5 ways to protect kids from food and body shame

Kids as young as five are swapping dieting tips. 14-year-olds are saying they’d rather lose weight than do well in school. Your child is 247 times more likely to have an eating disorder than type two diabetes. Even those these stats are heartbreaking, parents can do a lot to help their kids to have a positive experience of their body by creating an environment that fosters good body image. Here are five ways you can do that regardless of your kid’s size, weight, ethnicity, ability or gender.

1. Eat together

Eat as a family as often as you can. Try paying more attention to the quality of conversation and emotion at the table than the nutrient content of what’s eaten. It makes for a far happier (and healthier) dinner table.

2. Eat a variety of foods

Eat loads of variety. Demonstrate to your kids that all foods can be part of a healthy diet. Let them see you enjoy everything from salad to dessert without passing any comment about which is better or worse for you. Talking about which foods you prefer is a great way to get them to tune into their amazing little bodies. You can’t get a preference wrong, so it creates a win-win conversation for everyone.

3. Let go of labels

Let go of using binary labels; good/bad, healthy/unhealthy. Kids can think they are ‘bad’ if they eat “bad food” – besides when we tell a kid a particular food is bad, they are more likely to eat more of that food. Banned foods are the ones they start sneaking and eating in secret! Kids who have sugar banned at home often steal sweet foods from other kid’s lunchboxes and then feel terrible about it.

4. Avoid linking food choices and body size

Avoid suggesting that food choices equate to particular body sizes. In our household, we’ve completely eradicated the desire to change our weight so we naturally never comment about foods leading to bigger or smaller bodies. If that’s not you (I totally get it and pass zero judgment) please consider the idea that comments such as ‘I can’t eat that it would go straight to my hips’ can make a child fear different foods and lose trust in their own body.

5. Compliment their worthiness not their body

Compliment your child’s (and friends) ability and worthiness, not their body. When a child hears how cute or tiny or thin they are (or hear us telling each other those things), they can start to associate their worth as a person with what their body looks like, not the content of their hearts of minds. As they grow, if the aspect they get complimented on changes it can cause the child to feel like that love and respect will also disappear. Instead, try complimenting their ideas, kindness, conversation, creativity.

As a rule, think about fostering healthy habits for your family without using weight or aesthetics as a goal. As The American Academy of Pediatrics points out, attempting to change your child’s weight through dictating their food and exercise choices is probably going to backfire.

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