5 Steps to Raising Children with Healthy Body Image

I am SO passionate about helping women (and all people) change their mindset about their bodies, their relationship with food and exercise, and teaching them that we all DESERVE to feel great and be healthy and that making time for that is part of self-care (just like brushing your teeth) and we do these things because we deserve to make the time for fitness and not because we aren’t good enough exactly how we are. But – what if we could make it easier on our kids, what if they had so much less work to do to find their healthy relationship with their bodies… let’s talk about how we can set our kids up to be FREE of the negative self-talk that plagues most of us….

Rule #1 – Don’t criticize your body or how it looks EVER! PERIOD. Don’t comment on weight, on pants fitting too tight, on rolls you see, or squishy bits, IF you make any comments at all – keep them positive and focus on what your body can do instead of what it looks like (example: I’m so glad I am strong enough too….)

Rule #2 – Exercise frequently – make time for it at least a few times per week. Treat it like showering and brushing your teeth – it’s just part of what we do for ourselves. When you exercise DO NOT relate it to looking good. Don’t say “I want to be skinny on the beach on our holiday so I’m working out hard” or “I ate too much on the weekend – I gotta hit the gym and burn it off!”. Comment on how you feel after your workouts, talk about when you accomplish something new like your first pullup or a personal best deadlift weight. When you feel like skipping a workout – talk about that too – then go workout anyway and talk about how great you feel when it’s over and how glad you are that you turned up even when you didn’t feel like it. Talk about your failures in the gym “I’m trying to learn how to muscle up – man it’s hard! I still can’t get it!” and then keep trying and don’t give up, when you accomplish it finally – share your pride!

Rule #3 – Eat well and enjoy treats! Do not relate eating well to how you look (but you can relate it to how you feel!). Enjoy treats sometimes and DON’T suggest that you shouldn’t or that it’ll make you fat or say things like “ a moment on your lips a lifetime on your hips…”. I don’t always eat what my family is eating because I have a lot of food sensitivities and because I like maintaining my healthy body composition. When I am choosing to eat differently from my family I might say something like “pizza makes me feel so tired after I eat it and I want to have lots of energy for my workout tomorrow” (or say nothing at all, but whatever you do DON’T say that you’re on a diet or trying to lose weight, etc). When you do partake in treat food with your family (which you should sometimes – I just like to be conscious of how often and what I have for treats so that I always feel great) don’t use shameful language around having treats, don’t say “now I need to work out” and allow your kids to see you truly enjoying your treats!

Rule #4 – Don’t comment on other women’s (or people’s) bodies. Comment on kindness, intelligence, someone’s awesome sense of humor, how hard they work – these are the qualities that matter and we want to foster in our kids – when you see athletes on tv with amazing bodies turn the conversation away from their amazing 6 pack and focus on how hard they’ve worked to achieve such a high level of performance. When you bump into a friend who’s lost a lot of weight try not to comment unless they bring it up – I remember when I was going through my divorce and was barely eating because I was so stressed – I was about 20 lbs lighter than my normal healthy (and fairly lean already) weight. So many people told me I looked so good – and I know they meant it to build me up while I went through hard things, but it reinforced that I’m more attractive when I’m skinny and that’s not the message we need to give each other or our children. Try to compliment people on their other amazing qualities instead – at the end of the day weight/body composition is the least interesting thing about a person.

Rule #5 – Allow them to find their sense of style! Tell them they look great, all the time. When they’re little and want to wear 3 tutu’s or their Hulk costume – tell them they look amazing. When they experiment with makeup at ANY age – tell them they look amazing. When they are teens and playing with all the weird styles teens come up with – tell them they look great! Don’t tell your daughter she’s “giving the wrong impression” when her skirt is short and tight – just tell her she looks great. When we are so caught up in how they look – it teaches them that they are constantly judged and measured by their appearance, instead let them take ownership of their bodies/appearance and empower them by letting them be in charge.

The last thing – do your best and forget the rest. We all have a few little (or big) issues from our parents not handling something perfectly – and that’s ok! Chances are we will do a few things imperfectly – don’t sweat it! At the end of the day, all that matters is that you are trying your best and that your kids know how much you love and value them and I am SURE you are doing a great job at that!