We all want to look better, feel better and be healthier. However, a lot of the time we don’t realize how our attitudes toward food can effect our children. Small things we say about ourselves can have a deep impact about our children. If you are obsessing over calories at every meal, your child will start to think that they might have to as well. Limiting and restricting foods in front of your child can teach them to have an unhealthy relationship with the foods they eat. So often we equate “diets” with what we can’t eat, that our children begin to think that food is an enemy. A healthy diet is about all the delicious foods that you can eat, and in every diet there is room for sweets here and there. I hardly use words like “treats” or “cheat meals” because if 99% of your meals are delicious and healthy, there is no reason a piece of cake can’t be a part of your diet as well. When my child asks me about calories, I tell her that isn’t something she should have to worry about at all! She is a child! She should concentrate on making healthy choices. No child should ever hear words that make them feel ashamed of their bodies. When parents deny a piece of pie so they won’t get “fat” it makes your child feel guilty for enjoying one of life’s greatest enjoyments…a slice of PIE!
Here are some tips to keep in mind to improve your child’s body image and eating attitudes:
1. Understand that healthy eating isn’t restrictive, limited, or fat-free eating. Science shows that a lot of those “fat-free” foods are filled with absolute junk. I follow a rule of trying to find foods that are as close to the source as possible. Fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, not a bunch of chemically laden, science experiment crap. In fact, contrary to out-dated evidence that has been proven to be wrong, we require fat in our diet, especially for children who need it to support the development of their neurological system into their early 20s. “Fat” doesn’t lead to weight gain, too much food does, it’s as simple as that.
2. Be the example you want for your child. Eat healthily and spend plenty of time with your child so you can model these habits and gauge their emotional well-being. Be attentive at meal times and make sure you child is enjoying their dinner.
3. Don’t skip meals or eat food substitutes such as PowerBars instead of real food, that is an example that really leads to fitness failure, and a negative view on eating food.
4. Cook and provide delicious and healthy meals for your child and family. Enjoy these meals together as a family as much as possible. We eat dinner together every night at the table, and though that might be hard for some families, encouraging a healthy eating environment is a wonderful thing to do. Try not to eat in front of the television as we are blasted with nonsensical pictures of impossibly thin humans.
5. Check yourself! What are your personal attitudes toward food, eating, weight management, and body image? Any unresolved issues you harbor might lead you to conclude that it’s okay for your child to skip a meal or drink diet soda. I understand wanting to save your child from obesity, especially if you have overcome it yourself, but there are tons of positive ways to promote healthy eating and fitness without shaming, embarrassment and being hungry.
6. Eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are full. Encouraging snacking when bored is an example set in the wrong direction. Show how you can enjoy snacks and desserts responsibly and with the appropriate amount of joy they deserve. Don’t feel guilty, savor your foods!
7. Teach your child the concept that if you take care of your body it will take care of you, and compliment them often. We live in a world with impossibly high beauty standards, and who knows what their peers might be saying. Let them know you think they are beautiful.
8. Never diet, or put your child on a diet unless medically necessary. Humans come in all different shapes and sizes and as long as they are healthy, thats all that matters. Strive for healthy, happy and strong, not skinny.
9. If your child has a weight problem, teach him to eat differently, not less. Veggies, seeds, nuts, fruits, beans, peanuts, grass-fed meats, yogurts etc can all be healthy choices, and much better than pre-packaged “franken-foods”.
10. You are the biggest example your child has. Love yourself and love them twice as much. Teach them to love being healthy by being their best example. My daughter that “hates sports” loves going for walks, playing tag, and climbing on a jungle gym. Encourage what they want to do, not just what you want to do. Stay physically active yourself and show your child that there are many more meaningful and important aspects of life other than body appearance.
Keep up the great work parents!