Values & Identity: Youth Can Avoid Snags of Eating Disorders

Parent and youth on beach

Every parent is in a constant fight to protect their children, whether it be from playground scrapes to broken hearts. But, as the world changes, so do the dangers that can reach today’s youth.

One of those dangers is disordered eating. Approximately 3% of U.S. adolescents are affected by an eating disorder [1].

EDs are grounded in secrecy and shame, but this does not make avoiding them impossible.

Those conditions or attributes that safeguard your child from potential harm are known as “protective factors.”

Below are two important protective factors that can shield adolescents from a potential eating disorder.

Unconditional Self-Love

Our society does not emphasize self-love. Television, magazines, and commercials all send the message that we need to do more, change more, buy more, and be more to be worthy of love.

This creates dissatisfaction with the body and self, inevitably resulting in low self-esteem, “a consistent predictor of an eating disorder [2].”

As one might guess, high self-esteem has the exact opposite effect, acting as a protective factor against body dissatisfaction and, therefore, eating disorder development [2].

Teaching your child to love themselves unconditionally in a world that is trying to do the opposite will increase their self-worth and self-esteem and protect them their entire lives.

To emphasize unconditional self-love, teach your children the truth about perfection – that it doesn’t exist.

Further, point out the reality of appearance to your children. Make them aware that the women they see on TV are often photoshopped and do not really look as they appear.

Finally, set the example that comparison is an unproductive habit. Let the child know that they don’t have to act or look just like anyone else to be valuable. In fact, their value lies in the unique and irreplaceable individual that they are.

Youth and Peer Support

So much of who we become is a result of with whom we surround ourselves. Numerous studies indicate that individuals surrounded by peers that engage in diet-talk and internalize the thin ideal are more likely to do so themselves [3].

This might make you want to keep your child away from anyone potentially harmful, but that simply cannot be done. There will inevitably come a time when your child spends more time with their peers in a day than you.

Girl looking in mirrorPrepare them for this by teaching them about positive relationships.

When talking to your children about peer selection, discuss with them what values make a good friend and what this looks like in practice.

Teach your child about how friends should value one another, talk to one another, and make one another feel.

Raising your child to value people regardless of appearance and to build others up will help them seek out friends that do the same.

There are many other factors that can protect your children from an eating disorder. Those mentioned above carry a lot of weight because how we treat ourselves and how we treat others is the crux of human existence and interaction.

Instilling your child with unconditional self-love and an understanding of positive relationships creates a firm foundation that can protect them against any lies diet culture may throw their way.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Author: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


[1] Science Update (2011). Most teens with eating disorders go without treatment. National Institute of Mental Health, retrieved on 08 January 2018 from
[2] Beato-Fernandez, L. et al. (2004). Risk factors for eating disorders in adolescents. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 13, 287-294.
[3] Keel, P. K., Forney, K. J. (2013). Psychosocial risk factors for eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 46, 433-439.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on March 4, 2018.

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