I sat uncomfortably under the dim fluorescent lights of the Marshall Fields department store while my mom scrutinized herself in the three way mirror.
"Does this look good on me?” she asked.
"Yeah, mom. It looks good!” I said encouragingly, knowing that my opinion would fall flat on her harsh inner critic.
"Ugh. I used to be so much smaller. I wish I could just get rid of this,” she said as she grabbed the skin around her middle.
When my mom showed her dismay and frustration about her figure, I made myself a promise. I would do whatever it took to keep a “better” figure so I’d be happy.
Fast forward through ten, ironically unhappy, years of disordered eating and another decade of peeling off layers of disordered habits, I can finally say I'm someone who appreciates and accepts her body. With six amazing kids, I’m determined to keep our home environment diet free. While many experts believe eating disorders have a strong genetic link, the emergence of these diseases can largely be impacted by our environmental input. So, here’s what I do (and you can too) to help keep my home environment diet-culture free.
Toss (or smash) Your Scale
When your child sees you weigh yourself daily, you’re sending the message weight is a priority. Contrary to popular belief, our health is not determined by our weight. Instead of relying on an arbitrary number that doesn’t actually measure your health, weigh the things that really matter in your life—like your family, your friends and your contribution to the world. Toss that thankless piece of plastic, run it over with your car, or smash it with a hammer.
Detox Your Social Media Feed
Studies show the more diversity you can add to your social feeds in terms of body size and content, the better. Make sure you follow people your size and larger. Unfollow anyone who makes you feel "less than" for any reason. Be sure to cancel subscriptions to physical magazines that come into your home that are inevitably filled with diet talk and models who have been airbrushed. Remind your child that size doesn’t determine our health or value.
Stop Labeling Foods as "Bad"
Very often my clients worry that they’re feeding their child “junk” and want them to eat “healthier” foods. The reality is that all foods have nutrients. The cupcake and the carrot both have nutritional value. One is more nutrient dense than the other, but both offer overall value. Teach your child that health is a mixture of our physical, emotional, and spiritual health and feeding all of these pieces at various times is valid. Sometimes eating the cupcake will fill an emotional need and that’s perfectly acceptable and "healthy." Joy and pleasure need to exist in life and with our food.
Stop Telling Your Kids What To Eat
Instead of cajoling, rewarding, begging, and threatening your children with food, let your kids decide what and how much they want. This idea comes straight from Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility where parents decide what food will be offered at meals, when meals are offered and where they’ll serve the meal. Once the food is served (I always offer one thing I know everyone will like), children decide what and how much they want to eat. No more “clean plate club” and no more eating your broccoli first. Have confidence that your child will tap into their intuition and meet their nutritional needs over time.
Talk To Yourself How You Talk To Your Child
Think about the last time you felt shame around something you ate, did, or said. That inner voice responding to shame can be utterly cruel. Would you ever talk to your child the way you talk to yourself? I doubt it. Next time you find yourself in a shame spiral, pause, and take a breath. Notice your words and your tone. Speak to yourself as though you’re speaking to your child. Place a hand on your heart and know that you’re not alone and offer words of compassion.
Teach Your Kids About The F Word
We’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that "fat" is bad. Being fat is a physical characteristic like tall or short, blue eyes or brown eyes, curly hair or straight hair. Our diet-obsessed culture has taught us the word fat also means lazy, gluttonous, and, ultimately, unlovable and unworthy. In order to help end harmful weight shame and stigma towards fat people, we need to start a new conversation at home. Teach your child that fat isn’t bad or unhealthy. Remind your child that bodies come in all sizes and that all bodies are good bodies.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
To experience negativity is to be human. When you’re experiencing strong negative feelings, show your child that it’s ok to stop and process what’s happening. You don’t need to be perfect, your kids want to see that you get upset, that you cry, and that you might soothe yourself by reaching for comfort foods. It’s completely normal to experience “emotional eating." Positive or negative emotions drive us to eat and that’s normal. We can both eat as a coping mechanism and process through our feelings by calling a friend, taking time alone, doing some yoga, or practicing a few deep breaths to calm our nervous system.
Talk About Your Values
Instead of talking about your clothes or your next diet, focus on your values. Spend time talking with your kids about what you value and ask them what they think is important. Talk about the importance of being kind, about being brave, and about failing and getting back up on your feet.
Eat Without Restriction
Quite possibly, the most important thing on this list is to stop any and all forms of dieting and eat without restriction. Diets don’t work and there’s danger in letting yourself or your child go into an energy deficit as it can trigger future disordered eating behavior. Your child notices everything that you do with food, especially any restrictions. Unless you have an allergy or severe physical reaction or aversion to food, I encourage you to eat a variety of foods with your child. Show them how to eat with joy and pleasure and teach them the importance of connection to others around food, but most importantly connecting to themselves.
Stop Telling Your Friends They Look Good if They Lose Weight
When your child hears you praise other people for weight loss, they will inevitably notice and register that you value thinness and that you’re judging outer appearances. The truth is that you never know why someone has lost weight. It could be a result of a disease like cancer, depression or trauma related. Complimenting someone during a difficult time can be really problematic. If another friend wants to talk about your bestie’s weight loss, change course by saying she looks great no matter what and redirect the conversation.
My mom did the best with the information she had and I love her dearly. I hope this information inspires you to teach your children how to build a better relationship with food so that they can look at themselves in any three way mirror with confidence and smile.