Preventing Eating Disorders


We often wonder if we are doing a good job with our kids, their food, and body image. How can we best provide a loving environment that will help to prevent eating disorders?

Ellyn Satter is a Registered Dietician and a Licensed Counselor, and is author of several books on children, diet, and eating disorders. From Child of Mine, she write about 2 key concepts I’d like to share.

As you read, you may also ask yourself, “Did MY parents do these things? How was I raised when it comes to food, eating, snacks, meals and body image?”

Division of Responsibility

The basic idea of this is: Parents provide the “What” and the “When” of eating, and Kids decide “Whether” and “How much.”

Ellyn Satter recommends Parents have a wide variety of foods, at meals and snacks. Parents need to provide “WHAT” the kids eat: lots of fruits, vegetables, protein foods, beans, meats, dairy, grains. They also provide the “When.” Scheduled meals and scheduled snack times.

Kids choose “Whether” to eat or not. Kids need to be allowed to decide for themselves if they are hungry or not. Kids need to learn to listen to their bodies, figure out if they are hungry, and stop when they are full.

A kid should be allowed to decide “How Much” to eat. If we serve meals and snacks in serving bowls, the kid can decide how much to put on his plate. And, let’s face it, there will be wasted food when you have kids. Their “eyes are too big for their stomachs,” so to speak. They will think they want a lot of food, pile it on their plates, then figure out later that it was too much. THAT’S TOTALLY NORMAL! Don’t force a kid to finish it, just because it’s on his plate.

Do NOT make a child clean his plate. This sends a message that a kid should ignore their inner feelings, thoughts and ideas about hunger. It tells a kid that some outside source should regulate his intake. It shows your kid that hunger signals from within his own body are unreliable, and untrustworthy.


Begging for food all day long is called panhandling. If that same child were put on a schedule of eating, 3 meals a day and 3 snacks a day, he’d be much less likely to panhandle.

Eating food all day long is grazing. To prevent this, provide a specific, routine-like schedule for meals and snacks. When the child asks for food outside of those 6 times, just say, “Snack is in a little while. Go play.” This helps a kid realize that there will always be enough food, but the parent decides when.

For more ideas, check out this book, Child of Mine by Ellyn Satter.

parenting resources

helpful websites

  • Love and Logic
    Bestselling author Jim Fay, founder of the "Love and Logic" process.
  • Focus on The Family
    Provides parenting advice and other family issues from a Christian perspective. Founded by Dr. James Dobson.
  • TroubledWith: Parenting Children
    Resources dealing with various common childhood issues and what a parent can do.