I've been working on a writing project that dives deep into the impact dieting has on our children, specifically girls. While writing, I carved out 5 tips I would give parents as to how they can help foster a healthier relationship with food for their girls than the one they may have had growing up.
It's nobody's fault necessarily, but much my own personal challenges with nutrition started when I was a young girl likely still playing with barbies. More on this story soon, but for now here are 5 ways YOU can start creating a better outcome for your daughter:
Don’t buy foods you don’t want your kids to eat.
Kids are going to eat foods you don’t want them to no matter what. Be it at school or a friend's house, eventually they are introduced to “junk.” But it is confusing to tell them they shouldn’t eat something that you purchase and bring into your home. I once had a client who paid for her 16-year-old to work with me. Her daughter wanted to lose weight. But the mother ate quesadillas and McDonald's in front of her, advising her daughter to cook herself. The mother felt like her weight was fine so she shouldn’t have to eat differently just so her daughter could lose weight. Her daughter couldn’t be successful.
Do eat foods that you want your kids to consume.
Though it is easy to list what you shouldn’t do, it's more important to list what you should do. Eat healthy foods with your kids. If you don’t have kids yet, I think the most valuable thing you can do is work with a nutrition coach first. Learn what it truly means to eat healthy and practice those habits. If you do have kids, don’t diet in front of your kids, eat healthy in front of them. Monitor your portions, fill your fridge with healthy snacks, and ask them to help you in the kitchen.
Exercise in front of your kids.
So many parents tell me how guilty they feel leaving their kids for an hour to exercise. But here’s the deal, school-aged kids have P.E. and sports to keep them active. Exercising in front of them helps them see that when they no longer have organized sports they will have to make time for movement on their own. Let them see you workout, and invite them to join you on occasion. Also be willing to tell them you need your space after a hard day at work to go for a run or hit your favorite class, this way they see a healthy way to let off steam.
Be strategic in how you educate your kids about their nutrition.
I’m afraid asking a kid, “Should you really be eating that?” is not the way. There’s some evidence to support that for many kids not setting limits at all is the best way to support a healthy relationship with food. Early introduction to healthy foods and developing a general liking for healthier options will make them more likely to make those choices on their own. All kids are going to pick gummy worms as their special treat from time to time, and that’s okay. Remember that what you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. Eat dinner together, sit at the table, and turn off screens while you eat, teaching kids mindful eating. Teach your children to fill their plates with the necessary items: a vegetable, a protein, and a carbohydrate. Make sure they know why these foods are important, and if you aren’t sure, educate yourself.
Most importantly, be careful about how you talk about food and your body in front of your kids. They are listening.
I can’t stress this one enough. Kids don’t forget the things you say. Sure they might forget that you asked them to unload the dishwasher, but when it comes to sensitive topics like body image they won’t forget. As harmless as it may seem to you when you say something about your spare tire or thunder thighs in front of them, it is a cue for them to compare. I’m not asking you to love everything about your body (I’m not sure anyone can admit to that) but use caution around your kids.