The Food and Body Mambo

How Our Own Relationship with our Body and Food can Support or Hinder our Kids' Body Image and Eating Habits

By Jan Henrikson

You’re watching TV with your preteen daughter. She’s crunching away on potato chips while some commentators make fun of a former model who has gained 60 pounds, then chastise a superskinny celebrity for being anorexic. Weight is a tender topic. Your daughter has just gained a few pounds and you’ve heard her express less-than loving comments about her body. How do you support her in loving her own body while helping her to create lifelong healthy eating habits?

How do you find out what’s going on with your child without adding to all the confusing food and body messages bombarding girls these days? After all, girls and women tend to struggle with body image issues, and eating disorders far more often than boys and men. And the U.S. levels of child overweight and obesity rates have reached nearly 30% of the entire adolescent population. How do you express your concern without her imagining you hate her body or expect her to fill some unrealistic expectation?

Know Thyself

Before you say anything, eavesdrop on yourself. How do you speak about your body and what you eat and don’t eat. When you don’t live up to your expectations around food, do you berate yourself? Offer yourself compassion? Do you starve yourself, then feel deprived? Are you always on a diet? Do you eat in joy? Is food a reward?

Your daughter absorbs how you think, feel, and speak about food and your body just as you’ve absorbed your parents’ food messages. Such messages linger inside every adult. From off-hand comments like, “How many doughnuts is that?” to outright judgments, “You’re too fat. You can’t have chocolate.”

Says Sylvia Haskvitz, MA, RD, author of Eat by Choice, Not By Habit, “That’s where a lot of emotional wounds start, right there in childhood, especially around eating. I’ve dealt with so many people that have had very painful messages that remain in their lives and impact them. That’s why it’s crucial to speak to your kids with skill.”

Choose which messages you want to send.

Celebrate Your Body

Infuse yourself and your daughter with words of appreciation for the body. When was the last time you heard a woman say, “I love my hips,” or “I saw myself in a store window yesterday and thought, ‘Who is that beautiful woman?'” Typically, women flinch, groan, pinch and wiggle various body parts in disapproval. Your daughter catches all of that.

As silly as it may initially feel, practice speaking gratitude for the body, not just how it looks, but how it serves you. “I love how strong my legs feel when I hike.” Or, “When I saw you dancing in your bedroom yesterday, I felt joyful celebrating the freedom I noticed in your movement.”

“Everyone has such disdain for their bodies rather than appreciation,” says Haskvitz. “With gratitude, there’s an opening for change. Without that, you get stuck in the Jackal dance.”

Celebrate Food

Invite your daughter to join you in a mindful eating moment. Pick a favorite meal. Relish each and every mouth-watering flavor, texture, and scent. Revel in pleasure. Savoring food becomes much more fun than mindless nervous eating.

Keep food around the house that you’re happy to serve. Small changes can create huge shifts:

    * Trade potato chips for nuts and cheese
    * Choose healthy oils like olive oil and coconut oil
    * Buy organic

Celebrate Each Other

Now you’re aware of your relationship to body and food. You’ve heightened your sense of appreciation. Chances are your daughter has begun shifting, too. It’s time to talk.

Haskvitz has a few suggestions on how to speak in such a way that your daughter experiences compassion, rather than criticism: “I have concern when I notice that I’m buying you clothes 3 sizes larger than I did 4 months ago. I want to check in and see how you’re feeling . . . what’s going on for you. I know that food is an easy thing to reach for when you’re stressed out and I sense you’ve been more stressed out lately. I worry when we use food to comfort rather than talking about what’s going on, maybe we’re stuffing what’s happening. I really want to offer support to you. Is there something you’re going through you’d like to share and get off your chest?”

“Check to see how your daughter takes in this conversation,” Haskvitz emphasizes. “You want to be sure that if she thought she heard, ‘You think I’m fat’ or ‘You think I’m ugly’ that you have a chance to correct that. That’s the real key, finding out what she’s hearing because no matter what you’re saying she probably already feels bad about herself. Be sure the conversation is open-hearted and connecting — not something that becomes a life-long wound for her. Ask her, ‘Can you tell me what you heard me say, to see if I was clear?'”

Whether she talks now or later, you’ve created an opening. You’re guiding her to a relationship with her body and food that is mindful versus focused on food. You’re supporting her in strengthening a healthy body as well as a healthy body image. And she hasn’t even hit puberty yet. Now that’s delicious.

Explore this topic more with Eat by Choice, Not by Habit by Sylvia Haskvitz, or contact Sylvia at 520-572-9295 to learn more about one-on-one coaching to transform your relationship with your body and food.

Jan Henrikson is the editor of Eat by Choice, Not by Habit written by Sylvia Haskvitz. In between writing, editing, and coaching other writers, Jan eats as joyfully and mindfully as possible