Empowering Your Kids About Healthy Body Image Starts with YOU

By Amy Kobos, Health and Wellness Promotor, Fayetteville

This conversation is just as important as the birds and the bees.

You need to talk with your children and students about healthy body image. But, how can you talk to them if you aren’t sure what healthy body image is?  We have been flooded for decades with what we ‘think’ healthy body image is, only to religiously count calories, go on fad diets, exercise profusely and feel guilty for eating a dessert.  The media are saturated with focusing on weight loss and depicting skinny girls and boys – because this is what we should be.  We also give excuses for thinking it’s okay to skip meals: “I’m too busy to eat; I shouldn’t eat as much today because I ate a lot last night; I need to fit in those pants.”  This is the core of American culture’s perception of what healthy body image is.

To have this conversation, it needs to happen with you first.  Use these tools to facilitate exploration within yourself so you know how to convey this to your kids:

  • What is your definition of healthy body image?
  • Why do you feel America’s current perspective on healthy body image is how you have to be accepted in society?
  • What components are necessary in order to sustain healthy body image?
  • How do you prioritize your body to stay healthy?
  • Do you feel guilty or make excuses for your body’s needs? If so, why?

Each one of you is going to have different answers. This is okay!  Butyou need to sort out what’s healthy and what could be detrimental.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, a positive body image is:

  • “A clear, true perception of your shape–you see the various parts of your body as they really are.
  • You celebrate and appreciate your natural body shape and you understand that a person’s physical appearance says very little about their character and value as a person.
  • You feel proud and accepting of your unique body and refuse to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight, and calories.
  • You feel comfortable and confident in your body.”

Healthy body image is about accepting what your body needs to thrive in all dimensions of health: your attitude, your food, your mental and physical strength, the ability to embrace your bodies as you age, and the confidence within yourself.  This is the real nutrition your bodies need.

Knowing the definition of positive body image is one thing, but how to get there and sustain this takes consistent work.

  • Focus on what foods are nourishing for your body.  We need carbs; we need fat; and we need protein for our bodies to properly function.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently.  The media are notorious for propagating no carb, no fat diets.  We need to be VERY leery of diet trends. Diet restrictions like this can be very harmful to our bodies, mentally and physically.  What you need to do instead is educate yourself on the healthy fats, carbs and proteins.
  • Do embrace healthy fats, like olive and coconut oil, avocados, nuts, fish, and seeds.  Don’t tell your kids fat is bad.  Explain to them that fatty acids (healthy fats) are important components for our cells and hormones to function and thrive.  Not consuming enough fats can weaken and/or destroy your body’s processes.
  • Do promote carbohydrates.  There’s a lot of misinformation about a “no/low carb” diet.  Society is scared of eating carbs. But, what you really need to do is celebrate eating carbs.  Carbohydrates need to make up 45% to 65% of your total daily calories. Help your kids understand what carbohydrates (sugars) are and why your body needs them. Food in its whole form helps slow down the rate of sugar absorption, making you feel fuller faster. Will you drink apple juice or eat an apple? What about white bread vs. whole grain bread? For more examples of healthy carbs, click here.

One of the most important aspects in projecting healthy body imageis to watch how you communicate with yourself and to your children. Here are some do’s and don’ts that you can include in your school and/or home.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t criticize or compare yourself in front of your kids, and don’t criticize your kids about their body or what they eat.  Watch your tone, underlying messages, and language.
  • Don’t shame your child about wanting food.  But, do educate them about healthy options to fulfill their wants.
  • Don’t create rules or obsessions about food or physical activity. Even acting extreme about being too healthy can have psychological consequences.  Be humble.

Do’s:

  • Do teach your kids how to feel empowered and confident bout their bodies when they are feeling insecure or bullied.  Express body acceptance of where your child might be at in his/her life.
  • Do emphasize that all bodies are built differently, even for people who are healthy.
  • Do have the discussion about how the media portray bodies.
  • Do educate your child about his/her body parts and their functions and possible changes.
  • Do be okay with your kids consuming occasional treats without making excuses or feeling guilty.  Don’t give yourself or them a hard time.

To break the cycle of negative body image, your kids need you to be the role model and mentor.  You need to enact to educate and empower your kids so they can, in turn, use their voice to instill into further generations.