There is no one cause for eating disorders. There are many psychological, biological, and sociocultural factors that can contribute to the development of eating disorders. In many ways, this makes prevention sound impossible. However, eating disorders are treatable with the proper care and there are many things people can do to help with both prevention efforts. I want to provide some simple ways with these 6 tips to help prevent your kids from developing eating disorders. 

1. Avoid labeling foods as good or bad 

Food judgments can fuel a lot of shame and disordered behaviors around food. Teaching kids that all food is okay and that it is important to have a good balance of foods to properly fuel is a more helpful approach. Try empowering kids to have balance, variety, and to recognize when they are full, rather than telling them they need to “eat healthy, “stop eating junk food” or commenting on them eating too much. 

2. Avoid using food as reward or punishment 

Food as a reward or punishment can also create a tumultuous relationship to food. It is wonderful to enjoy food and okay to feel rewarded from this, and using this in this way can lead to helpful messaging, associations, and maladaptive coping skills. This can also fuel judgments about food that I referred to above. 

3. Be aware of your own relationship to food and your body 

Children observe and learn a lot from watching their parents and peers. Be mindful of how you talk about dieting, food, weight, and your body. This can negatively impact the people around you even if you are not imposing these beliefs, judgments, and thoughts on them. 

4. Reinforce that Bodies are Meant to all be Different 

Societal messaging around good and bad bodies is pervasive. They come in all different ways, shapes, and forms and can create a lot of shame and body image dissatisfaction. Be mindful to not comment on others’ bodies. Educate your kids that we are all meant to come in all different shapes and sizes. Point out the ways that the media sends these negative messages out to the world and speak out against it. Encourage them to unfollow social media accounts that promote weight loss and unhelpful fat-phobic messaging 

5. Create a safe space to talk about emotions 

Eating disorders are disorders of emotion. This means that the eating disorder you observe is the way that their underlying emotional distress is manifesting. Creating a space to be able to openly talk about emotions can go very far in helping to prevent emotional distress, and to recognize when more emotional support may be needed so they can get this support from a professional. 

6. Be aware and Recognize Signs of Disordered Eating and Body Image Distress 

There are many potential warning signs to look out for. A few of these warning signs may include: preoccupation with food and weight, over-exercising, skipping meals, limiting the variety of food groups, abnormal labs, changes in weight (up or down), hiding or sneaking food, emotional dysregulation, avoiding social events, and negative self-talk around the body. Each unique person is different, but staying aware and present can help with early intervention. Educate yourself on eating disorders. There are many resources out there that can give you a lot of information that can help you be supportive and part of the solution. 

The more people involved in overall prevention efforts the more we can work together to dismantle shame messaging and fat phobia causing us to feel inadequate. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with body image issues or seems to be engaging in any disordered eating it is definitely worth considering some extra support. Eating disorders can become very serious both emotionally and physically. There are many therapists and treatment centers well-equipped to help treat these issues. 

Article written by Dani Parmacek, LCPC, R-DMT, a licensed Chicago therapist who specializes in treating a variety of mental health disorders with evidence based treatments. To schedule an appointment with her or one of our other therapists, contact

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