Positive Body Image

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You want your nine-year-old’s biggest worries to what vegetables mom puts on her plate and wondering whether the tooth fairy will come. So what do you do when that innocent girl asks if she is fat?

While childhood obesity is a legitimate issue these days, so are body image concerns for young kids. In fact, eating disorders among children is far more prevalent than Type 2 Diabetes. Research shows that even preschool children are unhappy with their bodies and that more than one-third of kindergarten girls restrict their eating in order to control their weight.

As parents, we have the opportunity to shape food-related conversations with our kids. That begins with this: Never comment on their weight. Studies tell us, without doubt, that such comments are never helpful but frequently lead to disordered eating.

That’s not to say that a child shouldn’t learn about her body. On the contrary, an important factor in establishing healthy eating patterns is for children to learn how their bodies work on the inside. They should know how food digests and how foods affect body function. But make the conversation more about how their body works, not how it looks.

SwedishAmerican dietitian Molly Sleger is passionate about having a healthy relationship with food – and that, she says, includes allowing regular doses of chocolate chip cookies.

“I like to say that enjoying pizza isn’t a character flaw,” she said. “And, I like to mention that I was a fussy eater when I was a kid. Kids can definitely evolve, but I think being offered a variety of foods and learning to cook is super helpful.”

One way to encourage kids to try new foods is by using dips to make them more appealing. If ranch dressing or ketchup is what it takes to get your fussy eater to taste something new, go for it!

“Let kids dip their foods into whatever condiment they wish to help expand their food intake,” Molly said.

And if your child calls themselves fat, don’t rush to assure them they are not. Doing so simply gives power to that statement. Rather, point to their more important qualities – that they are kind to others and work hard in school – before reminding them that bodies grow in different ways.

Their bodies will continue to change for years to come, but the important part is that who they are on the inside remains the same.