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Healthy Balance

Kids Hear Your Weight-Loss Comments & It’s Shaping Their Views

mother and son cutting vegetables

We've all heard the saying, "children's brains are like sponges." They're soaking up as much information as possible while growing. So kids hearing your weight loss feelings, fears, or struggles could be sending them the wrong message. This can later shape the way they view their body size or relationship with food.

Being Careful What You Say

Psychologist Joey Tan, PhD, shares that as parents we model and teach our kids all sorts of things. Often positive things, but we also make comments or vent to others about our weight, not realizing that our kids are picking up on it too. Tan gives some examples of what to be careful saying around little ears.

What NOT to Say About Your Weight Around Kids

There are a couple of possible comments that could affect your child:

What TO Say About Your Weight Around Kids

A healthy way to frame how you talk about food or weight loss could be:

Changing to a Positive Mindset

The idea is to reframe your thinking from focusing on "weight" to "health." If you take a step back and think about everything involved in your overall health, we're no longer just talking about a number. Tan suggests, "ask yourself how you want to feel in terms of your health."

Most people want to do things in life without their physical health limiting them. We can have a healthy relationship with food, physical activity, and our body that doesn't revolve around weight loss and this will help your kids shape their views too. Weight changes are a side effect of changing our connection to these things rather than fulfilling a goal.

5 Ways to Help Kids Build a Healthy Body Image
Your Kids’ Nutrition: Making Healthy Food Choices

Increasing Chances of Eating Disorders

Negative attitudes on weight within a family can increase the chances of members having an eating disorder. This can happen in a couple of ways:

Tan stresses many different factors cause a bad link with food, not just family. The individual, relationships with others, plus structural or environmental factors all can affect how we handle food. It's also dependent on the kinds of foods available or what's affordable.

Talking to Your Child About Their Weight

It's important not to tease them about their weight or even focus on the weight itself. Even if it's not a negative comment about their weight, it can have negative outcomes. Be mindful of comments, especially around clothing. Tan explains: like "clothes not fitting or being too tight, as this unintentionally reinforces the idea that there are 'good' and 'bad' body shapes."

Try the same approach to reframe your mindset from "weight" to "health." Focusing on weight loss won't lead to a positive body image for kids. Instead, focus on healthy behaviors as a family, like staying active, eating balanced and nutritious meals, as these are more important than looking at the numbers.

It'll help your child to want to get healthy if you lead by example. Set what the family's activity or nutritional habits should look like. Tan encourages all "to talk about health, not weight, which goes for any age. But it can be helpful to talk with them about the kinds of decisions that affect their health for when they start making on their own decisions."

Eating Disorders in Children

Children and teens who struggle with eating disorders have a fear of becoming overweight and may face depression. This disorder can cause serious health issues.

Noticing Your Child with Body Image Issues

The biggest clue your child is struggling with their body image, Tan shares, is how they talk about themselves:

They don't always volunteer this information, so you might want to check in with their school or close friends.

Fat Shaming Your Child

Family members who fat shame could come from a well-meaning reason underneath — like they're worried about someone else's health. They may not realize the negative effects their comments have on kids or even an adult struggling with their weight loss.

If you grew up in this environment, it's best to break the cycle and reshape how your family talks about weight and food. Instead, focus on the broader definition of health and the habits that lead to being healthier.

If you have family members who continue to shame you or your child, Tan suggests setting boundaries. "Reach out to them ahead of time and talk about how you're working on healthy habits in your family and focusing on your child's weight gets in the way of being able to do that."

If it happens in the moment, shift the focus away from your child. Or, if you feel comfortable being direct with this family member, explain this isn't something you talk about in your family and set a limit on the conversation.

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