Avoid accidentally teaching diet culture to your kids

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By promoting positive body image, respecting your child's appetite, and embracing all types of food and physical activity, you can break the cycle of diet culture and raise a child who loves their body just as it is. PHOTO: George Herald

Small changes in your actions and words can help your kids develop a healthy relationship with food and their bodies.

As parents and caregivers, we all want to ensure our kids are healthy and have good self-esteem. However, it’s essential to recognise that our actions and words can inadvertently teach them harmful beliefs about their bodies and food.

Diet culture, or the idea that being thin is more important than overall health, is a pervasive and harmful ideology many of us grew up with.

Here are some ways to break the cycle of diet culture and raise your children to have a positive relationship with food and their bodies: 

Respect Your Child’s Appetite

Letting your child decide when they’re full can help them develop a healthy relationship with food.

Diet culture dictates that smaller serving sizes lead to a slimmer body, and “overeating” is a negative thing. As a result, you may feel frustrated or concerned when your child asks for seconds or a larger serving size.

However, it’s important to remember that children have an innate ability to regulate their appetite, and encouraging them to listen to their bodies can help them develop a positive relationship with food.

When your child asks for seconds, instead of limiting their portion size or encouraging them to fill up on water or veggies first, respect their appetite and allow them to eat until they feel full. This can help them learn to listen to their hunger and fullness cues and build a healthier relationship with food.

Compliment Yourself (and Your Kids!)

Promote positive body image by modelling self-love and encouraging your kids to love their bodies too.

Children learn by example, and the way you talk about your own body can affect how they view theirs. Diet culture often teaches us to be critical of our bodies and focus on flaws rather than strengths. Instead of criticising yourself in front of your children, try complimenting yourself and your body.

Allow Treats in Moderation

Don’t let fear of “unhealthy” foods lead to restriction or shame.

Diet culture often teaches us to fear certain foods, such as those high in sugar, salt, or fat. However, it’s important to remember that all foods can fit into a balanced diet in moderation. Instead of limiting or shaming your child for wanting a treat, allow them to choose a few foods that interest them, regardless of their nutritional content. An occasional treat won’t harm an otherwise balanced diet, and can help your child develop a positive relationship with all types of food.

Don’t Shame Bodies

Promote acceptance of all body types and combat fat-shaming messages.

Fat-shaming messages are prevalent in society, and often appear in movies and TV shows. When you watch media with your child, it’s important to counteract these messages by celebrating the internal qualities of characters rather than their appearance. Instead of laughing along with fat-shaming jokes, point out positive character traits, such as bravery or kindness. It’s also important to promote acceptance of all body types and not judge people based on their appearance. Encourage your child to celebrate differences in all shapes and sizes.

Enjoy Physical Activity

Encourage your child to view exercise as fun and a way to feel good, rather than punishment for food choices.

Diet culture often teaches us to view exercise as a way to “burn off calories” or to “earn” our next meal. This can lead to negative associations with physical activity and promote a harmful cycle of exercise as punishment. Instead, try to promote exercise as a fun activity that makes you feel good. When you exercise with your child, emphasise the positive aspects, such as feeling strong or happy, rather than burning calories or losing weight. This can help your child view exercise in a positive light and promote a healthy relationship with physical activity.

Embrace Cultural Traditions

Don’t let diet culture make you feel guilty for enjoying holiday or cultural foods.

Diet culture often teaches us to feel guilty for enjoying holiday or cultural foods. However, it’s important to remember that food is an important part of cultural traditions and celebrations. Instead of restricting or shaming yourself or your child for enjoying these foods, embrace them as an important part of your family’s traditions. Share family recipes and stories about your own favourite childhood foods. This can help your child develop a positive relationship with all types of food and promote a healthy relationship with cultural traditions.

George Herald