Diet culture is not a new phenomenon, and there are many ways to help your child resist it. Here are five ideas for parents trying to keep their children from becoming overly involved in the world of dieting without sacrificing nutrition.
Diet culture is a way of life that promotes an unrealistic body image, and encourages eating disorders. Diet culture has been shown to be harmful in multiple ways, especially for children. There are many ways to protect your child from diet culture, such as reading the book “intuitive eating.”
Children are constantly inundated with pictures and discussions regarding body image; discover how to safeguard your kid from diet culture so that they may have a “healthy” body image for the rest of their lives!
Everyone, from parents and grandparents to children as young as three, is under pressure to lose weight. While some parents are aware of their children’s concerns about food and weight, they may be astonished and amazed when they hear their children express similar concerns.
Many parents aren’t only surprised; they’re also stumped when it comes to figuring out what’s causing their children’s concerns and how to effectively deal with them.
There’s good news! According to Amelia Sherry, MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES, finding solid answers to those queries isn’t as difficult as you would imagine.
Amelia is the certified dietitian/nutritionist behind NourishHer, a website committed to assisting mothers in protecting their children from dieting and dysfunctional eating, as well as body and weight concerns.
Amelia combines her personal experience of overcoming a decades-long history of disordered eating with her professional expertise as a pediatric dietitian to provide effective and simple-to-understand tools and strategies you can use to ensure your children are in a happy, healthy relationship with food through NourishHer.
Amelia has assisted hundreds of parents in overcoming their child’s diabetes and prediabetes, as well as growth and weight issues.
As a mom, she feels that the key to producing excellent eaters is to feel more at ease when it comes to eating, feeding, and food.
Here, she offers her thoughts and suggestions for preventing your children from succumbing to the detrimental effects of diet culture.
If you’ve ever heard your kid remark, “I feel so big,” you know how painful it is to hear them criticize their appearance.
Even if your kid has never voiced concern about their body size and form, you may have your own anxieties. Is it acceptable to give them that much food? Is it possible that they are acquiring too much weight? Or, alternatively, how can I encourage kids to eat properly without having them feel self-conscious about every bite?
Children as young as three years old are concerned about their weight, and females as young as five have reported limiting their food intake due to concerns about their weight. Diet culture puts additional pressure on us to concentrate on, and want to improve or mend, our bodies in order to conform to accepted standards. And that pressure has a negative impact not just on our child’s body image, but also on their eating habits.
Raising children who have positive body views and feel good about their food is feasible if parents understand what they’re up against and how to assist their children reduce, or better yet, disregard, dieting influences.
What is Diet Culture, and what does it entail?
Diet culture, in its most basic form, is the assumption that slimmer bodies are better bodies. Smaller bodies, as well as particular foods and eating practices designed to help you become and remain that way, have a greater value and virtue in diet culture.
Diet culture may be quite evident, as well as subtle and less obvious. Diet culture includes advertisements for slimming apparel or meals that help you “fight fat.”
That hazy sense of shame or remorse you have when you let your kid eat a meal that is supposed to induce weight gain or be harmful is also a part of it.
Diet culture is a well-intentioned remark from grandmother like, “Oh honey, you’re so fortunate that you can eat that and yet be so slim.”
Much of our attitudes and views about food and eating center on the idea that we need to be and remain skinny, even if our parents aren’t aware of it. What most parents don’t recognize is that we feel obligated to do so, even if it causes us anguish, guilt, humiliation, and stress.
Diet culture teaches our children that in order to be respected and even loved, they must be in slimmer bodies.
And when they don’t achieve those criteria, or simply see themselves as not achieving them, they learn early on that dieting is the solution.
Dieting children, on the other hand, are at a far greater risk of binge eating and developing a full-blown eating disorder, which may have serious implications. With this in mind, parents frequently desire to do all they can to protect their children from the effects of food culture.
The good news is that you can improve your defense against weight anxiety and diets! And you can begin using these tactics right now.
