For many people January is the start of a new journey.
After the Christmas period of over indulgence, many of us go into the new year with the resolution to lose weight, through diet, exercise or both. It’s important to be mindful of how our attitudes towards weight and our relationship with food and exercise can impact on our children.
I have been shocked by the number of TV programmes, adverts and targeted campaigns I have seen for weight loss in the first week of January. Almost every advert on my Facebook feed has been for a gym, personal trainer or diet plan. You can’t escape being bombarded by the media with messages that make you feel that you too should be trying to slim down this year.
If you’ve decided to embark on a weight loss journey, I encourage you to be mindful about how you approach it. Think carefully about what messages you might be sending to your children.
I was speaking to one Mum about her weight loss resolutions. She told me that she was following a diet plan to drop dress sizes this January. She went on to tell me that she had caught her thirteen year old daughter taking photos of her food the previous week. When she asked her what she was doing, she said that she was sending the photos to her friend because they were following a healthy diet ‘plan’. The Mum was understandably concerned and went on to reflect on how her own behaviour may be impacting her daughters’ relationship to food.
Children learn about the world through us and our actions. In the same way, they also learn about their self-worth, which informs their relationship with food and their bodies. This issue impacts on both girls and boys.
There’s a certain body ideal these days that is sold to us as being the ‘perfect body’, but with photoshopping, editing of images and filters being so common place it’s hard to distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t. Perfect images of beautiful, slim people can make us feel like we aren’t enough as we are. There is a direct correlation between the amount of time spent on social media and negative feelings about your own body image.
Tips to encourage a healthy body image in our children.
Set a good example.
If you want your children to eat healthy meals with fewer sugary snacks, then you too should be eating the same! Remember children will copy your behaviour. If they see you depriving yourself of food as a way for you to feel better about your body, it’s likely that they will copy this behaviour too.
Help children to engage in exercise they enjoy.
A decrease in free play and increase in activities that encourage a sedentary lifestyle (e.g. social media and gaming) mean that children have fewer opportunities to move their bodies in ways that are fun. Encouraging children to partake in team sports or to go out on walks will only benefit their relationship with exercise and their bodies. If you can help children develop a mindset that being physically active is fun and enjoyable, this will serve them well as a lifelong attitude towards exercise. With wearable technology that counts your steps and exercise levels children can also take on the responsibility for their own activity levels. I’ve heard from one parent that since her teenager got a FitBit they are much more likely to go along on dog walks, and even happier to go and collect things around the house because they are working towards their step count! You can also remind children that they don’t need to exceed the recommended daily step count, so it doesn’t result in problematic or obsessive behaviour.
Avoid commenting on children’s weight.
This can induce feelings of shame and guilt that can be linked with harmful behaviours such as restrictive eating, over eating, over exercising or even self-harm. Instead, make kind and helpful comments when you see your child partaking in healthy activities. For example, ‘you’re eating so healthy today – greens are so good for your body!’ or ‘you gave it your all at football today, you’re getting so fit!’ Be mindful with your words, as the wrong words (even said with the best intent) can be taken to reaffirm negative beliefs. For example, ‘you’ll be losing weight in no time if you keep eating healthy’ can give the implicit message that your child needs to lose weight. If in doubt, don’t say anything!
If your children see you in a negative relationship with your body and they hear negative self-talk they will take on that behaviour as their own. If you can role model a positive relationship with food, where you nurture and nourish your body with the right food and exercise, you’ll be teaching your children that it’s OK for them to love themselves too. And when children feel love and respect for their own bodies they are far less vulnerable to external pressures around body image.
By Sophia Giblin
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