If you grew up in an environment where you received unhealthy messages around eating, body image, and weight, it can be difficult to break the cycle and avoid passing these ideas on to your own kids. But it’s not impossible! A good first step is to listen to the way you (intentionally or unintentionally) talk about eating and body image in your child’s presence. If you find yourself saying any of the things below, try to shift to healthier, happier talk. This will not only benefit your child, but it can lead to your own gradual internalization of more positive thoughts and beliefs.
“I need to lose weight.” / “I look terrible.” / “I’m so fat.” Criticizing your own appearance sends the message that looks are of highest priority. And your kids can easily adopt this harsh language when evaluating themselves. Curb negative self-talk around them—not only about your looks, but your smarts and skills, too (e.g., “I’m stupid” or “I could never do that”).
“This is so bad for me.” / “I shouldn’t be eating this.” / “I’ve been good today—I only had a salad.” It’s definitely true that unhealthy eating can have negative consequences. However, framing certain types of eating as “bad” or “good” has great impact on a child’s approach to diet and can lead to disordered eating. Instead, emphasize a balanced, healthy diet and “everything in moderation.”
“Look how pretty she is.” / “He’s let himself go.” / “Wow, she’s so thin.” Watch how you comment on others’ appearances—friends, family, celebrities, or public figures. This kind of talk reinforces persistent and damaging norms of what’s “hot” and what’s “not.” Point out excellent internal qualities (like kindness, honesty, and confidence) to show your child what you consider most impressive in a person.
Looking for more advice on developing and modeling positive body image? Try this thoughtful article from the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) or one of the Response Center resources below.
Response Center Resources
Counseling: Schedule individual, family and group counseling with our Master’s-level therapists, who have expertise in adolescent development issues like eating disorders, body image, and self-esteem.
Touchpoints Meetings: Bring a Response Center team member to your home, workplace, or place of worship for a thoughtful presentation and conversation about teen and tween eating disorders.
Helpful Links: Explore our list of other sites and organizations that offer helpful information about disordered eating and body image.