Eating Disorders

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How Can I Help My Healthy Daughter Realize She's Not Fat?

My daughter is at a completely healthy weight. But yesterday I heard her say, "I'm fat!" It broke my heart! Is this normal? Should I be worried about an eating disorder? And what can I say to help her feel better about her body?
- Amy

Every time kids open a magazine or watch a music video, they probably see "perfect" people — girls and women with stick-thin bodies, men with huge, perfectly-formed muscles, and none with so much as a blemish on their faces. Be aware of the messages these images are sending. It's important to make sure your daughter knows they're not reality — that many of these models eat poorly, or have a staff of makeup and hair artists, and that many of these pictures are doctored with computer airbrushing that removes all flaws.

And by all means, encourage your daughter to eat healthy. Let her know that it's natural for many preteen and adolescent girls to have a little extra fat — and that it's a healthy sign that her body is starting to develop and mature. Be sure to compliment her on her appearance — but also be sure to compliment her inner beauty, intelligence, actions and accomplishments, and her body's strength, coordination, grace, or athleticism. This way, you remind her that there's so much more to her than her appearance and help nurture a positive self-image.

If your daughter's concerns about her weight or her body start to interfere with her regular habits of eating and being active, talk to your doctor. Unbalanced fitness and nutrition habits — and poor self-image — can lead to eating disorders, which can hurt her health now and affect her long-term reproductive and bone health.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2013