5 Ways to Keep Your Child Safe from Diet Culture
First and foremost, avoid weight talk, especially at the dinner table.
Avoid talking about body weight, whether it’s yours, your child’s, or someone else’s.
Children with disordered eating habits (such as restrictive eating and binge eating), lower self-esteem, more body dissatisfaction, and are more likely to be depressed have more disordered eating habits (such as restrictive eating and binge eating), lower self-esteem, and are more likely to be depressed when their parents talk about weight, including eating to lose weight or even maintain weight, according to research.
Whether the kid is underweight, average weight, or overweight, this is the case.
Weight conversation may seem essential or well-intended if you’re parenting a kid in a bigger body, but evidence indicates it isn’t. Avoiding talking about diets is also crucial, especially if you’re referring to a friend or someone outside your family, or if you feel your kid will benefit from decreasing weight.
Weight reduction regimens have been demonstrated to be unsuccessful, lead to long-term weight gain, eating disorders, and other negative consequences in youngsters.
Talk about healthy food or eating in ways that make us feel good, give us energy, or support certain bodily parts or functions if you’re looking for the proper words to say at the table.
“Isn’t it fantastic that eating carrots may enhance our eyesight?” you could remark. “Did you know that eating yogurt may help build our bones?” or “Did you know that eating yogurt can help strengthen our bones?”
“Do you recall the stomach pain you experienced last week?” Oatmeal and vegetables, on the other hand, contain fiber and may help prevent this from occurring again.”
Strategy #2: Don’t Get Obsessed With Portion Sizes
Many parents believe that they must advise their children on how much or how little food they need. As difficult as it may be at times, evidence indicates that children do best when they are given the trust and flexibility to make their own judgments.
Children are born with the capacity to control their food intake depending on internal feelings, such as how hungry they are before eating and how full or content they feel while eating and afterwards.
It is our responsibility as parents to assist our children in remaining aware of the bodily feelings created by the interoception sense.
We may feel compelled to say things like “I believe you’ve had enough,” or even “Only have one, please,” due to diet culture’s expectations, especially when it comes to high fat, high calorie, or other forbidden-feeling items.
Surprisingly, it’s the exact opposite, and it’s a bad habit we need to break.
When we intervene and encourage our children to stop before they are ready, full, or satisfied, we are effectively teaching them to disregard their own body cues and instead listen to us.
This sort of skepticism of the body, and especially hunger, may have a detrimental impact on eating, creating emotions of bewilderment, shame, and guilt in a child’s relationship with food. Furthermore, it encourages children to consume even more of the items that we restrict.
When parents ban specific foods, even with the best of intentions, research suggests that their children are more prone to overeat or feel out of control when they are exposed to such foods, creating a negative dynamic that may endure into adulthood.
Is there a better way? Allowing our children to learn how to self-regulate instead of focusing on our own desire to manage quantity.
This may be really difficult for some of us, particularly if we believe our kid is overeating (or undereating). Children, on the other hand, need the flexibility to make errors and learn dietary balance from inside their bodies, rather than from outside rules and constraints.
If you’re having trouble allowing your child to eat as much as they want at meal and snack times, Satter’s Division of Responsibility (sDOR) can help. It’s a feeding model used by pediatric nutritionists to help parents build trust with eating, especially when it comes to encouraging self-regulation.
And, if you’re worried about your child’s weight, speak with their physician; in most situations, if they’re staying on track with their development curve, they’re doing OK.
Keep Superheroes and Villains Out of the Kitchen (Strategy #3)
If parents avoid using the same language as those who encourage dieting and diet culture, they may help their children feel good about their eating.
Referring to particular beverages, brands, meals, and even restaurants as “bad for you,” “junk” or “junk food,” and “unhealthy” might elicit emotions of guilt and shame, especially if it’s something your kid enjoys or requests often.
Furthermore, identifying foods as “good for you” or “healthy” does not improve their flavor or enjoyment; rather, it increases the pressure or feeling of responsibility to consume them.
Develop a more neutral attitude about food to really assist your children in feeling good about eating.
Nutritionists may assist parents and children with this by recognizing that ALL foods have value and can supply some nutrients. Sugar is a carbohydrate that gives you energy, fat is necessary for brain function, and even often-vilified commercial snack foods like chips have B vitamins and fiber.
Another reason to avoid calling people names when it comes to food is that even if our children are consuming certain things, we are unknowingly sending the message to them that other people who like them are doing something “evil” or “wrong,” which is neither fair nor truthful.
Be Extra Clear About Values (Strategy #4)
The diet culture is built on a prejudice towards particular body types. Protect your youngster from internalizing this by emphasizing that a person’s size has nothing to do with their health, personal traits, or worth.
You might explain to them that in your family, individuals are valued for their conduct and attitudes rather than their physical appearance.
To encourage this, avoid complimenting or commenting on your child’s or other people’s appearances and instead focus on their other characteristics and activities.
“I can see you put a lot of work into getting dressed today,” for example, instead of “You look very gorgeous.” You may also say something like, “I like how focused you were on your schoolwork despite our commotion,” or that you are “So kind to share your toys” or “So daring to make a new friend.”
Additionally, if your kid calls someone overweight, you might utilize the chance to remark, “Fat, like bones and muscle, is a component of our body.” People don’t become fat; they get fat.”
Also, tell your children that making comments about other people’s body is impolite. Parents who are parenting a bigger kid should be especially diligent about avoiding accepting weight-based taunting from siblings or other family members.
Weight-based teasing has been found to have a negative impact on children’s food connections and may lead to future disordered eating patterns such excessive restriction and binge.
Get Ready For It (Strategy #5)
Regardless of their size, shape, or weight, every youngster, whether during puberty or earlier, will show anxiety about their physical form or size at some time. Women aren’t the only ones who are concerned. For example, a growing proportion of guys are concerned that they are not muscular enough.
While it’s natural to want to comfort our children that they “look fine” or “aren’t obese,” it’s crucial to avoid dismissing their concerns and instead engage them in a more in-depth discussion.
Instead of telling your kid that they shouldn’t be concerned, have an age-appropriate conversation about diet culture and why obsessing about our weight or form may be unhealthy. You might underline how important it is to accept our bodies for what they can accomplish rather than what they seem like.
To keep their worry from growing, become intrigued. Inquire as to what motivates them to say, feel, or compare themselves to others. Is it a show they’ve been watching, a classroom discussion, a statement from a friend or family member, or a sport activity like dancing or swimming that they’ve been doing?
It may be difficult for a youngster to detect, but if you can be patient and listen, you’ll probably be able to figure out what’s causing those sensations, making it simpler to assist them cope with their worries and emotions.
You’ll be better equipped to handle your child’s emotions in a good and constructive manner if you have more knowledge and insight about their attitudes and beliefs about body, food, and eating.
6 Easy Ways to Protect Your Children From Diet Culture (FREE mini audio workshop)
Grab this 30-minute course if you’d want to discover additional strategies to feel less anxious and more confident about how you communicate to your kids about food and eating. You’ll discover how to assist yourself and your daughter (and, in fact, all of your children!) feel at ease with eating, body image, and weight.
*Click here to have access to 6 Simple Diet Culture Prevention Strategies for Your Daughter.
Amelia Sherry, MPH, RD, is a HAES-aligned nutrition therapist in New York and the creator of NourishHer, a free and paid class and program for moms who want to safeguard their daughters from stress and anxiety about food and weight. She publishes One Nourishing Idea every week and may be found on Instagram as @AmeliaSherryRD.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can we prevent diet culture?
A: Diet culture is everywhere. Everywhere, that means its impossible to avoid diet culture completely. But there are many ways we can challenge and resist the influence of this normalized dieting world. Here are some suggestions for how you can do just that!
What is diet culture?
A: A diet culture is a way of thinking that sees food as either something to be feared, denied or controlled in order to achieve an idealised physical appearance. Dieting is the practice of changing how people eat so that it may improve their health and appearance.