How to Talk to Your Kids About Healthy Eating Habits and Body Image
By Anita Ginsburg
The conversations we hold with our children have an immeasurable impact on their own emerging beliefs. There are plenty of warnings and well-intentioned advice we offer as parents, but body image and nutrition are two areas that are often assumed to be fine unless there’s a noticeable problem.
One of the ways parents can help children and teenagers develop a positive body image and healthy eating habits is to hold regular conversations about both.
Starting the conversation may be difficult if you notice your child struggling or wrestle with body image issues yourself. Honesty will always be the best policy, and you can even help yourself become healthier and more kind toward yourself as you have these conversations with your kids.
Focus on Health, Not Appearance
A healthy body can look full or thin, and fitness is not about “looking good.” Regular exercise helps your child take care of their body, and it’s an act of self-love and body appreciation that can contribute to positive body image and self-confidence.
When you discuss working out or eating, make sure that you focus on the benefits rather than any potential negatives, e.g. “getting fat” or “looking bad.”
You should also avoid discussing numbers or focusing too much on the scale. What matters more than how much a child weighs is how healthy they are and how good they feel.
Even with obese patients, doctors tend to encourage exercise and better nutrition for health’s sake, not appearance or to help achieve a certain weight.
Be Mindful of How You Speak
Avoid criticizing others’ appearances or degrading your own around your children. For example, if your child hears you say, “I look huge in this,” or “Wow, that woman is fat,” then it can cause them to become more critical of others and themselves.
They will also start to evaluate fat versus thin and build ideas about worth around physical appearance alone.
Model Healthy Eating
Talk about the benefits of different foods while grocery shopping, and invite your children to make healthy meals with you. You can mention the importance of eating a well-rounded diet and let your children pick their own favorite ingredients and recipes to cook together.
Do not overemphasize healthy eating or ascribe morals to food. Instead of saying that one food is good and another is bad, focus on the health benefits of choosing certain meals over others.
If your child is struggling to the point of starving themselves or restricting food, you should explore treatment options for eating disorders. There are a number of options that include individual counseling and in-patient therapy.
Every program focuses on nutritional rehabilitation, establishing a healthier relationship with food, and improving body image by improving the individual’s whole view of themselves.
If your child shows signs of an eating disorder or struggles with weight and self-esteem, there are ways to help them.
In addition to working with a professional, you can continually remind them of all the wonderful qualities they have that have nothing to do with how much they weigh or what they look like.
Bio: Anita is a freelance writer from Denver, CO. She studied at Colorado State University, and now writes articles about health, business, family and finance. A mother of two, she enjoys traveling with her family whenever she isn’t writing. You can follow her on Twitter @anitaginsburg.
*Photos courtesy of Anita Ginsburg