I was recently out with a group of “mom friends”, having one of those conversations talking about anything and everything related to our kids, all under 1 year old. Our conversation turned into an honest discussion about raising our children to be anti-dieting, body image-loving, positive self-esteemed individuals. My friends were worried about being a good example to their daughters, teaching self-esteem, and hoping that their girls will learn to love their bodies. These moms were especially worried about raising girls, but this is a topic for every mom- mothers of sons included! I claim to be an expert in this area but it’s honestly something I’m concerned about too. I had just talked about losing the last few pounds of my post-pregnancy weight 10 minutes before this part of the conversation came up à My point is that my advice for moms and dads is something I am going to be working on as well. I think moms can all learn from one another and support each other to raise confident children. Here are my favorite tips:
- Eliminate negative talk: Take a good look at yourself and your environment. Do you criticize yourself in the mirror? Do you complain about being in a larger body? Kids will learn from you. Eliminate this kind of dialogue in your life to other people and especially to yourself.
- Feel good about your body: Replace the negative talk with positive talk. Do something each day to make you feel good about your body. One of my favorite tricks is something I heard from a therapist: Take a tube of red lipstick and write on your mirror “I am beautiful because…” and everytime you look in your mirror, you have to answer the question.
- Model healthy behaviors with food: Show your child a healthy relationship with food by eating balanced meals and snacks. Don’t restrict and binge. Have a wide variety of food in your diet, including food from all food groups, healthy food, and unhealthy food. Have desserts and chips and cake in your life, and teach your child how to enjoy these foods in a healthy way.
- Make time to move with your family: Exercise as a way to feel good, not just burn calories. Pick an activity you love and make time for it. Treat this as part of your self-care routine.
- Introduce the concepts of “hungry” and “full” as early as possible: Children are born with the skill to stop eating when they are full but gradually lose this with environmental influence. In order to prevent the dieting “restriction” mindset, it’s important to teach children it’s natural to eat when they are hungry. Therefore, it will be natural to stop eating when full and satisfied.
- Do not label food (or yourself) as “good” and “bad”: Every food is included in a healthy lifestyle, no matter what. Restriction of “bad foods” almost always equals bingeing. Never say “oh I had a good/bad day” because nutrition is not all-or-nothing!
- Never make your child clean his/her plate: This will alter kid’s perception of how much they should eat. If they don’t eat at this particular meal, there is always the next meal or snack to make up for missed food.
- Talk about how bodies come in all different shapes and sizes: Respect other body types and talk about how people look different because everyone is unique and special.
- Find an outlet to vent out your body image stuff (not in front of your kids): Sometimes we don’t feel good in our bodies and that’s okay. But it’s important to find a way to vent this and not talk about it all the time in front of kids.
- Spread the word: I love movements like “Operation Beautiful”, which spread the message of positive self-esteem and self-worth. Teach children to participate and have fun doing so!
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Jennifer is a Registered Dietitian and the owner of Eat With Knowledge in Nyack, NY. She is on a mission to help people heal from diets, and find peace and balance with their food choices. She leads a team of dietitians who support the philosophy, “Feel Fabulous about Food!”
Start your own healing by downloading her Free Stop the Cycle of Binge Eating guide or her Free Hunger – Fullness Scale.