I started dieting in 4th grade and believe it caused a lot of my body image issues. I want to help give ideas for healthy habits for healthy kids so we can help the next generation live naturally healthy lives.
I can vividly remember the day I told my Mom how much I hated my body. I was in 4th grade and was sitting in my canopy bed and she was tucking me in. I can remember bawling. Sobbing as I was telling her I didn’t look like the other girls. Telling her I was so fat. I was so ugly. I didn’t look like my friends and it had been something I let bother me for so long that I finally just broke and was begging for help to “fix” it.
The picture above is me around the time I started dieting. I look at this picture today and it makes me so sad that I thought something was wrong with me.
As a Mother I cannot imagine how much it pained my Mom to hear me say these horrible things about myself. Now that I am a Mother, I know that if my boys ever feel this way I’m going to want to help them, too. So, with that said I am starting this “conversation” by telling you I do not blame my parents for my eating disorder. My parents did the best they could with the information that was available to them when I was growing up. It’s was the 80’s/90’s and dieting was totally “acceptable” and there wasn’t the research like there is now about diets being so unhealthy.
My Mom did what she thought was best, she did what she thought I needed and that was to take me with her to her Weight Watchers meeting and enroll me as a member. Back then, Weight Watchers was different. VERY different. I tracked my food, marked things off as a dairy, fruit/vegetable, starch, etc. It felt like a diet, but I think it helped me lose a little weight and I probably felt better for a little while, then I quit. I was either “on my diet” or “off my diet”. If I was “off” I was eating everything in sight. This cycle continued for YEARS. I did all kinds of diets growing up, constantly trying to look more like I “should”. More like my friends who were mostly athletes. I sucked at sports. I mean, I was awful. I sang and that’s where I belonged, on the stage, not on the court, but I still wanted to look like my friends whose thighs didn’t rub together and could easily wear shorts. I have never worn shorts comfortably, even as a kid in grade school.
It wasn’t until after college and after I got married that I realized that these years of me hating my body and dieting created quite a tornado of thoughts and emotions within me. Combine that with several years in an unhealthy relationship and at 23 years old all I knew is that I was never going to get control of my weight, I was always going to struggle and I didn’t deserve any better than that.
I had so much to learn.
And I didn’t even know it.
Today, at 35 years old, looking back on the years of struggle I see what changes could have been made and I’ve made it my mission to help the next generation, including my own children, from a life spent hating their bodies and being trapped in an inner prison because food controls them. I do not want any child to ever feel the way I felt. Especially my own.
I want to help my children feel confident in their own skin, so when/if someone starts to treat them in such a way that makes them doubt their greatness they will walk away with their head held high because they know they deserve better.
A few weeks ago, Weight Watchers announced that they are launching a campaign this summer to offer a free membership to teens to accompany their parents to meetings. Weight Watchers members rejoiced and the intuitive eating community freaked out. Battle lines were drawn and hurtful words were spoken (ok, that might be a bit dramatic but that’s how it felt since I consider myself part of both “communities”)
Today I am writing this post because the children in our lives need us. They need a unified front to HELP them instead of choosing a side and leaving them more confused and unsure of what to do.
Childhood obesity is a real issue in America. Bullying is a major issue.
Having an opinion means nothing if you aren’t
going to do something about it.
Today I am going to use my experience to share my voice.
We live in a society that is constantly defending their side. People are so quick to judge before learning more about the other side… I want to help bridge the gap between the intuitive eating community with the initiative that Weight Watchers is offering. I believe the initiative is a blessing IF the parents bringing their children to the meetings have the right knowledge and education to make sure they are teaching healthy habits and NOT teach disordered eating behaviors to their children. I am a current Weight Watchers member and am also a Weight Watchers Ambassador, but I also know that “diets cause disorders”… that’s why I want to help start this conversation.
There IS a right and wrong way to do Weight Watchers. If you are binging and restricting, if you are considering the program a diet, if you tell yourself you “can’t” have certain foods then you are on a diet and I highly encourage you to take a step back and think about it. I did Weight Watchers that way for many years. That is not how the Weight Watchers program is designed, that’s how people are twisting it. Weight Watchers focus is on health. Not on dieting. The meetings are supportive and helpful and I truly believe that they have come SO far with education about how the obesity epidemic has little to do with the food, and so much more to do with the emotional component of it.
