Last night, I had a beautiful conversation with my beautiful daughter Natalie. She’s the middle kid, in 5th grade, and she will be 11 this fall.
And she is under the impression that she is fat.
Now, I take some responsibility for this behavior. Up until 2009 when I started this whole crazy weight loss journey (94 pounds gone! Woot!), my habits and eating were out of control. I didn’t model a life bounding with good choices, that’s for sure.
But since then, we have made a commitment to bring into this house foods we can ALL eat- me included. We’ve exercised as a family, eaten healthy foods as a family, and tried to change our collective ways.
Natalie still feels fat.
So here is my mama mantra on how to handle it.
1. COMPASSION COMPASSION COMPASSION
This is an important first step. It doesn’t matter if your kid is actually struggling with being fat or not. That doesn’t change the fact they FEEL fat. If I simply said “You aren’t fat, don’t worry about it” then that tells my child that their feelings aren’t valid. Feelings are feelings, if they are true or not. We can’t help the way we feel sometimes. There are days I wake up and STILL FEEL FAT, even being so close to my goal weight. So it would be selfish of me to dismiss that my daughter (or son) might feel the same way. Last night I did my best to remind my sweet girl that “I don’t care about your number. I care about NATALIE.” We do our best to provide unconditional love regardless of the situation at hand. Circumstances, troubles, and pounds will come and go. But your child is a person forever. No matter what they are facing, we want all our kids to know that they are free to express their feelings without being chastised. Their feelings, true or false, still feel true. And in order to have a lasting relationship where your kids will talk to you, let them share what they are going through. We can’t always fix things as parents, but we can always listen.
2. Ask them questions about their attitudes towards food.
Things like “What is your favorite to food to eat when you feel sad? Happy? Bored?” These are most likely your child’s trigger foods. We’ve all got them, and age doesn’t change the fact they are human. “What food keeps you full the longest?” I was surprised at this, because the things she thought were filling were foods I know don’t hold those properties. Get to know your child’s responses to food. Every person’s BODY is different, and investigate the food-body relationship with your child. Explore your own food-body relationship as well! Let them know you don't have it all together either, so there is no pressure for your child to feel perfect. Every one struggles, even moms and dads!
3. Stress to them the importance of balance.
If we lived in a perfect utopia, there would be fresh fruits and veggies and nuts and seeds and grasses that tasted like cookies. But we don’t. And when your child is at grandma’s or a friend’s or someplace other than with you, they are going to be forced to make their own food choices. After learning the hard way for myself, I’m now fighting to teach my kids that balance is the key to a great lifestyle and relationship with food. It’s unfair to keep them from eating ice cream all the time. But it’s in your kid’s best interest to know that you can’t make that choice every day and expect to be healthy. Here’s how our family has taken on teaching balance. When the kids ask for something like ice cream for snack, we simply say this: “Ice cream is delicious. But is there a better choice you could make right now?” Frankly, sometimes, they just want ice cream. And that’s ok. But other times, (and often to our surprise) they will opt for a fro-yo instead. Or carrot sticks. Or fresh cherries. In my mind, if I can get them to ask that question of themselves every time they make a food choice before they move out of the house, then Matt and I have done our jobs as parents.
4. Look for ways your child can empower themselves.
Part of the problem when you are a kid is you often feel powerless. You can’t just go work out at the YMCA because you want to. There are schedules and activities to work around, dinner and homework, and sometimes mom and dad are just plain worn out and need a break from playing chauffeur. Try to find ways your child can make the best decisions in their own time. When they read for homework, can they sit on an exercise ball and work their core? (Of course, to a kid, it’s just cool and fun!) Can you make a basket of healthy snacks with different options so your child can choose their own filling snack? Can they help pack a healthy lunch to keep them doing well at school?* Let your child be in the driver’s seat as much as possible, to start forming good habits now that will last them a lifetime.
(*Special note: This is one area I don’t have to worry about. My kids attend the healthiest elementary school in America. Not even kidding. We won an award last year and are currently the only K-5 school that has won the Gold Award from the Clinton Foundation. CNN even came and did a special about it. Here’s the short clip for those who missed it. We are still waiting for the in depth special to air. But you can see Amy on this clip! :) (A brief commercial will play before the actual video.)
5. And finally-
Under no circumstances does a parent need to say any combination of the following phrases:
Yes, you do need to lose weight.
I just want to help you drop some pounds.
You need to be skinnier.
INSTEAD- ALWAYS USE PHRASES LIKE THIS:
Let’s work together to help you be healthier!
I’m excited about the great choices you are making for your body!
I’m so proud of the choices you are making in taking control of your health!
I can see a healthy glow on your face!
Your child’s physical health is of the utmost importance, don’t doubt that. But their emotional health will play a huge role in their physical health. As parents, we must remember that!
Teach your kids that healthy choices don’t start on their plate. Healthy choices start in their mind. If your child is still struggling, just keep up a gentle loving network of encouragement. When a child knows they have unconditional love and support, they can do anything they set their mind to!