Food Positivity for Children
It starts at a young age
Food positivity is a topic that many people struggle with and it is a concept that begins as early as childhood. From birth, we are influenced by those around us, not only in what we are told, but also in what we observe. Parents and caregivers play an integral role in shaping the behaviours, beliefs and views that children develop, especially in terms of their feelings and emotions towards food. An important lesson for parents and caregivers to teach children at a young age is to view food in a positive manner, as it helps them develop their own healthy eating habits for life which can lead to better health outcomes in the long term.
How to surround food with positivity
Here are ways that caregivers and parents can help children learn and foster food positivity:
– Speak positively about food and emphasize the positive aspects of healthy eating.
– Model positive eating behaviours such as a balanced diet and trying new foods.
– Involve your children in the meal planning, grocery shopping and meal preparation.
– When discussing food, focus on the benefits that food provides such as being a source of joy and nourishment
– Create a positive and peaceful eating environment to enjoy food and limit distractions (i.e. watching TV, talking on phone and difficult conversations).
– Eat meals as a family to provide opportunities for children to observe eating habits.
– Have positive conversations about different eating behaviours and lifestyles (i.e. vegan, vegetarian, gluten free) to expand children’s views on these lifestyles and decrease potential shame if needing to abide.
– Provide children options for healthier choices and teach them to make informed decisions about what they eat.
– Model a positive attitude towards body image and show that you can be happy, healthy and active at any size.
– Don’t place labels on foods as good or bad, unhealthy, fatty.
– Don’t use food as a reward or bribe or punishment.
– Don’t openly avoid certain foods to prevent weight gain or to fit into clothes.
– Don’t use exercise or physical activity as a way to “make up” for something you ate.
– Don’t focus food related discussions on weight, weight loss, calories or dieting.
– Don’t comment negatively about the your own or others’ eating behaviour in front of children.
– Avoid forcing kids to eat or “finish their plate” when they aren’t hungry as this doesn’t allow them to learn and recognize the natural signs of being hungry or full.
What happens when we don’t
When children do not have the opportunities to develop positive relationships with food, many unintended consequences can result. These can range from mild to more severe consequences that can have long term impacts. It is important to emphasize healthy eating, but when children constantly hear conversations around food that can’t be eaten, this can lead the child to develop poor views and attitudes towards different types of food. This can result in them avoiding certain food groups, having a heightened awareness and focus on their weight, or prematurely go on a diet themselves, which can follow them into adulthood. Additionally, hearing negative comments about weight or eating patterns can lead children to develop unhealthy eating habits or disordered eating and the potential to shame others. If food is used excessively as a reward or punishment, this may influence the child’s view of food and send the message that food can be necessary for comfort or self-punishment.
Some warning signs that are important to be cautious of include: skipping meals, talking about weight excessively, saying negative things about their bodies or others’ habits or appearance, sneaking in foods or labelling foods. These warning signs a need for conversation and, at times, professional help may required. It is important to address these concerns as soon as you notice them, to avoid body dissatisfaction, unhealthy dieting practices, low self-esteem, low self-worth, or poor body image perception. In some cases it can lead to more drastic consequences like the development of various eating disorders.
If there are concerns about your child’s eating behaviours or habits, reach out to your family doctor or seek professional help from trained professionals.
Children learn through observation and it is imperative that caregivers and parents model healthy eating habits and positive attitudes to food. Intentions are to ensure our children are well-informed and know how to maintain good health. However, over emphasizing discussions or comments can lead to difficulties in their relationships with food as well as low self-esteem and body image and even eating disorders
Ultimately, it is most important that we model healthy eating behaviours to our children and teach them that food is a source of enjoyment and nourishment.
About the Author:
Sarah Stilling is one of our Therapists Under Supervision at CMAP Health. She is interested in helping clients with eating disorders and anxiety. Sarah has centred her life and career on her passion for personal growth and aims to help her clients find their strength and resilience through a flexible and collaborative approach to therapy. Visit Sarah’s profile today to book an appointment.