Did you know that a parent talking to teenagers about dieting, or by modelling dieting behaviours, can unwittingly cause the child to develop life long problems with weight, food and self-esteem?
No? you are not alone, I didn’t realise this either.
I was always making negative comments about my body, talking about foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy in my home. Always on some restrictive diet plan. One day I realised that I had to stop this behaviour around my children, because I was setting them up for a lifetime of food and body anxiety.
People always say that there are many things that contribute to a child developing an eating disorder, that this diet modelling is not the main trigger. But a few years ago, I started to suspect that a parent’s language and behaviour around body image and food has a bigger influence than we think.
A recently published study has confirmed this. It found that the effects of diet talk and body shame pass down through generations. Promoting dieting in teenagers, whether through communication or modelling dieting behaviours, can lead to lifelong problems with weight and self-esteem, as well as to a high probability that those teenagers will pass unhealthy dieting messages to their own children.
This is how I changed the rhetoric in our home. I started with the following;
- Stopped the diet talk. I decided that I no longer wanted my daughter to think that she might not be good enough , because her mother thought she herself, was not good enough. I rejected the belief that dieting is just normal for a woman to stay in “shape”. Yes 2 years ago, I zipped it. And out went all the crazy diets, fasting, lifestyles. Call them what you will. Enough. They were not a value that I wanted to pass on to my children any longer.
- I revised the language I used about my body. I started to talk in a kinder way to myself and I stopped the fat shaming mentality.
- I stopped talking about weight all together. Period.
- I stopped the labelling of foods as healthy and unhealthy. It all just became food in our house. It started to take the stress out of food and meals times. Yes, It took a while. But, as a mother, me modelling that all food is equal in front of my children, was very powerful. I had to role model this and eat all foods. And I did. I did it for my children.
- I stopped the chatter of good and bad food choices. No food is inherently bad. We eat food for many reasons, for nutrition and health yes , of course, but also for enjoyment , celebrations and just because sometimes it taste so bloody good!
In my family since taking these steps, we eat a much wider variety of food and a more nutritionally adequate diet. Above all, we have reduced the anxiety at meals about what to eat; we all eat the same meal . As a mother, I had a choice and I broke the cycle. The narrative that my own mother gave me and that I unwittingly was passing on to my children ceased. I just wish I had been able to do it earlier. I intend to pass this on to my grandchildren. Hopefully in my family in that generation it will be the end of diets and body shaming.
So if you feel like you want to stop passing dieting and body shaming to your children, remember your behaviour is key. Take a moment to self-reflect and consider if you need to make some changes yourself.
Joanne Hall 18/03/2019
Link to original study: https://www.contemporarypediatrics.com/pediatrics/how-focus-dieting-kids-can-impact-generations