With this post, I’ve finally fully shared the great info I gathered when working on my article in last Sunday’s Seattle Times. Yesterday, I tapped into more of my interview with Kim Cantley. Today, I share more of the insights I gleaned from my interview with Lisa Geraud.
Research shows that comments about weight and body size/proportions can, when conditions are right, trigger unhealthy dieting behaviors, or even an eating disorder. Because of that, some parents are conscientious about praising their kids for their achievements rather than for their appearance.
That’s certainly a step in the right direction. As Lisa Geraud, LMFT, RD, Executive Clinical Director at The Moore Center says, “We should treat the body as an instrument, not an ornament.”
Trouble is, eating disorders aren’t just about food or body weight. Often it’s about being (or appearing to be) perfect and controlling uncomfortable emotions. Children, especially gifted children, may feel pressure to excel and be high performers, and even base their identity on achievement (“I am a star athlete” or “I am a straight-A student”). Fear of failure (i.e, losing control and losing their identity) could trigger an eating disorder if the child is susceptible to developing one.
Geraud said she suggests to parents that they find ways to help their child have an identity that doesn’t have to do with their appearance and their talents, per se. For example, they are a good friend, they are kind to animals, they like to help out.
“Remind yourself that your gifted child is still a gifted child of their chronological age,” she said. “They can get in too deep emotionally because of their own expectations as well as their response to expectations from others.”
Geraud said that some children have a genetic tendency toward being very cautious and harm-avoidant. “They’ll actually be able to perceive having unpleasant emotions as risky.” She said that’s one type of psychobiology that can predispose people to developing an eating disorder.
“If you can’t feel a sense of control and don’t deal with transitions well, controlling food and weight can offer a small degree of control.” She said this is one reason why the 11th grade is a higher-risk time for eating disorders (major transitions looming). Going through puberty early and quickly (major transition) is also a risk factor.
When a child is harm-avoidant, Geraud said that parents may be able to prevent future problems by helping their child moderating the stress in their life. She added that parents who themselves tend to be very cautious and harm avoidant may want to consider whether they have passed that tendency along to their children.
“It’s good for parents to know the temperament of their children, and it’s good for parents who have that same temperament to become friends with their own [temperament],” she said.
Of course, raising kids to be balanced, healthy, normal eaters helps. Geraud said that biology, environment and temperament can in effect “load the gun,” but dieting may pull the trigger.
“Dieting is the gateway,” she said.