Approximately 23 percent of girls in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. Even more show signs of an unhealthy body image.
As a parent, it can be a helpless feeling to watch your daughter progress from being a little “overly critical” about her appearance, to absolutely obsessed with every small detail she perceives as a flaw.

The best way to help is to recognize the signs of an unhealthy body image early on, and subtly help guide her toward healthy changes.

Encouraging a Healthy Body Image

  • Consider How You Feel About Your Own Body

Judging yourself and your body harshly can lead to the same behaviors in your daughter. Examine your own attitudes about weight, food, physical appearance, exercise and health.

Do you ever make comments about a woman who “shouldn’t be eating that” or “could definitely benefit from losing a few pounds”? Identify any unhealthy beliefs, prejudices and behaviors about food, weight, body image, physical appearance, health and exercise. Do you have an unhealthy drive to be thin? Do you often model dissatisfaction with your own body?  Do you edit photos of yourself and verbally criticize your own perceived flaws? Taking steps toward your own mental health in the area of body image will encourage your daughter to do the same.

As parents, it’s perfectly okay (and very healthy) to admit to our children that we recognize an unhealthy way of thinking in ourselves. This openness can promote awareness, growth and change in your daughter.

  • Model Healthy Eating

Food is fuel and we feel our most confident when we are eating with that mindset. Comfort eating because we are sad, angry, worried or bored can be habit forming. Once we start eating to feed our emotions instead of our bodies, problems can arise. If you recognize comfort eating, treat it delicately. If your daughter feels belittled or shamed it can lead to eating in secret, purging and a list of issues. Providing other options, being present and available, and modeling healthy eating yourself is the best plan.

If your daughter is dealing with particular emotions, do some research and discover what types of foods are helpful. You’ll be amazed to find there are foods that help with anxiety and promote feelings of well being. You can learn together.

  • Forget Dieting

As research has shown, dieting doesn’t work as a long-term solution. Focus instead on making healthy choices and including exercise in your lifestyle. Teach your teen to listen to her body. If she doesn’t feel hungry right now, she shouldn’t eat.

  • Help Her Find a Sport She Loves

Whether it’s an actual sport, like softball, basketball, or volleyball, or an interest that gets her body moving, like dance, running, or weightlifting, there are a variety of choices that you can encourage her to try. Not only will a sport help with her self-esteem and confidence, but it can also help her to include exercise in her daily routine and encourage a healthy body image.

Health and Your Teen at our WV All-Girls School

At Greenbrier Academy, therapeutic boarding school for girls, we know that girls struggling with an unhealthy body image or an eating disorder sometimes need outside help. Our therapeutic program can help your daughter by getting to the root of the issue through therapy. Our well rounded treatment also provides nutritious meals, random weigh-ins, monitoring food choices and nutritional supplements as needed. Our West Virginia all-girls school can help your daughter discover what it means to be healthy; mind, body and spirit.