How to talk to your kids about obesity can be a tricky balance. You don’t want your children’s weight to take its toll on their health. But talking to them about obesity can be a touchy subject. You have to know what to say… and what not to say.
No forbidden foods
You may have good intentions when you tell your kids not to eat certain foods – like maybe something that’s loaded with fat and calories. But psychologist, Dr. Stacey of Every Woman has an Eating Disorder, says telling them they can’t eat something could backfire.
“Two things can happen,” she explains. “They think fat is bad or carbs are bad so they just stop eating them or really restrict them. Then you have someone who could potentially become anorexic. Or if they feel deprived either physiologically or psychologically, there’s a tendency to compensate and overeat or binge eat.”
Health versus weight
So how should you talk to kids about obesity? Dr. Stacey says it’s critical to take the emphasis off of weight and instead focus on how healthy eating and healthy exercise are good for your body.
“If we focus on what a healthy diet can do for you, for your body, instead of how it’s going to make you look, and focus on how exercise is good for you rather than how it’s going to make you look, it’s a movement in the right direction,” she says.
Body image expert, Leslie Goldman of Never Say Diet, agrees. She says a good place to teach kids about healthy foods is at the grocery store.
“If they point to something on the shelf, say, ‘What does this have that’s good for us? How can this make you stronger? Does it have calcium in it? Does it have fruits and vegetables? Maybe something like this would be a better choice.’ Make it part of the learning experience,” she explains. “That way they still have a role in picking it but you’re not saying, ‘No, that’s too fattening.”
It’s all in the language
It may seem strange, but if you have a child who is overweight, both experts stress, don’t even mention weight. So, what should you say?
“Let’s go for a walk today. It feels good to exercise. It’s good for our bodies,” suggests Dr. Stacey,
Goldman adds, “Encourage them to get involved in physical activities that will help them move. But never say to them, ‘You’re heavy’ or ‘You’re fat.’ That could just destroy a child.”
Watch your words
We’ve stressed before how parents are role models when it comes to diet and exercise. And the same goes for how you talk about yourself and food when you’re around your kids.
Goldman, says, “If you’re turning around in the mirror looking at yourself from behind saying, ‘Oh my God – my butt is so huge’ or ‘I hate my thighs’ or you’re at the restaurant and you say ‘Oh I can’t get the fettucine, it’s so fattening’, your kids are going to pick up on that.”
So, watch what you say. Use the right words to get your kids to eat right and exercise. Their healthy weight is sure to follow.