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A mother and her daughter smiling while eating ice cream
November 9, 2022

How to Help Children Build a Healthy Relationship with Food

Diet culture is so ingrained in our society that we sometimes can’t even see it. It’s in media messages that tell us that being thin will make us attractive, popular, and successful. It’s on grocery store labels that say foods are “guilt-free” or “sinful.” It’s in conversations about the latest diet or the food someone is “being so bad” for eating. 

In a culture that regards some bodies and foods as good––and others “bad”––it’s no surprise that children might start to develop unhealthy relationships with both. Unfortunately, a negative relationship with food and one’s body can play a part in the development of an eating disorder. Although a child’s environment alone cannot cause a biopsychosocial illness like an eating disorder, it is the factor we can work together to change. Parents have the opportunity to create a healthy environment around food and body image in their home, which can have an incredibly positive impact on their child’s development. 

In this blog, we will delve into how parents can help their children develop a healthy relationship with food and body image.

How to Talk to Children About Food

Children observe everything around them, attempting to figure out the world and their place in it. They listen to how we talk about food and ourselves, and they often mimic those behaviors. Below are some messages that you can share with the children in your life to help them nurture a positive relationship with food and their body.

“No foods are ‘good’ or ‘bad’”

One of the best things for your child to understand about food is that “all foods fit.” Every kind of food, regardless of any moral judgments attached to it, can have a place in their life. Believing that certain foods are “good” or “bad” can lead to restriction and/or bingeing, disordered eating behaviors that could lead to an eating disorder. 

“Listen to your body”

The concept of the “clean plate club” goes back as far as World War I, when people were forced to ration food. Over 100 years later, the idea of “cleaning your plate” remains. It often leads people to ignore the signals from their bodies. Instead, encourage your child to listen to their fullness and hunger cues. Learning to trust and listen to your body is essential for creating a healthy relationship with it. 

“Food is fuel AND joy”

Diet culture has tried to convince us that food and exercise are simply tools for keeping ourselves small and “healthy.” In reality, food and exercise are meant to be joyful and restorative! Explain to your child that food is nourishment that helps them play and grow more, as well as something that can keep them connected to their body. This will likely help your child grow into an adult that eats and moves in ways that honor what their body needs. 

“All types of bodies deserve love and respect”

How we think about food can so often be intertwined with how we think about our bodies. The way parents talk about their own bodies can have a massive impact on their children. If you talk about your body negatively, they will pick up on that. Practice working on your own body image; it’ll benefit both you and your child. Celebrate bodies of all shapes and sizes as worthy of love and respect. 

“Eat what you like”

As you likely know, there is no amount of cajoling that will get your child to eat something they don’t want to eat. Instead of insisting they eat a specific food, provide an array of nourishing food options and let them decide. One of the reasons children may dislike certain foods is because they are pushed on them too much. Their taste buds will evolve over time, so keep presenting them with options and they may eventually find a taste for something they didn’t love at first.

Give Yourself Grace 

Parents, the fact that you’re reading this means you’re already on the right track. Remember to give yourself grace if you accidentally say something negative about your body or the food around you. You are doing your best. 

Parents DO NOT cause eating disorders, but they can create a home environment that encourages positive body image and an “all foods fit” mentality. Cultivating an environment like this will help your child build a healthy relationship with food and their bodies.  

If you recognize eating disorder symptoms and behaviors in your child, reach out for help as soon as possible. Early intervention and support is key to lasting recovery from an eating disorder. If you are interested in learning more about Veritas Collaborative please call us at 612-402-3061 or complete our online form.