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Over 45 Years of Eating Disorder Specialty Practice

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Assessing Your Attitudes About Food and Weight
By Abigail Natenshon, MA, LCSW, GCFP

Reprinted from When Your Child Has An Eating Disorder, A Step-by-Step Workbook For Parents And Other Caregivers, Jossey-Bass, 1999.

How you were as a child affects who you are now. To review and assess your early childhood attitudes and experiences with food and eating, read the following questions and write down your answers. When you were a child:

1. How did you feel about your body?

2. Were you ever teased or criticized by others because of the way you looked? If so,why?

3. Did you live with rituals concerning food? If so, what were they?

4. Was food ever used as a device to threaten or motivate you? If so, how?

5. What kinds of eating behaviors and meal patterns did you see in your role-models (your parents, older siblings, camp counselors, coaches, and so forth)?

6. How did these childhood events affect your attitudes and values then? Today? (If food was used as a bribe or if you were threatened with a week of no desserts if you didn't eat your peas, there is a good chance that you might have some residual dysfunctional food attitudes.)

Assessing Your Family Background
The attitudes of your family of origin (the family you grew up in) continue to influence your attitudes today and how you interact with your eating disordered child in your nuclear family (the family you created together with your partner and children). To develop your insights and facilitate family discussions about these influences, complete the following two assessments.

Assessing Your Family of Origin
Read the following questions about your family of origin and write down your answers.

1. What messages did you get from your parents about how people were supposed to look?

2. How did your parents perceive you physically? How do you know?

3. Who made dinners for you as a child? Who ate with you?

4. What were dinner times like? What kinds of things were discussed?

5. Draw a picture of your family dinner table. Who sat where? Was anyone often absent?

6. What were your family's food traditions, rituals, and quirks?

7. How were troublesome issues handled? Were problems resolved? Give examples.

8. Could people express themselves honestly and openly? Explain.

Assessing Your Nuclear Family
Respond to the following statements by choosing the word that best describes the frequency of the behavior described: never, rarely, sometimes, often, or always.


1. I tend to be an overly controlling parent. This leads to an out-of-control child.

Never   Rarely   Sometimes   Often   Always

2. I tend to be an overly permissive parent. This leads to an out-of-control child. (Your answers to the first two questions may reflect the fact that parents may be overly controlling and overly permissive at once.)

Never   Rarely   Sometimes   Often   Always

3. At times I give my child too many choices; at other times I do not give him enough.

Never   Rarely   Sometimes   Often   Always

4. I am excessively conscious of body size. I praise or criticize my children for their appearance.

Never   Rarely   Sometimes   Often   Always

5. My partner and I do not present a united front; we generally do not agree on how to resolve problems.

Never   Rarely   Sometimes   Often   Always

6. The members of our family typically keep secrets from one another.

Never   Rarely   Sometimes   Often   Always

7. I feel there is not enough privacy in our family.

Never   Rarely   Sometimes   Often   Always

8. There is alcoholism or drug addiction or both in our family.

Never   Rarely   Sometimes   Often   Always

9. There is abuse (verbal, physical, or sexual) in our family.

Never   Rarely   Sometimes   Often   Always

10. The members of our family are always trying to make each other happy and to avoid conflict and sadness at all costs. In our effort to be the Brady Bunch, the truth goes by the wayside.

Never   Rarely   Sometimes   Often   Always

Bottom of Form


The greater your number of often or always scores, the greater the likelihood of eating disordered attitudes and issues in your family. Further, it would not be unusual for you to see similar patterns in your nuclear family as in your family of origin.


It is important to bear in mind that it matters less why, how, and where problems such as these may have originated.  The critical issue is what you will do, what actions you will take, what behaviors you will change, in order to bring about changes that will insure a full and gratified existence for you for the rest of your life.


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