I’ve shared before that my early dieting is what caused my binge eating disorder and I do not want young people to go down the same path I did because they have decided to join Weight Watchers to become healthier. We have to help them. But first we have to arm ourselves with a healthy mindset and be willing to step away from diet culture and dive into a life of intuitive eating and listening to our bodies. The new Weight Watchers Freestyle program is so intuitive and is cohesive, in my opinion, to an intuitive eating lifestyle because they are encouraging us to listen to our bodies so much more than ever before.
How can we help children eat healthy, without encouraging a diet mentality?
I am a Mom of two little boys. Their health, especially their relationships with food, are so important to me. I want to be sure I am raising them in a home that offers balance but also encourages healthy behaviors and let me tell you, it is not always easy to do. We walk a fine line when we begin discussing healthy eating because they take things very literal most of the time.
I want to offer you healthy habits for healthy kids so we can prevent another generation of disordered eating. I asked a Kansas City Dietitian and wellness blogger to help provide information for you. The funny thing about her responses are they are exactly what I’m doing with my own children so it made me feel confident in the practices I’m implementing and I want to share them with you in hopes they will help you.
Shanna Hutcheson, R.D., is passionate about helping others discover that living a healthy lifestyle can be delicious, satisfying and simple. She believes that wellness is a balance of eating nourishing foods, exercising often and practicing self-care. I am excited that she is willing to give us a professional perspective on this conversation because it is one that many of us will face. Raising healthy kids is an intentional practice and I’m always up for learning how to do it better. You can find her at Wellness for the Win.
How do you recommend encouraging healthy foods to a child who doesn’t enjoy fruits/vegetables or trying new foods?
Shanna: I would recommend getting the kids involved in all food-related decisions, including grocery shopping, meal planning and/or cooking. If they feel like they have a little bit of say in what you are buying and eating for meals, they might be more willing to try these new foods. Make it fun by picking a color or theme for the week. For example, focus on orange and green one week and have them help you pick out five fruits or veggies in those colors, then find creative ways to incorporate them in meals and snacks.
What are your top tips to model a healthy relationship with food and/or activity to our kids? Especially as a parent who is trying to get healthier and lose weight.
Shanna: I would encourage any parent who is trying to live a healthy lifestyle to frame it as just that, you want to be healthy so you can be with your family as long as possible and do all the things you want to do, like travel, play soccer in the backyard with your kids, etc. Do not discuss your desire to lose weight, and try to refrain from making any type of negative body image comments at all, but especially in front of your kids; otherwise they may start to question their own weight/appearance as well.
What is your advice about talking to kids about calories and Smart Points?
Amy: This is an area I am really passionate about. I don’t believe our kids should hear us talk about Smart Points or calories, and if they do it should be VERY minimal. Foods should be talked about in how they make us feel, not how many points they are, how fattening they are or how many calories are in a food. Kids should consider food just “food” as long as they can. You can explain how certain foods make us feel better than others but I really try to limit any Weight Watchers or weight loss discussions around my children. They know I go to Weight Watchers meetings, but they think that is where Mom goes to learn how to be healthy and strong. They don’t know I weigh there and when/if the topic of weight has ever come up I always say that our weight just tells us how strong we are.
Shanna: I would try to avoid talking about tracking calories and/or points in front of your kids as much as possible. You do not want your children to think that this is a requirement for living a healthy lifestyle, or the only way to avoid becoming overweight, because it’s not. Instead, just encourage them to eat healthy foods and participate in physical activity daily to keep their bodies healthy and strong.
What are some healthy snack options for kids?
Shanna: Listed below are some great options, and you can also find more recipes on my blog Wellness for the Win.
- Healthy homemade trail mix
- No Bake Energy Bites
- String cheese and whole grain crackers
- Whole grain crackers or baby carrots with hummus (or ranch)
- Apples / bananas with peanut butter
- Yogurt with whole grain cereal as granola and/or fruit (can be dried cranberries, dark chocolate chips, pumpkin seeds, etc.)
- Healthy granola bars — can also make at home; some good brands are Kind, Larabar, That’s It, RX Bars for kids
- Whole grain toast with bananas and peanut butter with cinnamon
- Banana Nut Muffins — this would also be a good place to throw in some blueberries!
