Fostering a Healthy Relationship with Food in a Society that is Appearance-Obsessed

fostering a healthy relationship with food

Fostering a Healthy Relationship with Food in a Society that is Appearance-Obsessed

In addition to making sure that your teen is trying their best in school, nurturing positive relationships with their peers, and doing their laundry on a somewhat consistent basis, chances are you are also trying to promote healthy eating habits with all the extra time on your hands. That’s a lot to keep track of! This blog post is intended to offer you some support in the arena of fostering a healthy relationship with food while living in a society that is appearance-centric. In the subsequent paragraphs, I’ve laid out some alarming research followed by some practical fundamentals that you can weave into your home-life because the only thing healthier than eating kale every day is feeling complete peace around food.

First, let’s check-in with the under-belly of “healthy eating.” Given that we’re living in the age of information, nutrition advice can be extremely confusing to disseminate. It appears to be that just about every other commercial, ad, or social media post is centered on dieting, weight-loss, or nutrition: “Want a Six-Pack in Six Days,? Cut out Gluten!” Or “Tired of Feeling Tired? Try Fasting!” (Of course there are medical reasons/allergies that necessitate avoiding certain food groups.) Did you know that in 2019 the weight-loss industry is worth an estimated 72 billion dollars? Anyone who consumes media is victim to receiving an over-abundance of messages related to diet-culture, which is why it’s wise to follow the $. Minors consuming media’s messages are more likely to internalize the underlying messages of said media coverage – ie: “You’re not ____ enough.” I inserted that “blank” space because society changes its mind every few years about what is desirable. One year it’s rail-thin, the next it’s curvy, the next it praises “dad-bod”, and after that it’s all about “strong over skinny.”

As a practicing psychotherapist who specializes in treating eating disorders, it’s important to know that that dieting is one of the precursors to a full-fledged eating disorder. Did you know that Anorexia Nervosa boasts the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses? If you notice that one of your children is restricting certain food groups, measures everything they consume, or spends a lot of time or energy eating healthy foods and avoiding “unhealthy” foods, consider reaching out to one of our therapists so that we can assess their thoughts and behaviors.  Here are a few additional sobering statistics from Eating Disorder Hope’s website:

  • Over 50% of teenage girls and 33% of teenage boys are using restrictive measures to lose weight at any given time.
  • 46% of 9-11 year-olds are sometimes, or very often, on diets, and 82% of their families are sometimes, or very often, on diets).
  • 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22% dieted often or always.
  • 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years.
  • 35% of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.
  • 25% of American men and 45% of American women are on a diet on any given day.

I promised some alarming statistics, but have hope! There is some powerful preventative work that parents can be doing so that your children can enjoy a positive and peaceful relationship with food. Instead of following society’s unrealistic expectations, consider fostering these messages instead:

  1. All foods fit. We can make space for having all sorts of foods in the house. When all foods are available, it takes away the “shiny object” value of certain food groups, like “junk food.”
  2. Food is not moral, in and of itself. As parents, watching and avoiding words like “good foods” and “bad food” takes some of the black and white thinking out of the equation.
  3. Teach your children to listen to their internal cues instead of external cues. Children are born to be intuitive eaters. From the get-go, they let you know when they’re hungry and stop eating when they are satisfied. Diets confuse those pure internal cues, though they can be re-discovered. Allow kids to learn lessons from their bodies. Does eating too much candy cause a stomachache? Withhold judgement and invite them to note that for next time.  Does only eating carbs not keep them full very long? Offer gentle nutrition instead, like how pairing fats and carbs, and proteins and carbs tends to give you more sustained energy overtime so that they have energy to do the things that they want to do.
  4. Check in with your personal relationship with food. We are our children’s first models and teachers. They notice our actions and attitudes towards food and will look to you (implicitly or explicitly) for guidance. Are you a victim of diet-culture as well? There’s no one to blame, aside for the diet industry. Consider talking with one of our therapists if you’d like to make peace with food.
  5. Eat meals together as a family, when possible. Meals encourage community and love while celebrating rest and enjoyment.  They serve as a place to practice and implement the messages I’ve listed above.

Lastly, I invite you to check the book, “Intuitive Eating” written by dietitians, Evelyn Tribole M.S., R.D. and Elyse Resch M.S., R.D.N. to learn more about creating a healthy relationship with food. It boasts over 100 research studies to date and is considered to be the “holy grail” in the field  of nutrition and dietetics.

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