I will never forget the time I overheard a mom mournfully comment to a friend that her toddler “carries all of her weight in her rear like Mommy.” I was horrified. The cute little daughter couldn’t have been more than three years old and to me, she looked like a typical preschooler. Sadly, this was just one of the many times I’ve experienced people projecting their own diet demons onto their kids.
Get a room full of moms together and you can bet that the conversation will often turn to weight. We vent about our mid-sections not being as taut or toned as they used to be, we trade tips on new workouts or diets, and of course, we compare notes on how our children are faring in the battle against obesity. I don’t know a mom out there who doesn’t worry about the possibility that her daughter or son will end up fat or struggle with an eating disorder. While I think it is responsible to be concerned about the health risks and the warning signs, many of the moms I know agree that on some level, the angst stems from our own personal struggles with the scale.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’ve started to interact with more parents of preschoolers and watching the eating habits of my own son and daughter take shape. My weekly ezine, The Well Mom, turned to Donna Fish, L.C.S.W. author of Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child’s Eating Problems, for some practical advice on how to keep our own food issues in check while we guide our kids to be healthy eaters.
TWM: How do parents inadvertently put their own food and body image issues onto their children?
DF: When you are whining, “I feel fat” or “I shouldn’t eat that,” it is a communication about your own body image issue and tells kids that they should feel badly about eating one thing or another. Not what they need.
Being conscious of what comes out of your mouth (not just what goes in!) is important for kids’ developing relationship with food.
A lot of parents have anxieties about their kids’ food that have more to do with stuff they were raised like and also how they think they should behave in terms of limit setting, parenting stuff. For example, some parents feel strongly about setting rules about sugar, because they feel that if they don’t, they are being a “wimp” parent. At times, this conflicts with how their spouse, partner feels about the issue and how to handle it with their child.
Remember that you as a parent have the right to set the family tone the way you are comfortable. It might differ from how you were raised, or it might be the same. Know what the reasons are for how you are behaving and if it is for your child, or yourself.
TWM: Are there dos and don’ts to follow when you (the parent) are weight conscious?
DF: Show your kid (and yourself) that you are not depriving yourself too much. It just backfires and doesn’t last. Demonstrate some flexibility and remember that you have a right to eat how you want or need, but you need to separate that out from how your kid might need to eat.
It’s okay to have less than perfect eating habits and still give your child a healthy relationship with food. Eating is not just about the food. It is not only about nutrition.
If you are dieting, or weight conscious, you can demonstrate your “reasonable” way of eating that is helping you to stay fit/thin or to lose weight—especially eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are done/full.
Educate your kids about emotional eating; you can laugh about it, especially as they ask for food just because they are bored, and you can laugh how you like to eat when you are bored, but it is healthy eating to eat when your body needs it, not just your head!
Of course also, like anything, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Teach them flexibility. No big deal if you eat a lot even as you are dieting, just go back to your conscious eating after that.
Teach your kids to enjoy food and to feel comfortable and freed up to enjoy it. No guilt allowed.
By Donna Fish
Photo courtesy of The Well Mom