“I don’t want my children to have the same relationship with food that I have.”
Depending on our relationship with food and our bodies and the way we relate to them within the family dynamic, our children will follow suit. “I shouldn’t have eaten that,” said Molly to her children, holding her round belly in disgust. “I’ll start over tomorrow.”
New studies show that binge eating in children is a taught behavior. As parents, we have to change the way we relate to food and our bodies before we can support our children in doing the same. Just like our children repeat our sayings when they begin to talk (which can be quite embarrassing sometimes), they, too, will mirror our beliefs and actions around food and the body.
A while back, I started noticing a change in my daughters’ behaviors when there was a change in mine. One day, as I was silently fuming about something of little importance (I can’t even remember what it was), I noticed my girls acting up. As I continued to rage within, I became more and more irritated—as my mood escalated, so did my daughters’. They started yelling at each other, and even the dog started barking. I began to notice this often, so the next time I was annoyed around my daughters, after yelling at them wasn’t doing the trick, I decided to do an experiment. I focused on calming myself and then went over to my daughters and in a quiet, gentle voice asked, “Are you okay?” After a little bit of a puzzled look, their energy lowered. I had emotionally hijacked my daughters with my behavior and they soaked it up like a sponge without any thought. While I am not the dictator of their moods and beliefs, I play a role in the navigation—including food and body beliefs.
Here’re a few tips to start rebuilding a healthy relationship with food and your body and, in turn, your children’s:
- Remove “good” and “bad” labels: Remove all that you have learned about dieting and start a new conversation at the dining table. Instead, request that they eat one portion of each: grains, fruit/vegetables, and protein—no food is off limits within these categories. When food is just food and not a “reward,” a “treat,” or “wrong”/”right,” it allows us to put food to its rightful use—a source of energy and enjoyment.
- Adjust your body talk: Somewhere in time, we have forgotten that desiring beauty is in our DNA. It’s okay to tell your child that you love the way they look, but be mindful of suggesting our worth is based solely in our body’s shape. Sure, go ahead and call your child beautiful—nothing wrong with that—but while you’re at it, consider throwing in another description, also. “What a smart, lovely, beautiful, caring person you are.”
- Comfort with connections: Many of us are guilty of cheering our children up with a “treat.” I love chocolate as much as the next person, but when your child faces challenging emotions, try staying away from using food as comfort. Try connecting during a walk instead of an ice-cream.
Change the way you relate to food and your entire family will be positively impacted.