Growing up in the 90s, Jessica Sprengle could name all of the big fad diets of the day: Weight Watchers, Atkins, the South Beach Diet, SlimFast – you name her, her parents and other family members the had tried.
Flippant comments about bodies, his and theirs, were often made in his home, and the weight gain rarely went unnoticed.
“I distinctly remember one of my grandmothers who asked me, maybe 9 or 10 years old, if I could believe ‘how [she’d] got it, ”Sprengle told HuffPost. “Although it was never explicitly stated that my body was a problem or that I needed to do something to change my body, I internalized the message that being in tune with my body was not an option. and that I should always work to lose weight or push for lean.
“Our culture is intensely fatphobic and very invested in their prejudices against fatty substances.”
– Jessica Sprengle, registered professional therapist specializing in eating disorders
All of this left Sprengle with the distinct impression that there was a moral component to weight gain: the fat was bad and the thinness was very., very Well. She internalized the idea that the health consequences of excessive weight gain – hypertension, diabetes and other health problems – were the direct result of a fat person’s moral inability to take care of themselves. even and stay slim.
Given the fixation on weight loss diets in his house – and how pronounced and pervasive the shame of fat is in our culture – it was almost inevitable that Sprengle would fall into a messy diet.
“While I don’t think my eating disorder developed exclusively because of my family’s penchant for dieting, I do know that this played a role, as did genetics, neurobiology and trauma,” she declared.
Now, as a licensed professional therapist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, Sprengle is quickly correcting the idea that being fat is some kind of moral failure.
“I tell my clients that our culture is intensely fatphobic and very invested in their prejudices against those with fats,” she says. “Negative characteristics are often incorrectly attributed to people with a fatty body – neglect, impurity, low intelligence – exclusively because of their size in relation to real and true evidence.
As Sprengle’s own story shows, negative perceptions about the body – unhealthy bodily standards, endless yo-yo dieting – are often passed down from generation to generation.
As a parent, how do you teach your child that “fat” is not a bad word and that fluctuations in weight throughout life are quite normal? Here’s what experts like Sprengle are saying.
Stop using preachy language around food.
Eliminate the words “good” and “bad” from your vocabulary when it comes to discussing the contents of your refrigerator. Let food be food and take its relative moral value out of the equation.
“Children are concrete thinkers, so labeling foods or bodies as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or even a flippant comment like ‘I’ve been so bad lately’ can have a lasting and detrimental impact.” A said Jenny Weinar, a therapist specializing in eating disorders and body image issues.
It is important to encourage neutrality when it comes to food. Teach your kids that all foods can fit into a healthy diet, including sweet foods or holiday cultural foods that are only served to your table occasionally.
“No food should be strictly off-limits,” Sprengle said. “When we prevent a child from eating certain foods, they will usually do too much at another time when they have access to them.”
Also be aware of the words you use to talk about other people’s bodies and how you respond to your children’s casual but critical remarks about other people’s appearance.
“If they describe someone as being fat, rather than correcting or discouraging them from using that word, which only reinforces the fact that fat is a bad thing, take the opportunity to teach them the body diversity and celebrate the fact that there are all different. body types around the world, ”Weinar said.
If you’re looking for a useful visual aid for explaining body diversity and why equating weight and health is wrong, Weinar recommends the popular YouTube clip “Poodle Science”.
Model of acceptance and appreciation of your own body, regardless of your size.
Every biting, self-punishing remark you make about your body echoes in your child’s head. So do the dismissive looks you make in the mirror when you try on something that is far away in your closet.
But if you speak with love about your body, that also leaves a mark. Your child learns to relate to their body by observing how you connect with yours, so pay attention to your words, Weinar said.
“Imagine the impact it could have on your child to see you celebrate all the amazing things your body can do, nurture your body in a pleasurable way and honor your culture, and engage in movements that are joyful and invigorating, rather than berate yourself and start one punitive regime after another, ”she said.
Instead of hiding behind a blanket at the beach, wear your swimsuit without any excuse, Weinar said. Order that side of chili cheese fries without saying things like “Ugh, the diet starts tomorrow.” If you kiss your body exactly the way it is right now, you will set the stage for your children to kiss their whole selves as well.
“Work on healing your own relationship with food and the body, and your children will be better off,” Weinar said.
Don’t comment on your children’s weight, even if you try to praise them.
It probably doesn’t need to be said that negative comments about your child’s weight fluctuations are counterproductive and can make weight and body issues worse. But it’s interesting that the researchers actually found that all comments – even well-meaning comments about thinness – are detrimental to the well-being of young girls.
The Cornell University researchers who conducted the study did not distinguish between positive and negative comments, but found that any comment that a girl remembered hearing about her weight resulted in lower satisfaction. towards her body as an adult, even though she was not. Overweight.
This particular study focused on both girls and women, but other research shows boys are not immune to body image concerns. While girls strive to be slim or lose weight, teenage boys generally become dissatisfied with their bodies if they are not tall and muscular, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics.
Then how should are you talking about weight if you are concerned about your child’s health? You can point them in the right direction without saying a word. Experts have recommended serving nutritious foods at home, making fresh fruits and vegetables readily available in your kitchen, and making physical activity part of family life.
Remind them that gaining weight and losing weight is often something we cannot control.
Without guidance, a child can easily default to thinking that “thin = automatically healthy” and “fat = unhealthy”. Explain that sometimes there’s more to a person’s health profile than it looks, said Michelle Elman, body positivity speaker and author of Am I Ugly? A woman’s journey to body positivity. “
“This ‘fat = unhealthy, thin = healthy’ way of thinking negates the times when people lose weight because they are depressed or face grief or when taking medication and it creates weight gain.” , Elman said.
Have kid-level conversations that you work through – and hopefully break down – the stereotype that fat people fail and are lazy or lack willpower. Teach them that weight is something that fluctuates throughout your life and that gaining weight is not something to beat you up.
“This all revolves around the idea that weight is something we can control, and while there are certainly some aspects that can be controlled, not all variables are personal responsibility,” Elman said. .
Surround them with body diversity
Finally, speak positively about bodies of all shapes, sizes, races and abilities or disabilities. To make a point that you’ve probably heard a million times already, portrayal counts: Watch TV shows and movies that represent all types of people and all body types. Read inclusive and diverse picture books without necessarily about the importance of diversity.
If you have teens, encourage them to follow influencers and models who actually look like them so their social media feed isn’t an endless scroll of thin white women.
“At the end of the day, you want to make sure your child is watching media that accurately represents the world and speaks positively about different types of people so that their perception of beauty isn’t so narrow,” Elman said.
This story is part of a HuffPost Parents project called I See Me, a series for all parents and children about the power of representation. We know how important it is for children to see people who are like them on the biggest stages, from politics to sports and entertainment and beyond. Throughout the month of February we will explore the importance of representation in teaching children about difference, acceptance, privilege and dignity.