There is no doubt that the society we live in preaches some pretty unrealistic ideals when it comes to body weight and shape. We are bombarded with retouched and photoshopped images of models that represent about 5% of the population as far as body composition. Is it any wonder that a whopping 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting as a way to change their bodies. The unfortunate thing is that dieting. doesn't. work. So instead we end up in this never-ending cycle of diet-binge-repeat. Children are developing eating disorders earlier and earlier.
So how do we break this cycle? Well, as with most things, it starts with us. We need to model body positivity in order for our children (and not just our daughters, boys have unrealistic ideals too) to stand a chance. Here are some tips on how to do this:
1. Ditch the scale
It's impossible to teach our children that their worth is more than a number if we are constantly checking our weight and letting the scale decide our mood. A number on the scale should not determine how we feed ourselves, treat ourselves or move ourselves. So do everyone a favour, and ditch that scale!
2. Focus on health, not weight
Where we often get trapped is in adopting healthy habits because we hope or believe that they will change our weight or appearance. Instead of doing them for the health benefits they bring us. Forcing yourself to exercise because you think that's the only way you will lose weight or sculpt your body, will show your child that moving your body is a chore. Move your body in a way that makes you FEEL good, and that you truly have FUN doing. Isn't that what we want for our children? Focus on building strength to handle everyday chores, and focus on stress relief. Also important is to make sure to rest when you need to!
3. Skip the all-or-nothing diet
The perfect diet will vary greatly depending on which "expert" you ask, it's enough to drive you crazy really. Having too many rules around your diet is a recipe for a restriction mindset, which can lead to binges. By allowing all foods (of course while taking allergies into consideration), you take away the "forbidden fruit" syndrome and the power foods can have over you. Instead, approach food like you do exercise: which foods give you energy and keep your body and tummy happy? Which foods make you feel sluggish or give you a tummy ache? When we choose foods based on how they make us FEEL rather than what we think they will do to our appearance, peace of mind is ours. Honour your body's hunger and fullness cues to know how much to eat, rather than looking at a calorie amount.
4. Teach body diversity
The fact is that the human body comes in ALL kinds of sizes, shapes and colours. We need to foster an open mind and compassion for all differences among us, and not judge each other based on appearances. The more your children are exposed to people of all shapes and sizes, the more examples they have of what is "normal" and the better they can put the cover-model-body into perspective.
We have a precious few years to anchor a sense of confidence and self esteem in our children. If we are constantly picking on ourselves or bad-talking our bodies in front of our children, they will only learn to not feel like they are not good enough as they are. So start by accepting yourself here and now, just as YOU are. Stop trying to make your body into something it's not and instead choose to do, have and eat things that make you feel the best you can feel, and let your body land where it may. THAT is what will teach our children to reject the diet mentality and finally break the cycle of body hate.
Body Positivity Resources
Here is a great list of Body Positive books for adults, teens and kids:
- Bacon, L. & Aphramor, L. (2014). Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight.Texas: BenBella Books, Inc.
- Bacon, L. (2008). Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. Texas: BenBella Books, Inc.
- Berg, F. (2008). Women Afraid to Eat: Breaking Free in Today’s Weight-Obsessed World. Hettinger, ND: Healthy Weight Network.
- Chernin, K. (1981). The Obsession: Reflections On The Tyranny Of Slenderness. New York: Harper & Row.
- Fraser, L. (1998). Losing It: False Hopes and Fat Profits in the Diet Industry. New York: Plume.
- Gaesser, G. (2002). Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight And Your Health. Carlsbad, CA: Gurze Books.
- Kater, K. (2004). Real Kids Come in All Sizes: Ten Essential Lessons to Build Your Child's Body Esteem. New York: Broadway Books.
- Kater, K. (2012). Healthy Bodies: Teaching Kids What They Need to Know. North Saint Paul, MN: Body Image Health.
- Koenig, K. (2005). The Rules of "Normal" Eating: A Commonsense Approach for Dieters, Overeaters, Undereaters, Emotional Eaters, and Everyone in Between! Carlsbad, CA: Gurze Books.
- Normandi, C. & Roark, L. (2001). Over It: A Teen's Guide to Getting Beyond Obsessions with Food and Weight. Novato, CA: New World Library.
- Normandi, C. & Roark, L. (1999). It’s Not About Food. New York: Perigee Books.
- Orbach, S. (2009). Bodies. New York: Picador.
- Satter, E. (2008). Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. Madison, WI: Kelcy Press.
- Smeltzer, D. (2006). Andrea’s Voice: Silenced by Bulimia. Carlsbad, CA: Gurze Books.