Weight and health are not linked in the ways we’ve been led to believe, explains Emma Wright.
When my children were born, I promised them they weren’t going to hate their body, like I’d hated mine. They were going to eat healthy, exercise, be fit and feel good about themselves. So I focused on veggies, limited “junk” and sugar, praised their beauty and took pride in feeding them the healthiest food. The problem was, I was completely unprepared for how badly it would go.
Mealtimes digressed into battles. Fights erupted. They’d go to town at parties eating everything we limited at home. They didn’t turn into the slim kids I thought they’d be and I’m embarrassed to say I felt ashamed they weren’t. And then ashamed for feeling ashamed. And then embarrassed by the judgement I felt, every time someone else’s kid ate the carrots while mine ignored theirs and begged for ice-cream. The harder I tried, the worse it got. It was hideous.
The moment came when I walked into the kitchen and found my whip smart child at the cupboard shoving sweets into their mouth. The guilt, shame and fear in their eyes sent ice down my veins. That was the moment I decided – this stops right here.
I had made a promise. I was failing. I had to do something different. The problem was, I had no idea what to do. I was already doing all the things: the healthy food, the praise, the trying to keep them at a ‘healthy weight’… So I went on a mission: how can I foster health without compromising their relationship with food? What I found changed everything.
I learned that weight and health are not linked in the ways we’ve been led to believe; issues with food and bodies are, for the most part, a normal response to our environment; and many common parenting tools erode confidence, resilience and mental health, but we do have evidence based solutions showing us what to do instead. All of which taught me how to empower my kids to feel good about their bodies and helped me make good on my promise. Here’s my ten tools.
1. Reject diet mentality.
Learn the false assumptions that underpin the majority of diet, weight and health info that make kids fear their bodies and what they eat.
2. Greet the person not the body
Greet and compliment kids’ internal value rather than external appearance. “So lovely to see you”, rather than “you look gorgeous”!
3. Master awkward conversations
Learn how to respond so your child feels empowered if they’ve been bullied, tell you they’re fat or make negative comments about their body.
4. Practice Gratitude
Help your child to focus on what works well about their body rather than what it looks like.
5. Declutter Diet Mentality Messages
Clear your home (and their social feeds) of messages that perpetuate false expectations about bodies.
6. Spot Stereotypes
Notice the way different body sizes are stereotyped and teach your kids to do the same. Once they see these stereotypes they are far less likely to buy into them.
7. Understand digital trickery
Teach your child how unreal most of the images we see are and how most marketing and media doesn’t accurately represent reality. This helps prevent them buying into unrealistic aesthetic standards.
8. Put nutrition and exercise in perspective
Learn how nutrition and exercise are two aspects of health and where they fit into the wider picture of long term health.
9 .Make peace with sugar
Learn to see sugar as just another part of a varied diet. Let go of fear about your child eating sugar and teach them to trust themselves to eat what’s right for them.
10. Master body led nutrition
Learn the gold standard approaches to feeding that result in long term health including good body image: Divisions of Responsibility and Intuitive Eating.
Emma Wright is an internationally-recognised expert in eating disorder prevention and body confidence. Emma Wright created the Raising Body Confident Kids Course – an online and self-paced course that fits even the busiest schedule (listen while at swimming lessons, or folding the laundry!). Learn more at emmawright.co.nz