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Advice for fathers to help their daughters avoid negative self image problems and prevent anorexia and other eating disorders in teen girls and young women.

Fathers, Daughters, and Eating Disorders

by Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC

We have an epidemic of eating disorders in this country. It’s important to examine what kind of impact these disorders are having in our country today.

  • About 5,000,000 people in the US, most of them teenage girls, have anorexia. One in 10 die of it, half from suicide, and half from medical complications related to the anorexia.
  • In 1970, the average age a girl started dieting in the US was 14. By 1990, the average dieting age had fallen to 8.
  • In one study, young girls in the US who were surveyed were more afraid of becoming fat than they were of nuclear war, cancer, or losing their parents.
  • The average US woman is 5'4" and weighs 140 lbs. The average US model is 5'11" and weighs 117 lbs.
  • 2 out of 5 women, and 1 out of 5 men would give 3-5 years of their life to achieve their weight goals.

Our failures are everywhere. And as we live our own busy lives, we see these failures, yet stay silent. We plow ahead, hoping things will change, and fearing they won’t.

And while our culture is not the only culprit in the eating disorder epidemic in this country, it certainly stokes the fire. It stokes the fire in those girls who lack the positive self-image to withstand the barrage of images and judgments that rain down every day. For girls, there’s no escaping this barrage. It happens in the looks and comments they get when they walk down the hall at school.


scale and girls feet, anorexia advice for fathers

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Our daughters need our help. Here are some ideas for fathers that may help to turn the tide:

  • Examine your own attitude and feelings toward women. How have you objectified women in the past? Are you ready to see them as equal? Make sure you’re clear on these questions, because they’ll come up eventually with your daughter.
  • Find out if there are sexist influences in your daughters’ life that you can impact. Ask about the philosophy and practices of her coaches, teachers, and others who spend time with her. One influential person can do a great deal of good, or a great deal of damage.
  • Anything positive you do can be washed away by a single comment about her appearance, or the way you look at another woman. Your daughter is watching you closely. Tell her she’s beautiful, no matter what she looks like.
  • Find out the names of advertisers who put out garbage commercials or products that attempt to convince young girls to be slimmer, etc. You’d be surprised at how many ads have been pulled because concerned parents took action.
  • Stay connected to your daughter, no matter how much she’s struggling. And when she reaches puberty and her body changes, find a way to continue to stay close. Too many fathers abandon their daughters emotionally when their daughters need them the most.

About the Author: Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, coaches parents by phone to balance their life and improve their family relationships.

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