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How to help your kids avoid eating disorders

Know anyone with food issues? Chances are, you know many - and maybe you're one of them. In today's world of fast and convenient food, many people have disordered eating. The evidence of obesity, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and a national obsession with dieting is proof we aren't eating healthfully. The problem is that many of the people with unhealthy relationships to food are parents, and that makes them - wittingly or not - role models for their children.

Research shows parents are the biggest influences of their children's behavior, so that means what parents do, not what they say, is often emulated by their fiercely observant offspring. And though most parents hope to raise healthy eaters, many are blind to how their own harmful attitudes and behaviors are affecting their children.

Here are five tips from Edward Abramson, a psychologist who works closely with children and adults with eating issues and author of "Emotional Eating."

1. Avoid diets Parents who want to foster a healthy relationship with food should never put their children on a diet, which usually becomes counterproductive and actually increases the likelihood of future weight gain and subsequent emotional issues. "The focus should always be on improving health and not on weight," Abramson notes. Parents should implement healthier family habits, such as eating reasonable portions and even cooking together.

2. Watch language "Daughters don't need to hear their moms criticizing their own bodies," Abramson says. If a parent is always dieting, then a child may learn to see food as an enemy and as something to be feared. Parents should be conscientious of their weight and health but avoid self-disparaging comments. A better approach, Abramson says, is to simply be an example and start taking action toward eating more healthfully and exercising.

3. Portion sizes Besides the "super sizing" going on in restaurants, many parents are oblivious that they're also over-serving in the home. This normalizes bigger portions and causes children to eat beyond their hunger. Recent research headed by Bryan Wansink, author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think," indicates people eat 92 percent of what they are served. Factor in larger portions, and today's children are often eating more than they need.

4. Take early action Abramson says parents are increasingly failing to recognize when their children are overweight. Some may be facilitating unhealthy food consumption through the lack of appropriate interventions. Implement strategies to prevent mindless eating, such as buying single serving portions of foods and preventing children from eating in their bedrooms.

5. Avoid battles Parents should also avoid getting into a battle of wills with young children. If parents are too forceful about foods, this could cause children to use food as a means to gain control or assert their independence. Instead, Abramson recommends parents keep serving healthy foods without pressure - eventually the child will probably decide to try them.

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