Q. I've noticed my nine-year-old daughter has become concerned about her weight and appearance. She makes comments such as, "Do I look fat in this?" Also, she seems to play with her food more than eat it. I don't want to create a problem that doesn't exist, but should I be worried? She seems much too young for an eating disorder.
A. You're wise to be aware of the signs of an eating disorder. At the same time, be assured that even if your child displays such signs, it doesn't mean an eating disorder will automatically develop. Case in point: As a child actor, I was forced to diet rigidly from the time I was 12. Throughout my entire adolescence, there was an all-consuming focus placed on my weight—yet I never developed an eating disorder. In hindsight, I wasn't even close to being fat by everyday standards, but I was overweight by television standards. Sadly, television and other media set the standard for the image of today's youth, whether it's for a child actor or not.
In dealing with my 10- and 11-year-old daughters, I put a positive spin on the budding "fluffiness" of their developing bodies. I've pointed out that gaining weight is an absolutely normal part of becoming a young woman. Maybe you could use an illustration from your own trek through puberty and talk about how you went through cycles of growing out before growing up. Discuss the way a woman's body works: the need for a mother to be able to store fat, make milk, and have wider hips to birth and care for babies. Teach her to view her body changes as the privilege of becoming a woman.
All the while, continue to pay close attention to whether she develops abnormal eating patterns, begins exercising or counting calories excessively, or experiences a sudden drop in weight. If you suspect bulimia, check under the toilet seat; girls often forget to clean up the evidence of their purging from there. If any of these signs develop, seek counsel from a Christian expert immediately.
Lisa Whelchel is the author of Creative Correction (Focus on the Family), So You're Thinking About Homeschooling (Multnomah), and the founder of MomTime Get-A-Ways. She and her husband, Steve, have three children. E-mail your parenting questions for Lisa to email@example.com.
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