Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
become the person you were meant to be...

Protecting Girls (and Boys) from Eating Disorders

Note: All names and identifying information have been changed.



After her brother said she was fat, Karen vowed to do whatever it took to get into a pair of size 6 Calvin Klein jeans. (Most women with eating disorders remember such significant moments in their stories. ) This vow included starving herself to the point that she passed out on a beach. When she came to in an ambulance, the EMT asked her, “What can I do to prevent this from happening to my daughter?” She looked him in the eye and stated, “You can love her unconditionally.”

Oh my gosh, I can’t believe these thighs,” you remark in front of the mirror as you try on a new summer outfit. “Maybe I have elephantiasis, and my doctor hasn’t diagnosed it yet.”Your daughter hears you, and it does much more harm than you would like to believe. These kinds of things, even if said in jest, tell her that her value lies in her looks. You reinforce the idea that’s already steeped in our culture that if you’re not a toothpick, you’re fat. This spurs girls, sometimes starting at age five, into dieting. Then they begin the roller coaster ride of dieting and then bingeing, and then feeling shame, and then dieting more. Even if they get down to a normal size, they still feel fat. If they have people-pleasing personalities, they sometimes get swallowed into anorexia. If they are not people pleasers, they often flirt with throwing up until it develops into full-blown bulimia. But when they throw up, they feel they are purging all the hurtful feelings stored in their hearts.

Here are some ways you can protect your daughter from developing an eating disorder:

·        Avoid talking about dieting, fat, or your fanny. Whenever you do this, your daughter is getting the message: “Everything rests on how thin and beautiful I am. That is where my value lies.”

·        Discourage dieting, as it usually leads to a lifelong obsession with black-and-white thinking in regards to dieting and bingeing.

·        Stop praising girls for their beauty. Instead, try to focus on their other strengths, accomplishments, and characteristics. When we praise girls on their beauty, we are telling them appearance is everything, which feeds eating disorders.

·        Be aware that certain activities such as ballet, modeling, and gymnastics tend to emphasize thinness, which can creates a fertile environment for an eating disorders.

·        Encourage your daughter to get out and enjoy vigorous activities that she enjoys, instead of vegetating in front of the computer or TV.

·        Promote a healthy lifestyle. Research shows that kids tend to pick up their parents’ lifestyle habits, whether they are smoking, exercising, eating healthy, or eating high sugar diet.

Of course there are no guarantees, but these suggestions will help your daughter to feel good about herself, and to realize that her value comes from what’s inside her heart, as opposed to how thin or how beautiful she is on the outside. Keep in mind that boys are not immune, and that more boys are getting diagnosed with eating disorders every year. Eating disorders are no longer a female problem.


© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC, 2005 - 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.