“It’s fine to raise awareness about eating disorders, but I believe more focus should be on preventing dieting, because eating disorders are not illnesses that inexplicably happen to people. Nearly all cases of anorexia and bulimia, and a large number of cases of BED, would never occur without the initial diet.” –Brain over Binge, pg 276
Dieting prevention is a multifaceted topic, and there is not one way to ensure dieting does not happen in a young person—or anyone, at any point in life. In Brain over Binge, I mentioned some things that may have helped me personally avoid turning to dieting in my teen years, and one of them was: less emphasis on weight in the family. I frequently heard comments from my parents, relatives, and family friends that led me to believe remaining slim was of extreme importance. When I naturally put on some weight during puberty, it was more concerning to me than it should have been, I believe, because of my previous exposure to a lot of dieting and weight talk.
I’ve made an effort to keep that type of talk away from my kids as much as possible, although I can’t shelter them from what they hear outside of my home, or every little thing that may come up in what they watch. It’s impossible to control the culture and the often unrealistic images children may see, but something we can do as adult role models is to be aware of what we say and the effect it could have. Even seemingly innocent comments about food and weight can add up over time, causing children to feel like dieting and obsessing about weight is a normal part of growing up. Conversely, when adults offer a positive example, it can help young people avoid falling into unhealthy restrictive behaviors.
If you’ve struggled with an eating disorder or other food issues, I know it can be a priority for you to not pass those struggles on to your children. I want to offer some simple tips to help keep dieting and weight talk to a minimum. I’ve listed several suggestions of things not to say around young people, but consider that this advice can be useful for any conversation you have—in order to reduce your focus on your body and food, and help you focus elsewhere.
Stop saying negative comments about your own body (even if you’re having negative thoughts about your body).
Stop talking about your desire to lose weight.
Stop commenting on the weight of others. (Don’t say who has lost or gained weight, or who is too thin or too fat. Teach children that we’re all different and we’re all worthy, and that people are much more than their appearance.)
Don’t say that certain foods will make you gain weight. (It’s fine to teach your kids which foods are the most nourishing for the body, but don’t make it about body size.)
After you’ve eaten, don’t express feelings of guilt. (If you believe you made a poor food choice, just move on and try to make a better choice next time.)
Don’t warn children that one day they’ll have to watch their weight, and therefore stop being able to eat what they want. (The truth is that an attitude of deprivation leads to more overeating and more weight gain in the long run. Of course we want kids to make good choices around food, but instilling a restrictive mindset won’t help them reach that goal.)
Accept compliments on the way you look, without responding with something critical or negative about your body or size. (just say thank you!)
Don’t give weight-related reasons for not having desserts or other foods. (If someone offers you cake for example, and you don’t want it, just say no thank you. Don’t say that it will go straight to your hips or that it will ruin your diet.)
Don’t tell your kids you exercise in order to lose weight or prevent weight gain. (Tell them it’s about being strong, feeling good, having energy, and taking care of your health.)
Make choosing healthy foods about health and self-care, not weight. (If you eat something healthier than what your kids are eating, don’t tell them it’s because what they are eating is too fattening or has too many calories.)
Don’t criticize yourself about what you are choosing to eat. (Don’t say, I shouldn’t be eating this. When you choose to eat something, eat it and enjoy it, without beating yourself up. Model the fact that no one eats perfectly.)
Don’t make comments about children’s weight. (There’s no need to make children turn attention to their body shape, even if you think you are offering them a compliment.)
All of this advice does not mean that you can’t teach children about nutrition or what habits will lead to a healthy life. Talk to them about nourishment. Talk to them about eating to feel good. Talk to them about playing outside for fun, and moving their body for the pure enjoyment of it. If you can model a healthy, balanced, and active lifestyle—while also avoiding teaching children to diet and try to control their weight by depriving themselves—it gives them the best chance of maintaining a positive relationship with food and a healthy weight for a lifetime.
If you struggle with binge eating and want guidance as you recover, here are some resources for additional support:
Brain over Binge Course – Self-paced online lessons (plus an app) for only $10.99/month. Includes over 120 tracks to listen to that give you the information and answers you need as you end binge eating.
Group Coaching – Get help from coach Julie and support from others who are overcoming this habit. Includes a forum that is open 24/7, group coaching calls, mindfulness resources, plus course access.
One-on-one Coaching – Book a 45-minute private session with coach Julie. She will help you change your thinking, uncover what is holding you back, and get on a path to complete freedom from food issues.