Important Positive Body Image Message from an Eating Disorder Dietitian
An Open Letter to Parents, Teachers, Coaches and Role Models
As a Registered Dietitian and nutrition counsellor working with many young athletes, adolescents struggling with anxiety and depression, people with body image concerns, families, and young people with eating disorders, I want to share some key things I have learned that I believe can help with issues faced doing the toughest job.
Being a parent is the hardest job in the world! I truly believe that. Add to that the pressure of getting it right and it might feel impossible at times.
Are you doing enough? Are they in the right school and doing the right activities? Do they know right from wrong? Are they safe? Did I feed them well enough? Are their friends good influences on them?
Being a kid is hard too! And whether we know it or now, they feel a lot of the same pressures we do.
So please. Let’s make a few things easier for everyone. I want to bring your attention to a few key points:
1. PLEASE be very cautious of the words you use when you discuss another person and their body.
Size does not equal health.
Larger bodies are not inherently unhealthy, just like smaller bodies are not automatically healthy. We are all meant to be different shapes and sizes. That is what makes us beautiful.
So please teach this early and often to your children; you cannot tell the health of a person by looking at them.
2. Do not put yourself on a restrictive diet.
Unless you are allergic to a food, truly do not like a food, or avoid a food due to religious or ethical purposes, please do not cut it out of your diet.
I encourage you to eat the foods you like. I promise you that there is a place for all the foods that you enjoy. You will not be less healthy enjoying a wide variety of foods, in fact, you will likely be healthier thanks to a greater nutrient diversity.
3. Food. Is. Just. Food.
Do not label food. Do not call food good or bad.
Food does not have morality. You are not bad for eating cake, just like you are not good for eating carrots.
4. Be very careful what you say about your own body.
Stay positive or at least neutral about your body image.
Even if you think your child has the most beautiful amazing body, if you label your own body as too big, too small, or bad in one way or another, they will know exactly what you mean and learn to apply this to themselves.
5. Do not encourage weight loss.
Even if you call it “getting fit”, “getting leaner”, or “getting healthier”, I promise you that person knows exactly what you are saying to them. They hear any of these phrases as “you are not enough as you are”.
Now that you are aware, and know what to avoid, let me highlight things that I want you to do!
Positive ways to encourage a healthy body image and healthy relationship with food and your body
DO: Eat a variety of foods and offer a wide variety of foods in your home.
DO: Talk about beauty in all sizes and shapes of people. Let’s focus on what bodies do instead of what they look like . Try saying things like “they carry themselves so confidently”, “they light up a room”, “they are so easy to talk to”, or “I am always happy to be around that person”.
DO: Speak positively about your own body, but yes, still avoid size and shape labels as much as you can.
I feel strong, powerful, confident, energized, capable, rested, beautiful, empowered.
DO: Encourage your kids to explore in the kitchen and try new things.
Baking is a wonderful creative outlet. Cooking is a life skill that we can all improve at.
DO: Move your body and encourage others to move their body because it feels good, it is great for mental health, and it’s a fun way to get social.
DO: Shut down body talk and diet talk if you hear it. I don’t care if an elder came from a “different time”, it is still not okay to judge or label a body or food. If you are feeling confused about what to say or not to say, remember the old adage: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.
If you want some guidance or coaching on this, please feel free to drop me a note in the comments section below.
If you are struggling with your own relationship with food and your body image, reach out to me for help. Building confidence for yourself is one of the best ways you can empower your son, daughter or any young person in your life to also feel comfortable in their skin. Contact us for help.
You might also want to check out some of these previous articles on our blog:
- 3 Tips for Improving Body Confidence
- Kids Mental Health
- How to Be More Confident
- Avoiding Diet Talk and Body Bashing
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