By Gwenn Brehm

If restrictive dieting has become a top priority for you, you are not alone. According to a recent survey by the Calorie Control Council, 33 percent of Americans - 71 million people - are trying to lose weight, the highest number of dieters in the last 15 years. And with news that an estimated 65 percent of Americans are overweight, the dieting trend is unlikely to slow.

Before rushing off to that next aerobics class, it may be wise to assess the impact your dieting lifestyle could be having on your children. Children whose parents are overweight, or those whose parents obsess about their diet, are more likely to develop an eating disorder. On the other hand, parents who approach their own diet and health with balance - rather than jumping from one fad diet to the next - can teach their children to do the same.

Here's some advice for parents:

· When you are hungry, eat what you want; stop eating when you are full. Modeling this behavior for your children will teach them that food is not an enemy, but is simply fuel for the body.

· Do not eat in order to cope with stress in your life. Likewise, when your children face stressful situations, teach them to handle them constructively - without food.

· Look for balance in your relationships with your children. Parents should strive to be both nurturing and authoritative. Not aloof or harsh, but not too permissive either.

· Stay physically active, and teach your children to exercise because it is fun and it feels good - not just because it helps you lose weight.

· When your daughter approaches the teen years, talk to her about the peer pressure she may face to lose weight. Tear down any walls, and let her know you're there for her.

· Get educated and watch for any rapid weight loss or strange eating behaviors in children - either eating excessive amounts or becoming overly selective. A list of symptoms of eating disorders, along with other valuable information for parents, can be found at www.something-fishy.org. The National Eating Disorders Association also offers information and advice, at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.

Parents who suspect their child has an eating disorder should schedule a professional evaluation, rather than trying to handle the problem alone. It's a very secret disorder, and it takes someone asking just the right questions to diagnose it. 
 

Gwen Brehm is a senior counseling specialist with the Mood and Anxiety Center for Children and Adolescents at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The center is located at 1110 Nasa Rd 1, Suite 400, Houston, Texas 77058. The clinic phone number is (281) 335-1062.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.