When I found out that my second child was going to be a girl, I immediately worried that she would grow up to face the same problems I did as a teenager.
Perhaps my biggest struggle at that time was disordered eating. I tried to eat as little as possible and weighed myself every day. I also felt compelled to exercise every single day, no matter how tired I happened to be. I always felt horribly guilty after eating what I viewed as “bad” food, such as pizza or ice cream. It took me a long time to gain a healthier attitude towards eating and exercising, but I still have the occasional struggle. I will do anything in my power to help my daughter avoid problems with disordered eating. I don’t want to wait until she becomes a teenager when it may be too late, so I have already started to build up a healthy attitude towards eating and exercise in both my daughter and my son.
Here are some of the ways I am promoting healthy habits in my house.
1} I make a conscious effort to avoid being critical of my own body in front of my children.
Even on days when I feel completely bloated and gross, I do not ever use the word fat. That word is hateful and intended to shame people. I also avoid mentioning how much I dislike some of the ways that my body has changed after two pregnancies, like my jiggly stomach. I don’t want my children to feel guilty for being born. I try to focus on positive traits that I like about my body instead. I like that my body is strong and healthy and that I have the same curly hair that I passed on to my daughter.
2} I don’t tell my children that I exercise to lose weight or stay thin.
This attitude makes exercise seem like some sort of punishment for weighing too much. Instead, I tell my children that I exercise in order to keep my muscles strong and my body healthy. This is a much more positive view to take and will promote exercise as a lifelong habit, not just some tedious chore. I also try to include my children in my exercise activities, so they can see that it’s something I enjoy.
3} I try to be a good role model for healthy eating habits.
I try to eat a large variety of fruits and vegetables. It’s amazing how my kids will try more of them if they come off of my plate instead of their plates. I also never skip meals or say anything about being on a diet. I also try to avoid items that I wouldn’t give my children, such as soda and chewing gum. If I stock my kitchen with healthy options instead of overly processed snacks, the entire family tends to make better choices.
4} I avoid labeling foods as either “good” or “bad.”
This has been a challenge for me, since I tend to view fruits and vegetables as good foods and fried items as bad foods. Instead, I am trying to shift my thinking to viewing foods as healthier or less healthy. I explain to my children that the healthiest foods contain lots of vitamins to help their bodies grow big and strong. I explain that other foods, such as desserts, we should only eat occasionally because they taste good, but don’t contain the vitamins our bodies require. I also encourage my children to eat a large variety of foods, since different foods contain different vitamins.
5} I am trying to avoid using food as a reward.
This has been rather difficult for me, but I have learned from various sources that using food as a reward or a punishment is unhealthy. It can lead children to emotionally eat or overeat. It can also be confusing when they are being taught to make healthy food choices, but are rewarded with sugary treats. Instead, I try to offer treats in moderation and lead my children to focus on their bodies’ cues of hunger or fullness. I am trying to reward my children with activities instead, such as reading an extra book or playing at the park.
I know that there is no way to guarantee that my children will develop healthy eating habits, but I feel better knowing that I am doing my best to help them establish healthy attitudes towards food.