Kids Health

How to Protect Kids From Diet Culture in the New Year

written by DANA PETERS, RD
Source: Canva
Source: Canva

If the thought of your kids hearing the words “new year, new you” makes you cringe, this one’s for you. By this point in my Millennial life, I know to expect to see an influx of health and wellness hacks everywhere at the beginning of the year. And while I consider myself fortunate that they no longer have a hold on me, I’d still prefer my kids didn’t pick up on the rampant diet culture talk January brings. 

And with good reason—research indicates children younger than 6 may experience body dissatisfaction and that parents are influential in shaping kids’ body image. I also understand how daunting of a task this may feel as diet talk seems to surround us. Whether it’s family members talking about “bad foods” at holiday dinner or the media portraying unrealistic body ideals, even the stealthiest among us find it hard to avoid. 

So, instead of trying to outrun it, take a deep breath and get ready to tackle this monster-sized problem head-on. Keep reading for a handful of suggestions on how to protect your children from diet culture in the new year. 

Start with a conversation 

One of the most simple, but not always easy, tips to parenthood is keeping communication open. And that applies here, too. Depending on how old your child is, start by having a conversation about body image and healthy behaviors. Ask them their thoughts and let their answers drive the conversation. Share your beliefs on keeping your body healthy and reassure them that all bodies are good bodies. 

Aim for food neutrality in your home

Words are important, sure, but so are your actions. Practice food neutrality in your home by not referring to foods as “good” or “bad”. Let them simply be food. If you can, let your kids pick out a thing or two from the grocery store to try, regardless of its nutritional content. Enjoy all kinds of food in front of them. Do whatever you can to make food as neutral as possible.  

Keep media in check

I’d never suggest removing media from your kid’s life (I, too, appreciate the sacred moments of peace a screen can bring), but it’s always a good idea to keep it in check. Make sure your child is consuming age-appropriate media and set time limits for usage. If there is a particular show that body shames, remove it from your playlist. Pay special attention to social media when you can, as it has been associated with body image issues in kids

protect kids from diet culture
Source: Canva

Give compliments not based on appearance

It is almost a gut reaction to gush over how cute your child looks! While these comments are OK every once in a while, try to add in compliments and affirmations not based on their looks. Try acknowledging what their body can do (wow—you jumped so high!) or their efforts (you really worked hard on that puzzle!) instead. This shows them that they are important not because of their appearance but because of all the wonderful things they are capable of doing.  

Avoid conversations focused on weight or appearance

As adults, yes, we are likely to still engage in conversations about weight and appearance at some level. However, it’s best to keep these discussions away from children. If you are at a party and weight becomes a topic of discussion, remove yourself and your child from the room if possible. If you feel comfortable, ask family and friends to refrain from such talk around your kiddos. 

Point out what bodies (and minds) can do

Our culture tends to discuss appearance first, so let’s flip this on its head. 

Get in the habit of pointing out the amazing things people can do instead of talking about the way they look. Watching a sports event on TV? Compliment the way the players jump, run, etc., instead of how they look doing it. Point out the effort it takes to do things like create art, compose music, or write books. Once you start noticing all the things people do instead of what they look like, it will become second nature to your kids, too. 

Lastly, just do the best you can! This can be a tough time of year for many of us, especially if you are working through your own body issues and learning to deflect diet culture. Know that above all, the most powerful thing you can do is to model the positive habits and attitudes you want your children to carry with them through life. 

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