National Nutrition Month: How to talk about body image with your kids

Mar 22, 2024, 12:33 PM

SALT LAKE CITY — March is National Nutrition Month, a campaign designed to promote informed eating choices and positive body image.

And it all starts in the home.

Good health includes feeling good about your body — and helping your kids feel the same.

“We need to make sure we’re talking about food and health behaviors in a way that helps them develop a good body image or a good relationship with their own body,” said Julie Fernandez, a registered dietitian with Intermountain Health.

Fernandez emphasized health does not have a “look,” but unfortunately, it’s that focus on appearance that she says is leading to disordered eating in teens and children — some as young as 6 years old — often triggered by comments from their own parents.

“Fat talk is so prevalent,” Fernandez said. “They’ll say, you know, ‘I hate my thighs, my thighs are too big. They jiggle when I walk.’ And all our children are hearing is, my mom does not like her body. She does not appreciate her body. She feels like she has to change her body to be accepted and loved. It’s creating this behavior where a child wants to be loved and accepted.”

Seventy-five percent of parents “fat talk” about themselves in front of their children, and 40-50% of parents “fat talk” about their own child or another child in front of their own children.

“It doesn’t offer any sort of acceptance or respect for your own body,” Fernandez said. “It’s just negative.”

And it’s not just moms. Fernandez said fathers also play a major role in their child’s nutrition and body image. So, how can you help your children have a healthy relationship with food and a good image of themselves?

Fernandez said the first step is identifying “fat talk” and stopping it.

“Fat talk would be, ‘I can’t eat breakfast today because I didn’t exercise this morning,'” she said. “(Food) doesn’t have to be earned. It’s not the trophy at the end of the day. We need food in order to survive and thrive.”

Also avoid demonizing food — it shouldn’t be labeled as “bad.” Have all kinds of categories on hand for your kids and allow them to choose.

Good health includes feeling good about your body — and helping your kids feel the same.

“We don’t want to be forcing any sort of behavior change on our kids. We want them to make the connection between what they’re doing for their body and how their body feels.

And again, initiate conversations about body image with your children — that can make a big difference in helping prevent eating disorders and optimizing their overall health.

“At the end of the day, I want people to be able to say, ‘You know what? My body is good. I can respect my body and be able to treat my body in the way that it should be treated so that I can live my healthiest life,” Fernandez said.

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National Nutrition Month: How to talk about body image with your kids