How to ditch the diet talk around your children

Diet culture is everywhere. It steers what we eat, what we wear, how we exercise and why we exercise. It fills conversations with friends and family, filters through our social media streams and has been drip fed to us ever since we were little. It also influences how we talk about food to our kids.

As parents, we play a vital role in modelling behaviour that helps our children grow up to be happy, healthy humans and so how we talk about food, bodies and weight has a powerful – and long lasting – influence.

Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

For example, when our kids hear us compliment someone on their weight loss or see us pointing out certain bodies on TV, online or in magazines, we begin to instil the idea that someone’s value is based upon their weight.

Even we don’t comment on someone else’s body, but berate ourselves on not looking good enough, there’s still an impact. Studies have shown that women who criticise their bodies trigger negative body-esteem issues in their children, with seven in ten mums admitting that their children have repeated negative phrases about their bodies that they’ve heard at home. For children, reinforced beliefs around diet culture can then lead on to food restriction habits, unhealthy exercise or other harmful behaviour.

Whilst we’re not always going to get it right all the time as parents, there are a few little changes that can have significant impact in dismantling harmful diet-culture for our children. One of the easiest things to do is to ditch the diet talk around our kids. Here’s how:

HAVE A CLEAR OUT

Everything you say aloud reflects a thought or observation inside your head, so the first step in eliminating diet talk, is to shift your thinking about bodies.

Begin by getting rid of the magazines that make you feel ashamed of your weight/shape. Unfollow the social media accounts that trigger diet-culture madness. Throw away your bathroom scales and consider making your wellness and health a priority over the latest diet fad. Start to recognise where the diet culture has infused your habits, thinking patterns and behaviour and practise letting them go. Aim to exercise and food choices that are based upon self-care and respect for your body rather than attempting to achieve a certain body type. These little shifts will gradually filter out into the way you talk about bodies around your children.

UPGRADE YOUR LANGUAGE

Quit talking about how many calories there are in food. Instead talk about nutrition and energy and keeping your body vital and healthy. Rather than explaining to your children that some food is “good” or “bad” and therefore labelling particular products with food-moralism (that triggers guilt and shame), just let your child know that certain things won’t be featuring on the menu today.

Finally – and this is a tricky one – avoid using food and sweets as a reward for children doing something, for example, “if you eat all of your vegetables, you can have a treat for dessert”. This, again, categorises one set of food as a reward whilst labelling the other food type, a chore.

DESIGN YOUR COMMUNITY

It’s sad that we “are the company we keep”. Consider who you are around most and what subjects your conversations consist of. Do you discuss weight loss and dieting with your friends? Do you talk on the phone about your “body problem” areas or how much you hate your body?

Even if we’re not talking directly to our children, they are still unconsciously picking up the beliefs and ideas expressed by the adults around them. Explain to your family and friends that you are committing to ditching the diet talk around your kids and ask them to support you by doing the same.  You never know, perhaps a new trend in ditching the diet talk will help them build their body confidence too!

My book  Rebel Beauty for Teens: 7 Ways to Unleash Your Unique Brand of Gorgeousness is published by Welbeck Publishing and available online and from all good bookstores now.

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