This question was asked during a dicussion about body image on the Pigtail Pals facebook page. Marci and I both felt that the answer really needed to be its own post.
The following is by Marci Warhaft-Nadler, of Fit vs Fiction, and it is so thorough I really don’t have anything to add. Just picture my head nodding in agreement as you read. What Marci and I really want you to take away from this is that You can’t lose weight in order to like yourself; you need to like yourself in order to lose weight.
“What do I do when my child needs to lose weight?”
I get this question a lot.
Weight is a tough issue for all of us, and when it comes to kids we need to be extremely careful with how we handle it. When a parent asks me what they can say to their child to help them lose weight, my answer is, “NOTHING. Say Nothing.” Research tells us that talking about and focusing on weight with our kids will not have the desired effect we’re looking for and can actually make the situation worse.
While there’s nothing we should be saying to help our kids get healthy, there IS a whole lot we could be doing.
First and foremost, KEEP THINGS POSITIVE and keep the focus on HEALTH instead of WEIGHT. Our goal as parents should be to have healthy kids, not necessarily skinny ones. It’s so important that your child understand that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that they need to be proud of who they are.
Time magazine recently published an article saying,” Losing weight does not help obese girls love themselves.” It explained how overweight children can feel stigmatized by the media and society and how that stigmatization leads to low self-esteem. Being overweight becomes a part of WHO they are. Even if these kids lose the extra weight, the feelings of shame are still there and can last a very long time. That’s why it’s crucial that we teach our kids to tune out negative messages and help them appreciate and respect themselves, as they are. The fact is: You can’t lose weight in order to like yourself; you need to like yourself in order to lose weight. It’s when we like ourselves that we believe we deserve to feel strong and healthy and that will motivate us to eat well and exercise.
1) Make it a family affair:
The last thing you want to do is single out one kid with “special” food or portion sizes at meals. Instead, why not change the way the entire family eats? The goal is to be eating healthier foods in healthier portions and everyone can benefit from that! Remember, you’re not putting your child on a diet, just making some changes as to how and what you all eat.
2) Keep food talk POSITIVE, it’s not about the foods you take out and all about the foods you bring in:
We all get into a sort of comfort zone, where we seem to pick up the same types of food week after week, so try some different! Try out a new exotic looking fruit you’ve always seen at the store but never thought of actually buying, or maybe buy those Kale chips your friends have been raving about. (That happened to me and they were actually quite tasty!)
3) Menu plan and shop TOGETHER:
Look for new, healthy recipes that you can shop for and cook together. Cooking food from scratch can give your child a new kind of respect for it and pride around it. Feel free to get creative, by coming up with theme nights! How about” Japanese night” or even “Breakfast for dinner”? PJs at the dinner table are a must, for that one. The idea is that eating healthy isn’t a punishment, just one important part of honouring our bodies.
4) Get active; TOGETHER!
When it comes to weight, we tend to put a lot of focus on the food we’re taking in and not enough on the energy we’re putting out. Exercise has an incredible amount of benefits and will definitely help to keep weight down while building strong bones and muscles. If your child is interested in group activities and sports, SIGN THEM UP! Joining a team, will increase their self-esteem and will make it easier for them to stick with it, since being part of a team means that other people depend on you.
If team sports or sports in general is not your kid’s thing, there are tons of other ways to be active. I personally love to go to the park in my neighbourhood and make up obstacle courses for my kids to do. I’ll say something like,” Run up the slide, do 5 jumping jacks, slide down the other side, run to the bench , step on and off it 5 times, do a crazy dance then run to the basketball net and back!”
Feel free to make comments about how your body FEELS. Instead of saying things like,” Our jeans are going to be so much looser!” Try saying,” Doesn’t it feel great to be using our bodies this way? We’re going to be able to run faster and play longer if we keep this up!”
The key is that they’ll be having too much fun to even realize they’re exercising! An added perk: By coming up with the courses and demonstrating them, you’ll be getting a workout in too!
Another simple idea is to go for a walk after dinner. Instead of turning on the TV and chilling on the couch for the night, go for a walk through your neighbourhood or even drive to a new neighbourhood, and then walk around and explore; the couch will be there when you get back.
5) Support their hobbies:
Is your child an aspiring artist, musician or actor? Take an interest in whatever interests them and be as supportive as you can. When they’re doing something they love and feel a sense of accomplishment from it, there will be less pressure put on what they look like. It’s a great opportunity to build confidence and self-esteem.
6) Don’t let them see you worry.
If YOU make their weight a big deal, they’ll make their weight a big deal and that won’t help anyone.
7) Just do what you do best: LOVE YOUR CHILD.
Feeling loved, respected and appreciated by you, will help them learn how to love, respect and appreciate themselves.
*Self-worth should not be measured in pounds!
Marci Warhaft-Nadler is a certified fitness instructor and body image consultant. After overcoming her own body image and eating disorder issues, Marci created her Fit vs Fiction program to tear down the dangerous myths related to beauty and fitness and empower kids with the self-esteem they need to tune out negative messages and be proud of who they are instead of judging themselves for who they think they’re not.
Self-worth should not be measured in pounds!