Mums, are your words causing your child to develop eating disorders?

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A mother's negative comments can have great impact on her children's self-image and can even cause eating disorders to develop down the road

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Were you ever teased about your weight as a kid?

“I think you gained weight”

“You’re getting fat, stop eating so much”

“Maybe you should start exercising more?”

“You’d look so much prettier if you were thinner”

These are just some of the harsh comments some kids may have heard from their mothers while growing up, and may even stick with them for life.

As well-intentioned as they think they are, when mums pick on their kids about their weight, do they know that this can negatively affect their children’s self esteem and potentially cause eating disorders to develop?

Why do mothers pick on their children’s weight?

Dr Rebecca M. Puhl, director of research at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, and lead author of the study on weight-based victimization, explains that, “What we see most often from parents is teasing in the form of verbal comments.”

These comments may include nagging their children about eating too much, or criticizing how they look in a particular outfit, or even trying to bribe them into sticking with a diet.

“There still remains the widespread perception that a little stigma can be a good thing, that it might motivate weight loss,” says Dr. Puhl, who is also a clinical psychologist.

Parents who struggled with weight themselves when young, might also think that their criticism will help their own children somehow.

But research done at the Rudd Center and elsewhere has shown that even well-intentioned comments about weight from parents and other adults (such as pesky relatives during Chinese New Year, Hari Raya or Deepavali!) can trigger eating disorders, use of laxatives or other dangerous weight-control practices, and even depression.

Eating disorders

For Asian kids, negative comments specifically from their mothers can lead to eating disorders.

Negative impact on children’s self-image

A recent collaborative study between the University of Exeter Medical School, James Cook University, Singapore and the Australian National University has found that in the Asian culture where fathers are more authoritative and mothers more nurturing than in the West, negative comments made by Asian mums had more impact on their children’s self-image regardless of gender.

This research which is partially funded by the Singapore Children’s Society and published in the journal Body Image, reveals a growing trend of Singaporean children developing eating disorders, and the numbers are now on a par with the UK.

Although the issue of eating disorders is mostly prevalent in girls, there is now an increase of boys who are being diagnosed with eating disorders too.

What can you do to avoid causing your child to develop any eating disorders? Keep reading to find out.

Health Child Health Illnesses & Conditions Prevention