“My mother was always either on a diet, off a diet, or obsessing about food. She constantly complained about her body. She passed this struggle down to me and I don’t want to do the same to my children. I want better for them.”
This is a refrain that I hear often in my office. In fact, it is one of the most common reasons that people give for seeking treatment for eating issues and body image concerns.
For those of us who struggle with body image issues, we don’t want our children to follow in our footsteps. We know the pain of spending so much of our precious time, energy, and resources fighting against ourselves. Never wanting to be in the family pictures. Opting out of family meals. Not wanting to get out of the car at drop off for fear that our kids will be embarrassed of us. Sitting at soccer games focused-- not on how our child is playing-- but sizing up the other mothers, obsessing about who is thinner than us. And how they got that way. And what they must think of us.
It can be all consuming. Surely an albatross none of us want our children to carry.
How do we break the cycle? How can we raise body confident children free from the shame that has plagued our generation?
It starts with us. Parents have a dramatic impact on their children’s body image. Most of the research has been done on mothers and daughters, so that is what I'm going to talk about here. Experts believe that how a mother feels about her own body is one of the most important predictors for how a child will feel about their own body. If a mother is concerned with her weight, a daughter is more likely to be concerned about her weight. When there is open talk about weight and body bashing in the home (even when it’s not directed at the child), children struggle even more. And don’t even get me started with what happens when parents directly criticize their children’s body or put their kids on a diet. Let’s just say that this is the history of a lot of the adults that I see in my office.
Limit digital media for your youngest family members. Avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months other than video chatting. For children 18 to 24 months, watch digital media with them because they learn from watching and talking with you. Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just 1 hour a day of high-quality programing. Co-viewing is best when possible and for young children. They learn best when they are re-taught in the real world what they just learned through a screen. So, if Ernie just taught the letter D, you can reiterate this later when you are having dinner or spending time with your child. See Healthy Digital Media Use Habits for Babies, Toddlers & Preschoolers.
So what is the most important thing that we can do to encourage healthy body image in our children?
Resolve our own body image issues. And most of us have them. Over 97% of women have at least one body hating thought every single day. 91% of women are dissatisfied with their body. These numbers are so high because body hatred is the natural outcome of our disordered culture. We are indoctrinated to believe that our bodies are flawed and that our value is determined by the size of our pants or the numbers on the scale. We need to unlearn these toxic beliefs and relearn how to trust our own bodies and make peace with ourselves.
If you are struggling with body hatred, feel stuck in wanting to lose weight, struggle with disordered eating or an eating disorder, or are searching for a healthier relationship with food and your body, I encourage you to seek out support from a licensed mental health professional specializing in eating disorders from a Health At Every Size® weight-inclusive perspective. And be sure to check out my brand new 6-week online course, The Anti-Diet Plan , designed to help you break-free from dieting and learn a radically new way to relate to food and your body.
Want some tips on how to create a body positive environment at home? Join me on Wednesday January 16th, 2019 at 12pm EST on Facebook LIVE where I’ll be sharing some guidance on creating a healthy diet-free home environment for you and your family.
Alexis Conason is a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of overeating disorders, body image dissatisfaction, psychological issues related to bariatric surgery, and sexual issues. She is the founder of The Anti-Diet Plan ( sign up for her free 5-day challenge) . Follow her on Twitter, Instagram , and .
Teach kids this bravery trick. Tell them to always notice the color of a person's eyes. Making eye contact will help a hesitant child appear more confident and will help any kid to be more assertive and less likely to be picked on.