Positive Eating Habits, Positive Body Image

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If you’re like me, you get magazines in the mail and they end up being stacked in an ever-taller-growing pile. But there’s one magazine that I always try to read. It’s the Golden Gate Mother’s Group (GGMG) Magazine, and the article I’m excited to share today is from their magazine.

GGMG has been such an amazing resource for me. We found our nanny share family and nanny – whom we LOVE – through their online community. Plus the monthly magazine not only shares kid activities/events, it provides insightful and useful articles like “Positive Eating Habits, Positive Body Image” shared below.

I can see eating habits forming with Hadley already, so I want to try my best to create positive eating habits, not only so that she nourishes her body but so that she has a positive body image. Thank you to Dr. Juli Fraga and Golden Gate Mother’s Group for letting me share the article below in its entirety. It’s already helped me, and I hope the article helps all of you reading, too.

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Positive Eating Habits, Positive Body Image

Golden Gate Mother’s Group interview with Juli Fraga, Psy.D

How can parents instill a positive body image in their children? How might this protect them from developing problems such as eating disorders?

We can instill a positive body image in our children by beginning with ourselves. This means refraining from negative self-talk or body talk around our children by not using words like “diet” and “losing weight,” as well as avoiding labeling ourselves based on the food choices that we make (e.g., I was so bad because I ate dessert). Instead, we can point out the positive things that our bodies do for us. When our children are engaged in physical activity or play, ask them how their bodies help them feel healthy and strong. For example, my daughter loves gymnastics and I often talk with her about how her strong arms and legs allow her to do cartwheels.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture strewn with messages about thinness and the importance of attaining the “thin ideal.” Children internalize these messages very quickly and research indicates that by middle school, boys and girls believe these messages, but most have not yet begun engaging in disordered eating behaviors. Prevention programs that focus on bolstering body image awareness and interpersonal connection can help protect children against eating disorders. It’s never too early to begin teaching children about the amazing ways their bodies help them each and every day.

Oftentimes, we don’t even realize how we internalize messages that we receive about food. We might label certain foods (oftentimes sweets) as treats or we may tell our children, “If you eat a good dinner, you can have dessert.” While we certainly want them to eat their healthy food before having cupcakes and ice cream, it’s vitally important not to communicate that “desserts” are “special” or rewarded for good behavior. When we do these things, we give this food power, when it’s simply food. I encourage parents to label food by their name, which means refraining from the words like “dessert” and “special treat,” because children begin to draw emotional meaning from these words, which can increase the likelihood of emotional eating later in life.

What is mindful eating and how can it bolster a child’s body image?

Mindful eating is a meditation exercise that brings present-moment awareness to mealtimes. For example, in a mindful eating practice, children may be given a raisin or an M&M and before eating, they are asked to use their five senses to investigate the food that’s placed before them. Research indicates that this form of eating helps children and adults tune in to bodily sensations, such as hunger and satiety, which allows them to strengthen their mind and body connection. A sturdy mind and body relationship can also help bolster body image.

Many schools are now embedding these practices into the classroom (part of the Mindful Schools movement) as a way to help students become more present with themselves and their bodies during mealtimes. Many students I’ve spoken with tell me how this practice helped them discern between “fake” and “natural” flavors.

You can begin this practice at home by asking your children to take a few deep breaths before eating. Then, you can ask them to put on their imaginary scientific lab coat as they investigate the food that’s placed before them. What do they notice about the texture, the smell, and the taste of this particular food? How does it feel after they take the first bite?

Childhood obesity is increasingly common. How can parents support an overweight child and instill healthy eating habits without making him feel singled out?

Parents can support an overweight child by focusing on healthy food choices and exercise without mentioning the words “overweight,” “obese,” “fat,” or “diet.” If a parent is worried about a child’s body weight, try reaching out to the child’s pediatrician, who can also recommend pediatric nutritionists. If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, it’s important to talk with a doctor, as there may be underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, that affect a child’s weight and overall health.

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Dr. Juli Fraga is a psychologist in San Francisco, where she specializes in women’s health concerns, such as eating disorders, postpartum depression, and reproductive health concerns.

This piece was originally published in the magazine of the Golden Gate Mothers Group. For more info, visit www.ggmg.org 

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