Making Peace With Food Like Your Family Depends On It
Earlier this year, Weight Watchers announced its plans to offer free memberships this summer to children ages 13 to 17, stating intentions to help young people develop “good habits at an early age”. Behind this marketing scheme is a strategy for a large global business to more than double revenue by the end of 2020. Ultimately, this recruitment tactic is a dieting trap to create lifelong customers from a young age, carefully hidden under the guise of “healthy habits”.
While Weight Watchers publicly made this part of their company’s growth strategy, targeting children and teenagers with dieting ploys and false promises is not a new phenomenon. Sadly, I have worked with many mothers who can recount their earliest diet from a young, innocent age.
It’s a familiar story that I’ve heard retold time and time again. A young girl, unknowing of the long-term implications of dieting, becoming a customer of Weight Watchers for a variety of unnecessary reasons. Suddenly, food becomes points and your weight scrutinized. Eating becomes unsafe and a multitude of foods that were once enjoyed are now demonized.
Young girls exposed to dieting tactics may grow up into women who chronically struggle with dieting, a chaotic relationship with food, poor self-esteem or an eating disorder.
Maybe that young girl was you?
Without putting a stop to this cycle, dieting can become a generational problem, passing on problematic eating behaviors to children. Dieting impacts future generations with harmful consequences. In fact, recent research has found that parents who, as teenagers themselves, had been encouraged by their parents to diet, were more likely to have eating disorders and poor body image, and they were also more inclined to encourage dieting behaviors over healthy eating with their own children.
What does this mean for you, mama?
First of all, it is important that mothers are never to blame for disordered eating that may develop in their children. There are a multitude of factors that influence eating disorders, and mothers can actually create protective factors that can help their children develop a positive relationship with food and their bodies. No mother wants to see her child struggle with low self-esteem, poor body image, or disordered eating.
The message in our society is strong regarding childhood obesity, and many parents encourage dieting out of feeling responsible for their child’s weight and well-being. However, dieting can actually backfire and create the opposite effect of what may have been intended.
How can you begin to cultivate a positive understanding of health and what it means to care for and nourish your body and your children? How can you prevent the harmful physical, mental, and emotional associations with dieting from being transmitted to the next generation?
Start by making peace with food yourself.
Maybe past dieting behaviors have taught you that certain foods are bad or unsafe for you to eat. Maybe you have felt shamed for eating a certain way or for having a particular body type. The negative chatter in your head about food being “bad” may be projected on your own eating behaviors and how you interact with your own children.
Whatever your history with dieting has been, it is absolutely possible to heal from a chaotic relationship with food and give yourself unconditional permission to enjoy all foods.
Because when your children see you eating a variety of foods, they will too feel safe to become adventurous eaters. When your children observe that you can share mealtime experiences with them without worrying about what everyone is eating, they too will learn that food is not something to fear.
It starts with you, mama.
The generational transmission of dieting behaviors can end with you and not be passed on to your children. You can empower your own children to build a positive body image and feel good about how they feed their bodies and avoid the long-lasting consequences of dieting.
You can teach them how to listen to their bodies and enjoy a variety of foods by modeling the same behaviors. You’ve got this, mama. And if you need help resolving your own issues with food, know that you are not alone and that healing is possible.