4 steps to helping your kids feel good about their bodies and eating well
by Bonnie Brennan, MA, LPC
Flipping the calendar provides many of us with the motivation to reinvent ourselves, which often manifests in the form of a New Year’s resolution. While motivations may be well-intentioned, attempts to change weight or body size could lead to a negative body image and the adoption of unhealthy weight loss regimens. Some people who implement weight-loss or body-focused resolutions may recognize the dangers associated with doing so – including fad diets, over-exercise and in some cases, the development of an eating disorder – most fail to acknowledge the negative impact these resolutions can have on their children.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), more than half of teenage girls and a third of teenage boys rely on unhealthy weight control behaviors. These behaviors are only amplified at the start of the new year with the overwhelming presence of weight-loss themed resolutions.
Thomson Reuters and National Public Radio confirmed the popularity of these types of resolutions with a recent poll, which found that one-third of Americans have made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight in the last five years. The overabundance of weight-loss focused goals in the early months of a new year makes it increasingly important for parents to pursue their resolutions in a healthy manner in order to promote a positive body image and self-concept among their children.
These four strategies can help parents model healthy behaviors to their children in the new year and minimize the risk of children developing disordered eating habits.
1. Minimize dieting habits. Though dieting may be the go-to weight loss regimen, this sort of eating is not practical for children. Rather than giving up certain foods or entire food groups, make New Year’s resolutions that focus on moderation and incorporate healthy, well-balanced meals for the entire family.
2. Make exercise fun. Sighing at the mere mention of the gym is not an effective means of promoting a healthy lifestyle. Get away from stationary workout machines by making a New Year’s resolution to simply get outside more often. Plan a family hike or bike outing or get together with others in the neighborhood to play a game of kickball or volleyball.
3. Limit “fat talk.” It is no secret that children often mimic their parents’ behaviors. Negative commentary about your appearance, known as “fat talk,” is no exception. Make a New Year’s resolution to avoid negative comments and instead, make a point to offer comments that convey confidence and positivity in regards to your own body image and that of your children as well.
4. Be conscientious when commenting on the appearance of others. Both criticism and compliments can suggest that there are “good” and “bad” body shapes and sizes. Make a New Year’s resolution to avoid these types of comments in order to help children develop their own positive definition of beauty. Remember, it is not how your body looks in the mirror, but what your body does for you that matters.
An important note: Eating disorders have a strong genetic component. Therefore, children with a family history of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder can have an increased susceptibility to disordered eating behaviors and body image issues.
Regardless of family history, parents should be mindful of how their own comments and actions may affect their children—particularly during this weight-focused time of year. Early recognition of eating disorders warning signs can increase a child’s chances of lasting recovery. Should a child demonstrate any sort of troubling food or body image behaviors that may indicate disordered eating, parents are encouraged to seek treatment from a qualified eating disorders professional.
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