How to Talk Health Goals vs Weight Goals Around Kids
As you know, we LOVE goals around here! They are key for knowing what you’re working towards. One thing we want to be mindful of, however, is how these health goals come across to kids. Little humans are too young to distinguish health goals from “not good enough” messaging, so how you phrase things is paramount to their self-esteem.
It seems everyone knows an aunt, uncle, friend or coworker always trying a new diet to fit into a certain size, get ready for an event, or because they believe it will make them happier. Perhaps you’ve even been there yourself, trying everything highlighted in the news in an attempt to hit a certain weight. According to the Emily Program Foundation, a therapeutic program aimed at ending eating disorders, as many as 45% of women and 25% of men are on a diet any given day.
In The 131 Method, our goal is to take back the word “diet.” We work to shift our mindsets to believe weight loss is really a side effect of achieving better health. When we repair imbalances on the inside (gut, hormones, mindset), it allows us to have more energy, think more clearly, and in many cases, lose the weight we’ve been carrying for a while.
Projecting negative attitudes about your own or another’s weight can significantly influence how kids handle their own weight into adulthood. Statistically, almost half of you reading this article have either personally experienced, or know someone, with an eating disorder. Disordered eating among young adults is on the rise. So how do we move from talking about weight to talking about health? Especially around kids?
As a parent, it’s our job to set boundaries and expectations in regard to health and hygiene that are developmentally appropriate. For example, saying, “We brush our teeth twice a day everyday,” or, “We take baths/showers regularly,” are expectations with overall health in mind. Similarly, saying, “We enjoy a wide variety of foods that meet different needs or do different things for our body,” focuses on health, not weight.
Depending on the age of the child, some do well with information about where food grows or comes from. As kids get older, associating non-weight outcomes to healthy choices, like being able to run a certain distance, dance for a certain number of minutes, or have energy for school, might work in your family. Kids can become sensitized to “weight” very quickly and can feel shame and confusion surrounding food restrictions. Steering conversations in a different direction, like how foods make us feel, or how useful and cool our bodies are, can be another strategy.
For example, “You can eat that cookie, just remember that last time it made your tummy hurt when you ate cookies instead of dinner. Let’s compromise and eat some things that make your tummy feel good for dinner first and then leave a little room so you can have a cookie after dinner.” When talking about the body, try, “Isn’t it wonderful to have a body that works so well? What’s your favorite thing your body can do? What are some things you want your body to do in the future?” As kids get older, it’s appropriate to talk about how foods have different ingredients and how some of those nutrients help our bodies grow and work the way we want them to work.
Some parents use stoplight phrasing like, “red light” for “special occasion foods,” “yellow light” for “sometimes foods” and “green light” for “always foods.” According to mindful eating experts, black and white phrasing can be dangerous if kids aren’t empowered by knowledge and the ability to make their own choices, so use caution with verbiage, and aim to help them assert their feelings based on their healthful foundation. Lastly, kids are very affected by attitudes about food. If peers or a parent turn up their nose at a certain food group, kids might imitate that food rejection without ever giving it a chance. Acceptability of foods starts with offering more variety at home, even if kids aren’t interested at first. It’s said that it may take 15 times of trying a food before acceptance. Changing the way we talk about food and health takes heightening our awareness sensors and being considerate to how children perceive adult conversations, even when we think kids aren’t listening.
Overall, this is a pretty big topic that ranges from helping your kids eat foods that are healthful, to dealing with outsider influence from peers and media. So let’s just start with the easiest thing:
What can we do at home?
- Avoid making comments about weight.
- Avoid stepping on the scale and making any faces in front of kids (they see that and associate the number on a scale with happiness or sadness).
- Avoid negative self-talk (especially in front of kids).
- Avoid negative talk about another person’s physical body.
- Avoid “I want to look like that” comments about another’s physical body.
- Make body positive comments that help kids think about how food helps them perform and feel good.
- Discuss health and your goals in terms of energy, mood, performance, sleep and other health markers.
Let’s continue this #131movement and educate the next generation to focus on health and to better themselves from the inside out. Kids are watching your every move, wince, self-talk, judgement and expression of self-love, so show them the best parts of yourself so they grow up feeling accepted and invincible.