How A Mother's Role Can Prevent Eating Disorders

By John Lavitt 01/19/16

Having a positive influence from their mothers can make a huge difference with young girls suffering from eating disorders.


Israeli researchers have determined a positive personal example set by a mother greatly helps to prevent the onset of eating disorders in young girls. In a new study released by the University of Haifa, certain mothers participated with their daughters in an intervention program to prevent anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and other eating disorders. When the mothers took part, the results for the daughters were significantly improved.

“These findings stress the significant role of mothers in establishing the body image of their children by giving a personal example for imitation ... it contributes greatly to the prevention of eating disorders in adolescents,” said Dr. Zohar Spivack-Lavi, who conducted the study.

Despite numerous programs designed to help young girls cope with eating disorders, consistent and proven success of these and other interventions have not been proven. Part of the faculty of social welfare and health sciences, Spivack-Lavi explained that a major problem was most of the programs focused on information and education as opposed to trying to achieve long-term behavioral changes.

The study was comprised of a total of 118 girls in the sixth grade. In the study group, their mothers accompanied 35 girls while an equal number of girls participated alone. In addition, there was a control group of 48. All three groups answered questionnaires at three different intervals. The questionnaires were administered before the program took place, when it was completed, and six months after it was completed.

Girls who participated with their mothers showed a significant decline in pathological behavior connected to eating. They valued themselves more, had a better body image, and had more modern behaviors relating to diet compared to girls who took part in the intervention alone.

At the same time, if the mothers themselves were focused on dieting and compulsively participating in sports to lose weight, the positive role shifted dramatically into the negative. The daughters of this group showed lower satisfaction with their bodies, and their behaviors were more pathological.

“When the parents adopt messages that encourage their children to be thin, the youngsters are likely to adopt similar positions and behaviors as children and even in adolescence,” Spivack-Lavi said. “It is very important to integrate mothers in programs to prevent eating disorders and not conduct them separately.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.