Contrary to popular belief, children hear what you say and see what you do. Your behaviors and comments can leave a lasting impression. Even your body image or weight concerns can be passed on to your kids. Evidence shows that stressing thinness and weight control promotes eating disorders, low self-esteem, decreased body image, and weight bias in children. Furthermore, eating behaviors linked to a higher risk for obesity are known to develop very early in life. A 2001 study showed family food environments and attitudes around food and eating affect even preschool-aged kids’ eating behaviors. You may think youngsters don’t pick up on your drastic dieting or negative comments you make about your body like older children, but they do!
Several studies show that restrictive feeding can impair a child’s ability to regulate their intake, resulting in overeating and weight gain. Worrying about your own weight can influence your feeding style. For example, forbidding high calorie foods or sweets in your home can result in your child sneaking food or feeling deprived and overeating when given the opportunity. Overly controlling or eliminating fun foods simply doesn’t work with kids – balance is key.
Have you ever found yourself saying out loud:
“I have got to lose weight, I am getting so fat”
“I am going to be good and skip lunch today”
“No more desserts for me, I don’t deserve it”
If so, you may want to censor your comments and think before you speak. Remember, your words could promote your child’s weight gain!
As a parent, you can model “good for you” behaviors without fixating on weight. There’s nothing wrong with guiding your child towards adopting healthy habits that will benefit him or her – that’s part of your role!
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to promote a healthy weight for yourself while empowering your child.
- Be physically active and limit your own sedentary activities
- Aim to eat when feeling physically hungry
- Have a neutral view about all foods
- Stock a range of nutritious foods in your home and choose these options more often
- Offer balanced family meals as much as you can
- Choose to talk about yourself and others with respect and appreciation
- Get caught up in the latest fad diet or encourage your child to diet
- Skip meals
- Eliminate all sweets or high calorie foods from your home
- Use food for rewards or punishments for yourself or for others
- Eat while standing up or distracted (may lead to eating mindlessly)
- Emphasize effects of unhealthy eating
- Focus on anyone’s weight, especially yours or your child’s
Bottom line: You are your child’s biggest role model – do you want your child viewing and treating their body the way you do?
Contributing Author: Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN