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What is Your Language Saying? How talking about dieting, body image and food restrictions impacts a child.

Andrea Falcone Health, Nutrition Leave a Comment

It happened. I thought I was in a horror movie. Standing in line waiting to check out at one of my favourite stores and a little girl pointed to a bag of gummie bears and said ‘mommy look these are healthy’! She pointed to the words ‘fat free’ and ‘gluten free’. So I asked….. out of curiosity you know… why are they healthy? She indicated that those words were what her mom would look at on packages because her mom was on a diet. Trying to keep my composure, I jokingly said, “oh no one needs to be on a diet!” We ended up having a very friendly conversation about butterflies after that, but it just made me think about what I heard growing up, what turned out to be an eating disorder, and how much more saturated society is today on image, dieting, but more importantly, how we are talking to the children in our life – whether you’re a parent, teacher, friend, family member, or apparently a food marketer.

How do you talk to your kids about weight and image? Are you sensitive with the words you use? I thought I grew up in time when it bombarded us left right and centre, and had people around me constantly obsessing about how they looked as opposed to how they felt, but now it seems to be getting even worse. As much as I think that there is so much advocacy around positive body image, health at every size, all foods fit, there are still the conversations I overhear, the entertainment reports on television, radio, the internet or in print, and oh-my-goodness the diets, diet products, or cleanses with fancy marketing taglines, pretty much dictating how we, in society, should look and eat.

Do you speak about your image, weight and dietiting in front of your kids? Certain foods you “can’t have” (but then go and feed your family?) Now allergies are one thing to be dealing with, so please don’t get me wrong here, but consider how a child may feel when he or she is eating a certain food (let’s take the ever-forbidden pasta here), and mom or dad “can’t have it” because “they’ve decided to cut out carbs”. What do you think that may say to a child? I’d be confused to be honest – ‘she made me pasta, but then she can’t have it. Why would she give me something that is not good for her?’ There are a plethora or different dialogues that kids can have. Don’t believe me? Well, guess what? I speak from feedback I hear from kids themselves, especially as they grow older, or are now even adults, explaining where their emotional food and body image issues may be rooted from. They hear you! Internally, they may be having their own dialogue. Using words like strong, balanced, or beautiful to speak to them, but MORE importantly, about your own self, makes such a difference and an impact to support them along their journey.

What about if your child is trying to adapt some healthier habits, and has confided in you that they want to eat a certain way? Encourage them! If they decide to go out with friends, or want an ice cream or cookie, try not to say “you shouldn’t eat that” – they’re human, and may just truly want that ice cream or cookie (and plus, all foods fit right). They will feel more motivated (and less defeated) if they can have a treat and carry on with their goals, without being scrutinized for it. We all know that we should aim to include more whole natural foods as often as possible, with fewer processed foods for our health and longevity. They give our bodies more energy, focusing on the quality of the nutrients we are nourishing our body with.

Telling someone to eat a certain way, or follow a certain way of living is no one’s job but the person’s own self to identify with. There is so much nutrition information out there, including a ton of mis-information. Our jobs are to listen to the person, encourage them with the goals they set, use positive language, and help direct or steer them into understanding what their bodies need for certain periods of their life, stages, growing seasons, and always being mindful of the words that are used. If you wonder whether you need to intervene in someone’s life because they look ill, please reach out to a dietitian or nutrition professional to support you along the way. If you feel your child would be better off sitting down with a professional to help guide them, then help them book an appointment. And if you open up your internet page to see 5 new articles on “eat this and not that”, and get confused with the content, take the time to sit down with someone yourself so that you can get the true facts for your health and lifestyle.

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