“Mummy? Why is that lady so big?”
“Mummy, sugar is bad for us, isn’t it?”
“Mummy, icecream isn’t a healthy food, is it?”
The things that come out of my son’s mouth some days, make me cringe as a non-diet nutritionist. But I know they come from a place of innocence. Because while I’m trying my best to make food and bodies a zero-judgement zone, he hears things at school, on TV and from friends and others around him. And then he tries his best to work out the world of bodies and food based on all of that information.
The fact is, my child and your child are surrounded by diet culture; an industry that stirs up and encourages body dissatisfaction in order to sell us more products and services to fix our supposedly ‘broken’ selves.
If you’ve opted out of diets and diet culture (like me) then you’re probably not keen on your child following your old diet path. More and more of us are picking up the broken pieces left in our lives by endless dieting, and instead creating a new more relaxed, non-diet approach for life. It’s all about being happy and healthy. Not obsessively healthy to the point of, ironically, ending up unhealthy, right?
It stands to reason then, that you don’t want your child to buy into the body image worries and diet worries that have damaged so many of our lives.
So if you don’t want to raise your child the way you were raised, regarding food and diets. The question then is – how do you raise you child to love her/his body and eat intuitively?
Start right here with these 11 simple tips to save your child from diet culture and instead build a happy and healthy life.
1. Listen to your hunger
Diet culture teaches us to look externally for information on when to eat – what time is it? Is it time for my assigned meal/snack? Are other people eating? When does my meal plan say about which times I can eat?
Instead, as a non-dieting parent, teach your child to listen to their body and learn what hunger feels like. Ask them to notice how their tummy feels, if they notice they have less energy, or are feeling a bit grumpy (hangry) as they get more hungry. Encourage them to discover their hunger and then learn to honour their hunger by eating when they are hungry.
2. Honour your fullness
Diet culture teaches you to weigh foods, to calorie count and track macros. Whereas intuitive eating, again, teaches you to look inside for answers. To connect to your body and listen to those signals of fullness.
Ask you child to focus on their tummy and see if they can notice it filling up as they eat a meal. See if they notice the taste of food changing as they eat it, is it becoming less enjoyable to eat the more of it they eat (which is completely normal as we reach a satisifed level).
3. Eat slowly and mindfully
The more distractions we have around – like tv, video games, phones, books – the harder it is to focus on enjoying our meal, and feeling our fullness as we eat. When we’re distracted we can get to the end of a meal and not even remember eating it; which isn’t very satisfying.
Ask you child to notice as they feel their tummy filling up while eating. They can do this best when eating while seated at a table, so they focus on the act of eating, slowly, mouthful by mouthful.
4. There are no good or bad foods
Diet culture loves to make us feel bad about eating foods we enjoy… foods are labelled as bad or good, clean or unclean, permissible or banned.
In reality, all foods can form part of a healthy lifestyle – it’s all about moderation and variety (boring, yes, but true).
So teach your children to remove the judgemental labels from food. There are no good or bad foods – stop using those terms around your children. Instead you could call them play foods and more nutritious foods instead. Remind your child that all foods can be part of a healthy lifestyle.
5. Don’t assume your child has weight problems
It’s normal to gain weight or more body fat at different points in development, especially leading into and during puberty. It’s not a problem that needs to be fixed.
Instead, talk to your child about how its normal for bodies to change as they grow and develop. It’s an exciting time that shows their body is growing up and maturing.
6. Healthy eating is about more than healthy food
#fact – healthy eating is not about eating healthy food. Eating healthy is also about having a healthy relationship with food. If your current diet and lifestyle leads to you feeling guilty when you eat certain foods, for example, that’s a sign that your relationship with food needs some work.
Remind your child that a healthy relationship with food, is just as important as eating a variety of more nutritious foods, and some play foods.
7. Body size isn’t a marker for health
There are thin people who are unhealthy, and fat people who are healthy. Size is not an accurate predictor of how healthy someone is. Check out HAES for more info.
Explain to your child that we can’t predict what someone eats or how much they exercise based on their body size. Their are fat people who run marathons and thin people who sit on the couch all day playing video games, for example.
The old saying – never judge a book by its cover, is true when it comes to bodies.
8. Talk about #dietculture
Talk about the diet industry and how they are there to make money from selling products to us. Point out their adverts and how those adverts try to make us feel bad about our bodies, so we feel like we need to buy their product and ‘fix’ ourselves.
Make sure your child is media-savvy. Help them understand what the purpose of advertising and sponsorship is – to sell more stuff and make more money.
9. Food is about more than nutrients
Diet culture always reduces food down to it’s nutrients…. fat, carbs, protein, vitamins, minerals… like that’s all that matters. It’s not true. Food is also taste, joy, memories, celebrations, socialising and so much more. Birthday cake at parties, a shared pizza with friends. Those things matter too – food is the social fabric of our lives.
So remind your child that food is about a LOT more than just nutrients. Think about what food celebrations and traditions you have in your family, chat with your child about these and how important they are to your family (which has nothing to do with nutrients).
10. Fun movement
Our bodies love to move! And keeping active is great for our physical and mental wellbeing. The secret is to find fun ways to move that your child enjoys. They don’t have to join the school football or netball team. If they prefer archery, or dancing or rock-climbing that’s great!
Find fun ways for them to move – and if it includes hanging out with new or old friends, even better.
11. Sleep is king
Sleep is when our body can do a lot of repair work and fix us up for the next day. It’s kind of like a pit stop for a race car. If you don’t take pit stops regularly and for a long enough time, eventually you’re going to run your car (body) into the ground. When you’re over-tired you’re more likely to crave high-energy snack foods to keep your energy up – instead of a nice variety of more nutritious foods and play foods.
Encourage your kids to stay away from technology in the evenings, so their body can transition into night mode and be ready for sleep. And try to stick to a routine with bed times and awake times, to help them become more consistent too.
Remember, it’s all about the long-game with children. Don’t battle over broccoli tonight, set your sights on creating an intuitive eater who will leave home as a young adult armed with a fantastically healthy relationship with food – happy and healthy is the goal <3