Research has shown that children and youth who diet are much more likely to develop eating disorders. In fact, the earlier that dieting begins, the more likely a significant eating disorder can occur. Body positivity begins at home and there are many ways for parents to help children develop body positivity naturally.
It is very normal and expected that children put on about 10 pounds a year during puberty. That’s part of development. In fact we need body fat for energy, to protect the organs, and support cell growth. However, sometimes the weight takes off before the height kicks in. And that’s when parents start to get concerned. Oh, they’re getting a little chubby… Maybe I better not offer cookies anymore. But that is the wrong thing to do. Instead, give your child a wide array of foods to choose from. Also, encourage outdoor activity by doing something fun and active with them.
We certainly don’t want family members to feel guilty. We are just asking parents to take an honest look at their own habits. It’s not easy initially, as we live in an environment obsessed with diet and fitness culture. I encourage parents to look at their own attitudes on eating and food.
Suggestions for parents to help children develop body positivity:
Based on documents from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
1. Stop talking about weight.
Don’t criticize your own appearance. Value yourself more for your character. Learn the difference between weight and health and concentrate on health enhancing behaviors. At Sanford Comprehensive Treatment for Eating Disorders, we practice a Health at Every Size (HAES) approach, which honors body diversity and encourages movement for health and enjoyment, not to lose weight.
2. Make a list of people you admire and share it with your children.
Practice taking all people seriously for what they do, not how they look. Give boys and girls the same opportunities and responsibilities. Work for and speak out for the rights – fairness, equity, safety, respect, control of their bodies – of those with marginalized identities.
3. Parents, encourage critical thinking about media messages.
Talk with your children about the pressure to “look good” and the ways in which media images are manipulated. Discuss the dangers of dieting. Teach them to be critical viewers of social media. In fact, consider limiting their access to social media. We know negative body image correlates directly with the use of social media platforms.
4. Stop weighing yourself!
Get rid of the scale. Do not equate certain foods with positive or negative behavior or morality. Eliminate commenting on weight or body size – period. Don’t diet and don’t ever restrict calories for your children.
5. Concentrate on things you like (and do) well.
The more you enjoy your life, the less critical you will be of your body. Learn to accept compliments graciously. Focus on family, friends and faith – those things that bring true joy from within. Tell your children frequently that you love and accept them just as they are. This builds self-esteem and body positivity.
6. Get physical for fun!
Choose to move for your heart health, not to change the size of your body. Any kind of movement can help; do something together as a family. Have fun. Do not communicate the message, “I can’t do _______ until I look a certain way.” At Sanford we integrate experiential therapy into the recovery process whenever possible.
7. Spend your dollars wisely.
Support retailers who portray diversity in their advertising and hiring practices. Research the businesses whose values align with yours. Support them. Consider carrying a note card listing these businesses as a reminder (or save on your phone). Teach your children to be responsible shoppers.
8. Voice your opinion.
Write letters, send emails or call about products you won’t buy. State the reasons why. Businesses really do want to hear from you, and may respond with change.
9. Be a role model.
Notice, in a complimentary way, how people vary. Express appreciation for body diversity. Don’t judge others by their appearance. It should not be more acceptable to practice “weightism” than any other form of prejudice.
10. Break barriers!
Protest – stand for what’s right. Many inspirational people have blazed new trails in body positivity. Help your children recognize and celebrate achievements made by them. Seek friendships with like-minded others.