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Your Food Talk impacts Your Kids.

Women play a pivotal role in shaping the next generation, especially in their influence on how children view themselves. Countless studies have shown parental behavior, family weight talk and body teasing to be risk factors for teens developing disordered eating, body dissatisfaction and full blown eating disorders (Chng and Fassnacht, 2016; Wansink et al., 2017).

Considering that eating disorders among teens have significantly increased since the pandemic (Hartman-Munich et al., 2022), it's important that you are aware that your words and actions affect the young souls under your care.

In a 2010 study that assessed self image and disordered eating behaviors in 356 high school girls, researchers found some notable discoveries.

"Weight-teasing was strongly associated with higher body mass index, body dissatisfaction, unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors, and binge eating with loss of control in the girls. Parent weight talk, particularly by mothers, was associated with many disordered eating behaviors. Mother dieting was associated with girls' unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors. In no instances were family weight talk and dieting variables associated with better outcomes in the girls." (Neumark-Sztainer et al., 2010)

Research has confirmed that it matters how moms relate to their own bodies and how they speak about weight around their children. What would your household conversation around weight and food sound like if you played it back through your children's ears? Would it be neutral with an emphasis on overall health or would it have an underlying self-hatred message and negative implication?

No matter your answer, it's never too late to improve. Here are some ideas on how to nurture a culture of positivity around food and the body.

Stop the Weight/Shape Talk

Constantly demeaning your body in earshot of your children is harmful. When you ridicule the way your thighs look, you inadvertently summon your daughter's attention to her own thighs. "Mommy hates her thighs and says they are too big. I wonder if mine are too big too?" Instead of discussing how much you wish your body looked different, find something to thank your body for.

Instead of:"Mommy isn't wearing shorts today because she doesn't like her thighs."

Try:"Mommy is so grateful for her legs and how they get her from place to place."

Focus on what your body does for you instead of discussing whether or not you are pleased with your current body shape.

Model Healthy Behavior

Children not only absorb every word you speak around them, they are also expert behavior modelers. When you skip meals and don't eat with your child at the dinner table, it affects them. The best way to promote a positive relationship with food and a balanced diet is to model these yourself. If you want your kids to grow big and strong and to eat balanced meals, then you should also support your metabolic health and include protein, 1-2 Tbsp of fat, plenty of fresh vegetables and a high fiber carbohydrate at each meal.

Stop Rewarding with Food

Food is a great motivator for children, I get it. I am a mom myself. However, rewarding or punishing children with food will not set your child up for a healthy relationship with food. When they do a good job, or accomplish something you've asked them to, try rewarding with something other than food. Take them to their favorite arcade, plan a special shopping trip or splurge on the latest toy they've been eyeing. Food shouldn't be a reward because it is a necessity of life and an innate need as a human being. For example, when we potty trained our two-year old, rather than giving him M&Ms or little chocolate chips for using the toilet, he got temporary tattoos or a prize from a bucket of trinkets. He was rewarded for learning a new skill, but we didn't associate mastering something difficult with getting dessert. We do enjoy treats as a family from time to time but it's not based on behavior.

Realizing your actions and words have life-changing effects on the next generation can be weighty. However, I hope you remain encouraged by this fact rather than discouraged. In the same way your words and actions can be risk factors for a young person developing an eating disorder, your words and actions can contrastingly foster a positive self-image and relationship with food.

Heaps of blessings,

Mikyah, RDN, LD, CD

registered dietitian nutritionist mikyah owens


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