Parents Can Unwittingly Foster Eating Disorders In Children

Many parents are used to hearing reports about the growing problem of childhood obesity, but there is a fine line parents must walk when it comes to encouraging children to eat a healthy diet.

Experts said that parents should teach their children to eat healthy but to not let weight become an obsession.

Denise Folcik said she became obsessed with her weight and that it took away 16 years of her life — and almost a lot more.

Folcik said the seeds of bulimia were planted at a young age by a verbally abusive father who constantly picked on her sister about her weight.

“When I was 16, my dad told me I was worthless, so I took that with me throughout my life,” Folcik said. “I knew if I didn’t gain weight, I wouldn’t be at the end of his name-calling.”

She said the effects were delayed until years later.

“After I had my fourth child, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘I’m done having kids. It’s time to lose the weight now,'” Folcik said. “All of a sudden I thought to myself, ‘You are what you eat. Eat what you want, throw it up — what better diet could that be?’ I remember the first time I did it, thinking it was a way to lose weight and it turned into 16 years of getting sick up to 20 times a day.”

In her early 40s, Folcik said she blacked out while driving with her daughter. She said her children begged her to change. Her body was literally shutting down, she said.

“My body, a lot of my levels had bottomed out — potassium, iron and different things,” Folcik said.

Jocelyn Miller, a Dean child psychologist, said that when parents say things about body image, either about others or even about their own weight, it has an affect.

“A lot of adults don’t realize they’re being a role model of negative body image, especially moms. They talk about, ‘I’m too fat; I need to lose weight.’ Young children hear that and internalize that,” Miller said.

But Miller said that also means parents can do things to improve a child’s self-image.

“I think parents can do some work to expand the definition of body image — that it’s not all about weight,” Miller said. “I have kids generate lists of what their strengths are and things they feel good about themselves.”

After five and a half years of treatment and three years in recovery, Folcik is a survivor who now hopes to spread the word to her children, grandchildren and anyone else who will listen that thin doesn’t equal contentment.

“It’s baloney, believe me, I was working on that and it almost killed me. Being thin doesn’t make you happy. It’s being you and just finding what your gifts are,” Folcik said.

Folcik said that several of those she went through therapy with did not survive. She said her mission now is to educate others about eating disorders. She’s writing a book, looking for a publisher and hopes to become a public speaker on the issue.

For more information about eating disorders, people can visit the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness Web site.