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Instilling Positive Body Image in Children

Scott Mellon

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Quite often teens, especially young girls and women, face body image problems and eating disorders. For the most part, the roots of these issues go as far as to childhood and grade school – negative associations, painful memories, taboos on certain food – everything works against positive body image. Here we will talk about ways to prevent eating disorders with younger children.

Starting from breastfeeding or formula nourishment everything has a certain effect. Mother’s attitude towards food and eating establishes kid’s perception of food and can cause a whole set of eating problems. It is especially visible in preschoolers – children mimic mother’s behavior and copy habits, so when the mother is obsessed with good look and diet, the child will copy it.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), more than a half of girls aged 6-12 are worried about becoming too fat and refuse to eat food that seems too fat-laden to them. Where does it come from? Obviously, it is the influence of their home, friends, and commercials. When constantly hearing that fat is bad for the body, children start to fear it. Behavioral therapists state that in the majority of cases, patients complain about the behavior and attitude of their mothers who controlled the shape of kids’ bodies or had personal body issues and restricted children from certain products. Later on, such children start to rebel and eat unrestrained. It is a mother who becomes the first role model for daughters. Think what kind of example you set counting each calorie in your meal or dreading certain products. Here are some tips that can help mothers to develop good eating habits and positive body image in their children.

Your bad attitude to your own body models negative body image in your child

Forget about words "fat" or "diet" at home. Make your kid feel comfortable about her developing body – do not wreck her self-esteem by constantly stating that something is wrong with her body. On the contrary, always tell that she is beautiful, body and soul. Do not impose your negative body image on your child. Yes, it is difficult; however, change your language and expressions when you talk about your own body.

Do not divide food on good and bad

The same goes for healthy and unhealthy product groups – forget these words. There are products that can be consumed sometimes or always. This is the best way to explain to your kid that some products are better to eat in smaller quantities and not frequently. So divide products in such that can be eaten every day like vegetables or dairy, and that are allowed in small portions and not every day. What is more important, allow a kid to eat as much as she wants until she is satisfied (not full, mind it!). Do not force a child to eat everything that is on a plate.

Of course, sugary soft drinks, and trans fats lead to excessive weight and can seriously damage the liver, calling for drastic measures. However, when you forbid them and brand them “bad”, you make those foods even more attractive to your children. This may lead to guilty binge eating in the future.

Promote "self-attuned eating" model

This means that you have to explain how not to mix the feelings of fullness and satisfaction in eating. Start to do so from the early years, and it will help children to develop a healthy attitude towards food and eating and prevent eating disorders.

Explain when it is necessary to start and stop eating

Talk about hunger and fullness and why it is essential to start eating when feeling hungry and when to stop. Tell your kids to listen to themselves – whether their stomach is empty or feels full and heavy. Help children to feel the connection with their bodies and allow them to eat whatever and whenever they want – believe it or not, it will boost their self-confidence.

Allow children to help you with cooking

Let them, for example, make their lunches and give them an option of picking the food they want. Take them food shopping with you so they can participate in selecting the groceries and explain which vitamins and nutrients help them to be strong and grow.

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