Amy: We do a lot of the snacks Shanna suggest and some of the ones listed here as well.
- Unsweetened applesauce
- Air popped popcorn- I buy this in bulk at Costco, Skinny Pop is my favorite brand or I’ll buy a larger bag of popcorn and divide it into individual baggies for easy grab and go snacks.
- Pretzels. Daily 😉
- Their favorite bars right now are the Clif Organic Z Bars.
What are some healthy habits that encourage kids towards healthy living in a natural & authentic way?
Listed below are some excellent examples from Shanna on how to naturally promote a healthy lifestyle.
- Encourage your kids to be active every day, as this can help with both their physical and mental health, and they will be more likely to continue this habit into adulthood. Try to take advantage of good weather as a family.
- Limit use of electronics so they are spending less time viewing pictures or messages that may create stress or negative body image, and more time with family and/or friends who make them feel good about themselves.
- Eating as a family has been shown to improve nutrition and healthy eating behaviors. Make family dinners a priority whenever you can.
- Eat the rainbow! Try to encourage them to include a variety of colorful foods (fruits & veggies) throughout their day.
- Get them in the habit of having a water bottle with them, so they are more likely to choose water over other sugary beverages.
- Encourage your kids to do things that truly make THEM feel happy and fulfilled (i.e.: encourage your son to play baseball if he really loves it, not just because Mom or dad want him to and he feels pressured and is actually stressed out by it)
- Encourage body kindness as much as possible. If you hear your daughter or son say something negative about their bodies, address it – do NOT ignore it. Tell them that they are beautiful and strong just the way they are, and that their weight does not define their worth. Have conversations around this as much as you need to.
- Encourage them to be social and hang out with friends who have similar values and make your kids feel good while they are together. Socializing rather than being isolated is important in adolescence for mental health.
I think Shanna offered some amazing insight on how we can help create healthy habits to raise healthy kids. I know many of us have had to lose weight and I just wanted to address how our journey’s could affect our children.
I don’t want the new Weight Watchers initiative to create disorders in children. My hope is the parents who decide to take their child to a meeting are doing so with their health in mind and have had some very candid and honest conversations about health and body image before walking through the doors. I believe parents need to encourage healthy eating behaviors and Smart Points should be talked about minimally if they do decide to go on Weight Watchers. I believe there is a happy medium, but it may take some work to find out what that looks like and that is going to look different for every family.
I am not here to judge. I am not here to tell you what is right for your child. I am here to help offer additional information so YOU, as the parent, make the best decision for YOUR child.
Being a parent is hard. Being a parent to a child that feels like they don’t fit in is unbearable I’m sure, my boys are 6 & 2 so we haven’t ran into this quite yet. If you have a child who is struggling with their body and their weight, please have a conversation and ask them how they are feeling, but don’t make it about the number on the scale. We have to help break the cycle of the scale being an indicator of our worth… the two should not affect one another at all.
Looking back at pictures of myself I see a little girl who was sad. But, she didn’t really need to be.
I see a little girl who was growing into herself, and shouldn’t have been comparing herself to others.
I see a little girl who could have embraced her strengths instead of focusing on her weaknesses.
I want to inspire change for not only young girls, but young boys.
I want to inspire parents to lead healthy lifestyles because they feel better doing so and the positive changes trickle down to our children.
I want to inspire a parent who has struggled their entire life with body image and food to face their own issues so they can STOP THE CYCLE with their children.
I want to be the woman that didn’t let binge eating disorder define her and rose above the mess of her past and used her story to help others stop the cycle of dieting and body shaming so their children don’t have to suffer the same way.
Will you join me in this? Will you be a wellness warrior with me and fight for the next generation?
We CAN love our bodies.
We can overcome negative self talk and poor body image.
We can learn to fuel them with healthy foods.
We can learn to move them more because it makes us feel more alive.
Our bodies are a gift and I hope we can help kids learn that from a young age.
Healthy living is not a punishment.
I’m thankful I finally committed to a healthy lifestyle free from “dieting” and body shaming. I never want to go back, and I will continue to fight for those who struggle, no matter how young or old they are. It’s never too late. Ever.