How to Prevent Disordered Eating in your Children
Yesterday morning I saw my daughter stepping on the scale, and I felt my blood freezing.
I instantly knew it was time to throw that useless object out of the window. Mind you, my daughter is almost two, and the only thing she was doing was checking the numbers appearing and disappearing on the screen (magic!). Yet, all of a sudden, it dawned on me how much power I gave to the scale in the past years, and I didn’t want to pass on the same trauma to the person I care about the most.
As I often discussed in previous articles, my relationship with food was really screwed up from the tender age of 10; that’s when I started planning my meals and categorising foods. Back then, I wasn’t trying to change my body, and I thought that controlling meals was what a woman was meant to do in life. My mum and sister were dieting, and all my mother’s friends. The magazines were filled with articles on liposuction, losing weight, and aging gracefully, which is why I got self-conscious about my food choices from a tender age.
The 6 Reasons Why I Gave Dieting the Boot
If you don’t believe there is a better way, think again
According to a survey from the University of North Carolina, sixty-five percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 45 report having disordered eating behaviors.
An additional 10 percent of women report symptoms consistent with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, meaning that a total of 75 percent of all American women endorse some unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies.
After having a child, and after a Bachelor in Nutrition and Dietetics, I have come to realise that dieting is never a (good) option, and if there is one thing I aim to do in life, it’s preventing my little one from having to go through the same pain I (and millions of other people worldwide) did.
This is how I plan to do that:
How often do you catch yourself making comments about other people?
How often do you say that cousin Mary should lose a couple of kilos or that actress looks ridiculous in a swimsuit?
How often do you have a gloomy face after checking your weight on the scale (and how often do you check your weight on the scale), and how many times do you say no to fun foods because you are on a “diet”?
Kids are really receptive, and their brains are like sponges; the more often you say one thing, the more they will absorb it and think is real. They will take it as face value and apply the same reasoning in their life.
If you really believe that cousin Mary needs to shed some weight, don’t say it out loud; if you can’t stop checking your weight on a scale, do it behind closed doors. It is up to us to give our children the chance to grow up in a safe, non-diet environment, even when you are deeply into it.
How you talk to yourself matter
It goes without saying that you can’t expect your child to love his body if you hate yours. Loving our body is a full-time job and sometimes it isn’t even possible; what we can do, instead, is accepting our body for what it is and being thankful for what we can do, such as breathing, walking, thinking, etc.. Next time you speak in front of your children, make nice comments about your arms, and how strong they are, about your legs, and how fast they run, about your belly, that has carried them inside for 9 long months. In front of your children, wear your stretch marks as a badge of honor, make them feel ok around diversity, make them feel safe and accepted for what they are, without trying to change them.
Foods don’t have values
Foods aren’t inherently “good” or “bad”.
That’s the definition we give them. Sweet potatoes don’t have to be carbs, macros, low in calories, low in GI, off the list, in the list. Sweet potatoes can simply be orange coloured, delicious food that goes very well with creamy sauces or olive oil. Cookies don’t have to be banned; chocolate is not evil. Kale is not healthier than anything else. Foods are just foods (I’m obviously not talking about allergies and serious diseases).
Some meals indeed have more nourishment than others, but the mental freedom of being able to eat whatever we want is very nourishing in itself.
Something I love to say to my little one is to eat eggs so that she will grow strong muscles and she will be able to run faster than all the other kids, or to eat walnuts, so her brain will be as sharp as a weep. I never make comments about calories, prohibited, or bad foods, as she doesn’t need to hear it. In the meantime, I bring to the table a variety of ingredients, and I can only hope she will develop a taste for supportive, energising, and highly nutritious foods.
Compliment the humanity
If the only compliment you give to your child is “Beautiful, cute, handsome,” he will learn to hold on and value those feedbacks.
But what if you could comment on his laugh, sense of style, the ability he has to make people get together.
Kids are generally cute, but what else? Would you like your child to spend his life waiting for someone to tell him how great he looks and feel less of because he is not given the same lovely feedbacks later in life?
Teach your child to self soothe his emotions by assisting him in growing his own beliefs and sense of self.
“I do appreciate you smiling at me when I come back home” or “I did enjoy seeing how you made every kid play on the swing” or “You were really fast today, what made you get that fast?”
Do you understand where I’m going?
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Listen and value their feeling
If your child comes back home and complains about being teased because he is chubby or overeat, or if he mentions how large his belly is when looking in the mirror, don’t brush it off.
Avoid saying, “Don’t be silly, you are fine” or “Don’t worry about it; they don’t mean anything.”
Instead, hold the space and open your heart; you can share your story with them and embrace their pain, without jumping into solution-mode.
“It did happen to me, and it hurt a lot. But I did survive”. Admitting how much pain you went through will allow your child to open up and realise that being hurt is an option, and it isn’t the end of it all; it is also good knowing there is a safe space where they can chat about their doubts and fears, without being ridiculed.
Get rid of external tools
Scales (to measure weight and foods), food trackers on the phone, fitness watches, tape measurements…the list goes on and on. Get rid of them all, don’t wear them, don’t use them. If you have a condition that requires you to check your weight, do so at the doctor’s office or to the pharmacy or at a friend’s house.
Also, don’t buy trashy magazines, avoid silly TV series; trust me, they don’t serve you, and they only make you feel unworthy. Make your home as neutral as possible so that your kids won’t grow up in a toxic environment.
And in the end, don’t get too stressed out; it is a relief knowing that whatever we do, we will screw our kids up (one way or another).
It is a relief, so we don’t have to spend too much time worrying about being perfect, as it is fine to be good enough.
Save your kids from diety messages, listen to them talk, support their development, and be gentle with yourself. That’s the best you can do.
Everything else is up to society and themselves.