The cause of childhood eating disorders

According to a recent grant opportunity posted on the Web site, more than 60 percent of the U.S. population is overweight, and 31 percent meet the criteria for obesity.

by Mary M. Ernsberger — 

For the last several years, the media has focused on the increased number of young people with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Blame for these disorders went to the advertising industry and its portrayal of the perfect body in clothing, perfume and food product ads focused at the younger market.

Now there is a sudden increase in news stories about the other end of the pendulum. According to a recent grant opportunity posted on the Web site, more than 60 percent of the U.S. population is overweight, and 31 percent meet the criteria for obesity. This is not older Americans, but children as young as 4 and 5 years old. The grant opportunity stated that 15 percent of children and adolescents met the criteria for obesity and another 15 percent were at risk of becoming overweight.

Even “Sesame Street” has jumped on the bandwagon by devoting a section of their show to nutrition. The federal government has restructured the food pyramid that indicates how much of each type of food we should eat every day. But, is the problem entirely related to what and how much we are eating?

Might not the better questions be: Why do we make the choices we make about the foods we eat? Do we not know any better? Do we need more education about how to make healthy food choices? Certainly better education would help, but let’s just for a minute consider another possibility.

If you were asked, “How much control do you have in your life?” how would you answer? How many of us can list the people who have more control over our days than we do? The names on this list might include bosses, teachers, husbands, wives and parents — just to name a few.

So what is one specific area of life that each person can control? Even children can control what they put in their mouths, and how much. For many, it may be the only area of their life they feel they can control. Many people, young and old alike, resort to sneaking food or hiding it in their desks, backpacks, closets, bedrooms, glove boxes, etc.

As parents arriving home from a stressful day at work, how many of us want to listen to or argue with our children about what’s for dinner? How eager are we to give them whatever they ask for, in exchange for a little peace and quiet? It is a trade-off — and it puts the child in control. The problem arises when this scenario repeats itself day after day.

Is there a solution? Recognizing the pattern and taking responsibility for our actions and reactions is the first step. Talking to your child, on their level, is step two. That means sitting down next to your child, looking him in the eyes and truly listening to what he has to say.

Next, involve him in the creation of healthy menus for the week. If your child is home alone and spends time online, ask him to research information about foods he likes and to find different recipes you can make together. Print out the recipes and create your grocery list. Go shopping together for the foods you need to make these recipes. Determine what steps in the recipe your child can perform safely. Cook, eat and clean up together.

The final step is to repeat the above steps regularly and as often as possible. You will be creating a whole new relationship with your child — one that does not include a fight for control, but that opens up a new world of healthier eating and creates a happier atmosphere at home.

That’s one less battle for control that either of you will have to fight. Then you can extend this exercise to include breakfast, lunch and between-meal snacks. Before you know it, your entire family will be enjoying feelings of overall well-being and balance in this area of your life.


Mary M. Ernsberger is a master hypnotherapist and life path coach who creates individual drug-free treatment options for children and adults labeled as ADD/ADHD, gifted or exceptional. or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 25, Number 4, August/September 2006.

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