Teaching Kids about Food and Body Image

The subject of body-weight has become increasingly taboo over the last decade in our culture, even more-so as it relates to our kids. It’s a scary and sensitive topic!  Time and word count would fail me to tell the entire story of my personal transformation, which has taken place over the course of 14 years and has primarily been a process of adopting a new mindset. However, one outcome of this fresh perspective is the way I now speak to my kids (all boys) about food and their bodies, which I will share today.  These are not rules, but the outcome of a new way of thinking.  Enjoy, and feel free to comment and/or discuss below! 🙂

  1. I do not criticize my body… ever, but especially in front of them.  This does not apply just to moms of girls. Men can grow up to be equally as critical of their bodies as women.  A wise counselor once told me that dissatisfaction with our bodies is actually a conduit that points to a greater dissatisfaction with life in general. I understand that some of us are still in the process of healing, so it may be difficult to stop the criticizing habit cold turkey. But do we really want to train our kids to nitpick whatever they don’t like about their bodies? It is just a body.
  2. I do not judge or make comments about my kids’ bodies.  We don’t talk about a six pack like it is awesome and something they should aim for in life.  While I definitely notice differences in my kids bodies, I refrain from pointing these things out OR adding judgment to them.  If God gave one of them a strong core and the other one strong legs because it pleased him to do so, who am I to compare and judge these things? I am also working on trying not to cringe when other people innocently make comments about my kids’ bodies.
  3. We talk about how food makes us feel, without adding judgment or morality regarding nutritional content. My kids know that sugar will make their tummy ache and cause them to have emotional highs and lows (lows emphasized).  They also know that chicken has protein and will give them energy for a long time.  We talk about the nutritional benefits and pitfalls of food and we try to recognize hunger and fullness.  Instead of giving them rules about what or how much they should eat, we educate them and believe that they can learn to make wise choices by experience.  Henry, my sweet tooth, has started to turn down sugar more often because he has learned by experience (not just because we told him so) that it upsets his tummy. And yeah, we are still working on eating vegetables…
  4. I do not put limits on amount or type of food for the purpose of managing their weight.  Kids are smart, even six year olds.  They know, moms, if we are not approving of them, whether it’s the way they look, their grades, their interests, or their natural abilities.  If we use our authority as a license to violate their independence, whether with food or something else, it WILL backlash.  Does this mean I never say no? Of course not.  But I don’t have any secret motivations for keeping certain foods from them.
  5. I have thrown out my preconceived ideas about how much they should weigh, how hungry they should be, how much they should eat, and what their bodies “should” look like.  I’ve said goodbye to all the “shoulds.” This is so especially important with kids.  They grow at their own pace.  Some will grow wider before they get taller and vis versa.  Who am I to say that it ought to be any different? Sometimes Sam eats one bite of his dinner.  Some nights Jack eats three servings.  Sure, there are boundaries in place, but generally their appetites are what they are, and I don’t believe it is my place to decide how hungry they are.  With the pressure off (whether that is pressure NOT to eat or pressure TO eat), kids are intuitive eaters. Meaning, they eat what their bodies need naturally.
  6. I deal with my own issues first. This goes for all of life, not just food and body.  But generally, when I have a big issue with the way someone else looks, eats, or lives their life, it’s not because they actually have an issue but because I do.  Don’t be afraid to ask yourself why it bothers you so much that your kids don’t look or act the way you want.  Most problems can be solved pretty quickly when we get the plank out of our own eyes and deal with our own insecurities FIRST. Which leads to the next point.
  7. I try to love my kids exactly as they are.  I don’t NEED anything from my kids. I don’t need them to be winning championships or getting non-stop praise and attention from their teachers. I don’t need them to be athletes or to be thin or tall or strong.  Instead, I am free to love them as they are for who they are – a person that I did not create, but who God did create in his image and for his glory.  Instead of trying to make them into something they are not, I can enjoy and get to know them for who they are.


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