Helping Kids Build A Healthy Food-Life Part 2: Body Image

kidsHow do we help our children navigate the image-saturated, skinny-worshiping, body-perfect culture we find ourselves in?

In Part 1, we looked at helping our kids build a sound relationship with food. Now let’s look at a few ways we can help them develop a healthy relationship with their bodies. These two – food and body – are inextricably connected.

Media Madness: By the age of 17 the average child has received over 2 million commercial messages telling her how she’s supposed to look and live, and the models in these ads are 23% thinner than us “average” women.

Lucky for us, involved parents still have the most influence.


I. Talk about qualities that have nothing to do with appearance.

It’s easy to be saying more about being pretty, little, big, tall, cute, etc. than we realize. With a little thought we can move our daily conversations more in the direction of inner qualities. For example:

“Great job working so hard at your math. I know that wasn’t easy, and you saw it through.”

“I heard the kids gossiping today, and you didn’t join in. I really admire that.”

Our culture will lead them to focus on their appearance. The more we shine a light on their true personhood, the more likely they are to value their inner strengths.

II. Use the media as an avenue to discuss body image and beauty.

Blocking all media isn’t realistic but we can help our kids interpret the messages they see and hear.

Ask questions about what they think is real and not real in the media they watch. Listen well. Over time help them understand what advertising is and how it works. Show them how images can be manipulated. Help them think for themselves.

Rich conversation can help our children understand that bodies in the real world are more diverse and unique than those portrayed in media. Talk about the beauty of differences. Children learn to appreciate and value what we appreciate and value. Help them see that beauty comes in all colors, shapes, sizes, and ages and that all human beings are intrinsically valuable.

III. Listen, Sympathize & Share

If your daughter is unhappy with her body, listen to her concerns, acknowledge her feelings, and let her know if you’ve wrestled with those feelings too. You might say something like “When I was growing up I was always self-conscious about my arms; I thought they were too big. Now I’m realizing that these arms let me hug you, and wrestle with Daddy and plant our wonderful garden. This body of mine is one of my dearest gifts!”

As your children get older you can have honest conversations about your own struggles, and that even now, you don’t have all the answers, and that’s ok. You can let them know that wanting to be thin or beautiful can feel very important to any of us, but that it’s even more important not to let these desires take over or get in the way of being who you want to be, or doing what you want to do.

IV. Teasing, or allowing teasing, about appearance is off limits.

Do not tease a child about their body, any body part, their weight, or their appearance in any way. Just don’t. We now know that even commenting on weight can set our kids up for body dissatisfaction later.

Click here for more…

V. Stop using the F word.

Stop saying: “She’s fat” or “Look at all these fat people.” These statements are not helpful or kind, and they give our children the go-ahead to judge, and possibly feel judged themselves.

I am not saying that we should pretend being overweight isn’t real – I am saying that judging or disparaging people is harmful.

VI. Curb your conversation.

If we are stuck in body-preoccupation-mode our daily conversations and attitudes will pass on to the next generation by default. Complaining about looking fat when you try on clothes sends a strong negative message. On the other hand, when you say things like “I feel stronger since I’ve been walking – and that feels really good” you are sending a positive message.

This extends to food as well. Saying “This ice cream is going straight to my hips” sends alarming messages about food and body. Saying something like “Sharing this ice cream with you reminds me of a fun childhood memory. We used to churn home ice cream on the porch at MawMaw’s and…” This makes an occasional sweet treat a simple and neutral gift.


I. Become an honest role model for having a healthy body image.

Our children are soaking up how we view the world and ourselves in it. Those of us who struggle with our own negative body image may find this challenging, but it’s important to be aware of the language and phrases we choose to use. It’s essential that we find the strength and the help we need to stop making negative comments about our own bodies. Modelling respect and compassion for yourself, not just for everybody else, is powerful indeed.

II. Daddy plays a big part too.

Girls need to hear sincere, appropriate and positive feedback from their fathers. What they hear their dads say about their mothers, and women in general, is just as influential. Click here for more…

III. Set your kids up to feel comfortable and able in their body.

Helping your kids find physical activities they love is another huge life-gift we can give, and leading by example is by far the most powerful tool you have. Please know this doesn’t need to be about being athletic; this is about the pleasure of living in a body. Gardening, fishing, rope jumping, skipping, sailing, swinging, hiking, trampolining, biking, tree climbing, hop scotching, dancing, prancing…the fun-stuff list is endless!

Help them make the connection that the stamina and agility that comes from being active feels good. The emphasis is on feeling joyfully embodied – not on being thin. Help them recognize the thrill of vibrant health, rather than in chasing the illusion of a “perfect body”.

Becoming physically active and playful is almost magic. It’s a mood-lifter, a stress reducer, a memory maker, and it sets us and our children up for a robust life, inside and out.


We cannot give our children what we ourselves do not possess.

Research and experience teach us that if a mother feels negatively toward her body, it will probably pass on to her daughter. As a 30 year disordered eater and the mother of 2 grown daughters and one granddaughter, this gives me pause.

Passing on the legacy of appreciation for and enjoyment of our body, at every age, size and stage, is one of the most valuable gifts we can give those we love.

If you don’t have a peaceful relationship with your body, reading this can feel disheartening, but the good news is that your outrageous love for your children can become the impetus for finally getting the help you’ve been worthy of all along.

There is a sane way through – and it won’t be another diet.

If you want to make changes, there’s a path for you. Give me a call at 615-330-8884 or email me at and together we will find effective steps that fit you, your life and your situation.

This struggle can be the very door through which you – and your children – find a deeper joy of living in your bodies than you have ever known.


Next week: Part 3    Making the Most of Family Meal Time