Posted by Barbara F. Meltz March 4, 2010 06:00 AM
Question: My 5-year-old thinks that she is fat. I'm very worried about her, because she doesn't want to eat at all. Could it be because I'm overweight? Please help me out. Thank you
From: Dolly, Las Animas
It is certainly true that as parents, we are the most powerful role models our children have. It is also true that children as young as 5 can develop disordered eating habits which can lead to eating disorders.
It would be somewhat unusual, however, for a 5-year-old to be aware enough to recognize that her mother is fat and she doesn't want to be like that UNLESS your weight is a source of frequent conversation in your family. For instance: Do you talk about being overweight in front of her? Are you someone who expresses unhappiness about being overweight? Are you constantly trying some new diet, or saying you can't eat this or that because you're too fat, or that you can't do an activity because you're too fat? Is your husband or someone else in the family critical of your weight? And here's another important question: Does your daughter watch a lot of TV, especially programming that is not explicitly produced for a child her age? If she's a big media consumer, and she's watching adult programming, she is most certainly being exposed to ideas and images of bodies that could lead her to want to be thin. The best way to counter the unhealthy influence of media is to simply limit her screen time to no more than two hours a day and to make sure that it's age-appropriate programming.
It is possible for an overweight parent to actually be a positive role model to a child, not so much by talking about being overweight, but by setting a realistic goal for yourself and following through: "I really want to be healthier. I'm going to walk every night after dinner for an hour, and I'm going to start eating healthy food, like no more junk food."
Here's something else you can do: Talk to her about female bodies in general and her body in particular. Point out women she knows and how their bodies are different. Talk about what makes a body healthy, and how you hope she will be healthy. Most of all, take control of whatever it is that is making you unhealthy. If she can see you doing that, you will have done a good thing.
Of course, it is possible that her picky eating is not related to your weight at all. Some children simply are picky eaters. The best way to counter that is to eat as a family, to prepare healthy meals that always include something you know she will like without explicitly catering to her, and eliminating altogether any conversation about her eating habits. That just becomes negative attention. To keep yourself from worrying too much about what she eats, look at her intake in terms of weekly consumption, not daily.
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