Kids and Weight: How to Teach Healthy Choices and Positive Body Image

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Sometimes kids have to gain or lose weight to maintain good health. This is always a complicated issue for parents because one of the most consistent messages in parenting is: Don’t talk about diets or weight with kids!

I once worked with a girl who struggled with her weight at a very young age. The truth is that it was a family issue. Her parents also struggled to maintain a healthy weight, and the family doctor had concerns. This resulted in a series of failed diets and low self-esteem across the board. The solution, which was not an overnight success by any means, involved working with a nutritionist and continuing therapy to help the family develop a positive relationship with food and exercise. It was a healthy lifestyle overhaul.

It’s difficult to know where to begin when talking to kids about maintaining a healthy weight.

No, you should absolutely not focus on the number on the scale. All bodies are different, and numbers are just numbers. The same goes for caloric intake. You should, however, talk about healthy choices and what it means to listen to and understand your own body.

Cook dinner together.

You’ve probably heard this advice before, particularly if you have a “picky” eater on your hands. That’s because making meals a family affair helps kids learn how to prepare meals that feed their bodies and their souls.

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It definitely takes longer, and you’ll probably have a huge mess on your hands when the cooking is done, but when kids learn to cook their own food they develop a positive relationship with eating and learn to make healthy choices.

Use your senses.

Rebecca Scritchfield, author of “Body Kindness: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out – and Never Say Diet Again”, recommends engaging all of your senses when cooking or eating. Look at the beautiful colors on your plate. Take a moment to appreciate the aroma of your food as it cooks. Listen to the sound of the knife hitting the cutting board as you chop fresh veggies. Taste as you go!

My daughter loves to take control in the kitchen, and one of her favorite parts of cooking is taking in the aromas as the ingredients come together. While she’s always been an adventurous eater, cooking with me (and sometimes for me!) empowers her to try new foods and make positive connections between cooking and nutrition.

Talk about health.

It’s always important to talk to kids about good health. I’ve been teaching my kids to eat the rainbow since they were toddlers because I want them to know that healthy choices make their bodies feel strong and capable. Beyond that, it’s important to teach kids what it means to make “healthy” choices.

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If we want our kids to learn to listen to their bodies, we have to teach them how. One way to do that is to lengthen family meals. Factor in extra time to avoid the rush and focus on enjoying each bite. Help your kids learn about the signals our bodies send us to let us know when we’re full.

When families talk about making healthy choices to fuel their bodies and stay healthy, it becomes a family goal. Don’t simply focus on food. Food might be one element of good health, but sleep, play, emotional connection, and exercise are also important!

Get outside together.

Kids are super busy these days, and so are their parents. Sometimes that translates to a lack of free time to get out and play. Prioritize time spent engaging with nature to make sure the whole family is both physically active and reaping the calming benefits of the great outdoors.

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All too often kids hear the message that exercise boils down to intense (and not so fun) workouts. A better strategy is to talk about healthy choices and teach kids that a walk in the woods is good for both the body and the soul.

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Kids and Weight: How to Teach Healthy Choices and Positive Body Image

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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