It feels like every second person I know is on a diet. Actually let me correct that – every second woman I know is on a diet. Keto, Paleo, Raw Food, Alkaline – and the list goes on and on. If you’re looking for a diet the list is long. And clearly people are indeed looking for diets. It doesn’t matter that we know that diets DO NOT WORK. Sure, in the short term you might drop some weight, but the fact is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 95% of people who lose weight on a diet gain it (and often more) back. Those are not good odds.
When my daughter was five one of her daycare friends was a very slender girl. And she knew it. And she was proud of it. Seriously proud that she was “skinnier” than all of her friends. This was a five year old! And I was constantly trying to undo the not so subtle damage this girl was doing to my own daughter. My daughter who has absolutely no reason in the world to stress about her weight. Where does a child that young get the message that skinny is better?
The fact is that mothers have THE biggest influence on their daughter’s weight and body image. That’s right. Not Barbie. Not the media. Not her school friends. It’s you and it’s me that have the biggest impact. Girls as young as five are likely to try dieting simply because their mom has. FIVE YEARS OLD. We have a huge responsibility here. And for many of us, maybe even most of us, we have a huge opportunity to break a chain of negative body image and/or disordered eating. I’m not saying it’s easy. But we need to try. But how?
No Diets Ever
That’s right. No diets ever. No doing them. No talking about them. Just say no. Now obviously if my daughter comes to me asking about diets I DO need to talk about them. I’ll explain to her how and why they don’t work, how they can actually be dangerous and that there are better, safer ways to eat healthy.
No Weight Talk
Although I’ve been slim my entire adult life, I was a chubby teenager and my weight was a regular topic of discussion in our house. And that constant conversation about my weight just made things so much worse. It felt like the scale was how my parents measured my worth. It didn’t matter than I got really good grades. It didn’t matter that I got the lead in the school musical. Everything was always overshadowed by my failure to be thin. So we don’t talk about weight in our house. At all. Now my daughter is only seven and at a very healthy weight for her age so there’s just no need to discuss her weight. But I also don’t talk about my weight. Yes, I’m reasonably fit but, like a lot of women, I don’t always look in the mirror and like everything I see. But those are my demons to battle and my daughter has never heard me talk negatively about my body. We also don’t talk about other people’s weight, or their bodies in general. Because why should we?
Build a Healthy Relationship with Food
This is one of the hardest but one of the most important things we can do for our kids. So many of us have not so great relationships with food and much of that we can thank our parents for. I know it often was with the best intentions, but it’s just so easy to go wrong here. Here’s what we do and don’t do in our house:
- I never make our daughter eat everything on her plate if she doesn’t want to and I don’t withhold an after dinner treat if she doesn’t finish her meal.
- I don’t make her eat foods she doesn’t like.
- I do encourage her to try everything at least once. I don’t force her but I do encourage it.
- I don’t use food as a reward, ever.
- There are no forbidden foods. Balance and moderation are our motto.
I am sometimes genuinely surprised at how little some people know about nutrition. I’m not sure how we can expect our kids to grow up eating reasonably healthy if they don’t have the fundamental knowledge of what that even means. Simple things, like these foods are rich in protein, these ones are a good source of fiber, and then why you need protein and fiber (just a couple of examples) are all things we can be teaching our kids to get them on the right path. Knowledge is power!
Don’t Feed Fear
While it is important to teach our kids about nutrition and eating healthy, it’s also important to not scare them. Remember, there are no bad foods. The last thing you want is to go overboard and have your young ones start to restrict certain food or even entire good groups for no good reason. I see this attitude more and more these days. Entire food groups being demonized for absolutely no real reason. This can be pretty dangerous. Not only can it lead to orthorexia but it also helps fuel other eating disorders like anorexia. It’s much easier to hide unhealthy eating habits (like severely restricting food) by passing it off as “only eating healthy food.”
Teach and Model Healthy Habits
I don’t think any of us want our kids to be overweight. Not only because it’s unhealthy but because we know all too well how the world treats heavy people. It’s hard enough being a kid, being an overweight kid is just that much harder. And I feel the best way to to avoid that is by teaching AND modeling healthy habits. Look, I’m far from a “health nut” but I am healthy. I love food. But I don’t love that feeling over eating so I (usually) know when to say I’ve had enough. I also love being active. We do a fair amount of physical activities as a family – skating, kayaking, cycling, etc. My daughter is in swimming and dancing. And, although she’s a bit young yet to hit the gym (although her and I do a bit of yoga and Pilates together), she knows that’s something I do on a regular basis. When it comes to kids you absolutely cannot just talk the talk if you don’t walk the walk! And focusing on just being healthy in general is so much, well, healthier, than focusing on weight.
Be the Change
I see SO MANY mothers talking about diets. They talk about it as often as they talk about the weather. And hey, you should eat however makes you feel good and healthy. But can we ditch the word diet? We know it’s hurting our daughters (sons aren’t entirely immune either but studies show us that same sex parent has the biggest influence on kids and we know that girls are also more likely to have body/food issues).
In 1970, the average age a girl began dieting was 14. Today that age has dropped to 8.
*Eating Disorder Foundation
Guys, eight year olds should not be on diets (neither should 14 year olds). About 80% of ALL ten year old girls have dieted at least once in their young lives. The cold hard truth is we are getting worse at this, not better. And when I say we, I mean society as a whole, I’m not laying all the blame on mothers. But moms we have such a HUGE and lasting impact on our daughters and how they deal with all this. With the movement right now to empower women this is the perfect opportunity to rethink the impact our words and our actions have on our girls. They will have enough struggles in life simply by being female. Let’s give them all the advantages we can.