Family FUNdamentals: Helping Families Prevent Eating Disorders
We’ve recently learned about an incredible program called Family FUNdamentals, that’s recently launched in BC with a mandate to foster healthy child-parent relationships around food and activity. Its purpose: to help prevent disordered eating among children. You may be surprised (as we were) to learn how early body image issues can start in young children, and how damaging disordered eating is to a child’s life. Here we catch up with one of the program’s founders, Mimi Hudson, Director of Community Programs at the North Shore Family Services, to learn how this program is helping parents and children deal with issues such as self-esteem, body image, activity and eating disorders.
BT: How did Family FUNdamentals come about?
MH: Family Fundamentals was developed in response to a research report entitled Body Size Stereotyping and Internalization of the Thin Ideal in Preschool Girls. After reading this study, I realized just how important it is that prevention of eating disorders begins early. The study showed that girls as young as three are already aware of body size and shape and prefer thinness. We wanted to offer a program to help parents learn about issues such as self-esteem, body image, and resiliency in an atmosphere of fun with food and activity. With parents and children together in the program, parents learn how to be positive role models for their children.
BT: Can you tell us more about the Family FUNdamentals programs and other similar programs available to families?
MH: Family FUNdamentals is a 6 session (1.5 hour/week) program made up of six modules: 1) Being Me, Being You 2) Healthy Relationships 3) Joyful Eating 4) Creative Activity and Movement 5) Being Confident 6) Celebration. One of the goals of the program is to make parents aware of the messages they are sending to their children when they talk about weight, shape and dieting. We want to encourage the joy of eating and playing together as a family. We have piloted the program in four locations in the Province and will train facilitators from six additional Family Resource Programs this June.
In addition to Family FUNdamentals, Family Services also offers a wide variety of programs designed to support families and to also recognize the importance of eating together and sharing the family meal. For example, to our First Nations families in the Takaya program, we offer food skills where parents and kids all come together to make a lunch. It’s a fun outlet for parents, but also teaches valuable life/food skills at the same time.
We also have a program designed for working parents called Learning Together Through Play at Night. In this program, we provide a light meal so it’s easy for parents to pick up kids and come straight from work, to sit together to eat a meal. Everyone eats together and then there’s play time for the children. It’s a simple concept, but there are important benefits to families: It provides them with a break from cooking; everyone comes together over food, which is an important part of child development; and it provides a place for families to get together in the community. As a result, we’ve seen this community growing, and it’s a great mix of moms, dads and grandparents, from all cultures and all walks of life.
BT: Can you tell us about Jessie’s Legacy?
MH: Jessie’s Legacy is our Eating Disorder Prevention Program. Its mandate is to provide eating disorders prevention education, resources and support for BC youth, families, educators and professionals. The program is named after Jessie Alexander, a young North Shore woman who died of complications from a long-standing eating disorder.
It seems that body image issues are starting earlier and earlier. As I mentioned, research shows that awareness of body image and the thin ideals can start in children as young as three years old. Jesse’s Legacy is designed to inform BC families about healthy weights, resiliency, body image & self-esteem, and media literacy, to help families who may be faced with an eating disorder.
BT: Do you find that most people understand what an eating disorder is?
MH: I think many people know the word “anorexia” but we look at eating disorders on a continuum. In actual fact, many of us have what we call disordered eating—things like obsessing about calories, restricting food, and dieting which can move towards an actual eating disorder. Some of the current obesity messaging can also inadvertently lead to eating disorders. We’ve found that healthy modeling by parents is one way to equip children and prevent eating disorders. What you eat as a parent, having a family meal together, not talking about dieting, exercising for fun & enjoyment not burning calories; these are all very important in helping shape a child’s own body image.
Too, parents may not realize that children grow at different rates. A child of eight years old might look like they are getting heavier but a year later they might shoot up in size and become lean. Panicking about a child’s weight can sometimes be more detrimental than helpful in the long run.
BT: It sounds like you have your work cut out for you.
MH: We really do have our work cut out for us. Our culture teaches that fat is a bad and thin is good. The media perpetuates this by publishing images of photo-shopped models and celebrities with unrealistic body shapes, that our young women strive to look like. (This Dove video shows the process in action).
Thanks Mimi, for a thought-provoking interview! To our parents out there, the Family FUNdamentals program may be coming to a community near you. Look for it at your local Family Resource Program by visiting Family FUNdamentals.