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A Parent's Guide to Food and Body Image

It's time to talk about it without doing harm

Eating disorders, food and body image are not easy things to discuss. Conversations can be riddled with unintended triggers. For example, I have heard from many people who are in recovery say that when someone tells them I look "healthy" they instead hear "you look fat". So how do we discuss these issues without contributing to the struggles of your child?

1. Focus on what our bodies can DO and how they FEEL, not on how they LOOK.

Taking a whole-person wellness perspective can help your child to focus on what their body needs and how their body feels versus how they look. While this is occurring, you can simultaneously encourage education about whole-body, whole-person wellness. Shifting this family focus includes de-emphasize mirror gazing, and making comments about appearance and parents themselves increasing their awareness of commenting on their own bodies and food choices.

2. Remember that exercise and movement is for our physical and mental health, not for weight loss.

Experiencing what bodies can do, and moving them shamelessly is an essential part of overall health.  Helping to model this for your child through activities such as working in the garden, walking the family dog, dancing to music and weekend hikes can broaden the range of exercise from a “traditional gym workout” to a fun “let’s move together” mentality.  It takes reinforcement to rewire the societal messages that tell us to exercise to control weight. We move for a higher quality existence, one that helps us feel more connected to our bodies and our passions and to have fun!

3. Create a judgment-free zone regarding food and body image comments. 

Can you envision making your home a “fat talk” free zone? Having appropriate boundaries about what we can and can’t talk about helps not only break the pattern of negative self-talk, but gives space to encourage new and healthier patterns to emerge. Moving away from “moralizing food choices”, ie. good foods and bad foods, and moving towards a “there are no good foods and no bad foods, just some you should eat more of, and some you should eat less of” mentality can relieve you as a parent from needing to comment on your child’s food choices. Making your home a “lookism free” zone can free you from the construction of a standard for beauty and attractiveness that judges anyone who doesn’t fit into a narrowly defined societal standard of beauty. Allowing for a “health at any size” mindset can help your child to feel valued and accepted for who they are no matter their body shape.

The key to all of this is to stay connected to the truth that you cannot control your child, but you can control yourself. You can continue to shift into becoming a powerful role model of healthy, accepting, vibrantly alive and embodied living for your child, and through this role modeling you can invite your child to welcome the possibility of a new outlook.

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Solutions Parenting Support, LLC is a nationally recognized parent support and transition program assisting parents and families with straightforward and compassionate skills based support prior to, during and after wilderness therapy and/or residential treatment. Solutions is a dynamic team of parent coaches who have had extensive careers as therapists in wilderness therapy or residential treatment before turning their talents towards coaching parents around the globe. The team is family system focused and are licensed professional therapists and/or social workers each with 15-30 years of experience working in wilderness therapy programs, varying levels of residential treatment programming, and transitional support.

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