [1], but untold misery for sufferers. However, for parents, there is another dimension to the sad cycle of binge eating and other such problems: the eternal concern that the problems of the parents may be passed on to the children. We know that children are vulnerable not only genetically but psychologically to the issues which affect their parents. As our parents are our earliest and most ingrained role models, it can be very hard for us not to pick up upon our parents habits and issues and absorb them into our own nascent psyches. As a parent with mental health problems, how can we avoid inflicting our own suffering upon our children?

Lead By Example

This is, quite possibly, the hardest instruction of all – but it’s also the most important. While exposure to aberrant behavior by no means indicates that the affected child will automatically fall prey to it (there are many other factors involved [2]), the simple fact is that the behaviors a child observes while very young, from its primary caregivers, will sink deep into its psyche as arbiters of what is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ [3]. In short, they become instinctive, and no amount of logical awareness that such things are bad for them will shift those instinctive patterns. It takes an awful lot of work for someone to break associations formed in early childhood and, while it is possible to do so, it tends to only occur after the person wanting change has progressed a long way down the path laid by their parents. If we want to prevent our children from developing the same kinds of problems that we have, we need to do our best to present a happy, healthy face to our kids. It’s not enough to just emphasize the importance of healthy eating to our children – we have to demonstrate it, and present it as the right and natural thing to do. This means that, before we can start to think about the impact of our actions upon our children, we need tor redouble our efforts to sort out our own problems first. No easy task, for certain, but sometimes the knowledge that we are doing this for our children can give the impetus we need to finally get better.

Work Out The Causes Of Your Problems

We’re just beginning to realize the scale of genetic involvement in a vast number of conditions. With reference to binge eating disorder the growing body of evidence is very interesting indeed. For decades, people have been insisting that being overweight simply ‘runs in the family’ and there’s little that they can do about it. Science now partially appears to support this. While it’s not true that nothing can be done about the condition, there are certain people whose genetics make them more vulnerable to weight gain [4], either through encouraging overeating, or other metabolic mechanisms. If you’re struggling with your weight or your eating habits, it may well prove to be the case that your genetics are not helping. The same applies to various anxiety disorders, many of which appear to have a genetic component [5] (although they can be triggered in genetically ‘normal’ people by adverse conditions). If it transpires that you’re carrying genes which may be contributing to your condition, chances are that you could be passing those genes on to your children. If not, you need to work out what, precisely, triggered your problems, and try to prevent your children from developing the same issues. While there may not (yet) be anything that your children can do about their genes, if they’re aware of their vulnerability to certain problems, they may be able to take steps to avoid these problems from developing. Forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.

Don’t Go Overboard

We’re now about to issue some frustratingly contradictory advice: having just told you to monitor your eating habits around your children, to emphasize healthy eating, and to make your children aware of any propensity to eating issues – we’re now about to tell you not to make too much of a big deal about it. It’s a case of finding the balance between imbuing healthy habits, and making your children anxious about their eating habits. Many parents who struggle with eating problems themselves try so desperately not to pass those habits on to their children that their anxiety about how their children eat is palpable. Binge-eating parents in particular may resort to anti-binge methods like food restriction and excessive lectures about nutrition, which can backfire spectacularly. Children which grow up feeling anxious around food and eating are more vulnerable to many kinds of eating disorders [6] than those which grow up with a more relaxed attitude towards food. So, teach healthy eating, but don’t do so in a stressed and anxious manner. Don’t ‘helicopter parent’ your child’s eating habits, and don’t make mealtimes stressful occasions. This can be a tough balance to strike, but it’s worth it for healthy, happy children!

 

[1] NHS Choices, “Binge eating”

[2] Stanton Peele, “Addiction Prevention: Can Your Child Avoid Addiction?”, Rehabs.com, Mar 2015

[3] Jennifer S Savage, Jennifer Orlet Fisher, Leann L Birch, “Parental Influence on Eating Behavior”, Journal of Law and Medical Ethics, Sept 2008

[4] Marilynn Marchione, “Scientists discover how key gene makes people fat”, USA Today, Aug 2015

[5] IFL Science, “Seven New Genes Linked To Anxiety Disorders”, Jun 2015

[6] University Of Illinois, “Parents’ binge-eating, restrictive feeding practices may be reactions to kids’ emotions”, Science News, Mar

 

More about Mel Dodworth:

Mel Dodworth now works in writing and editing – however, prior to this she worked in social care, helping those who have addiction problems. Mel is herself a recovered addict and felt able to draw on her own battles to care for others less fortunate. She’s a mom to two young girls now and in her spare time she also works for local mental health charities as a volunteer.

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