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10 Things You Can Do to Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food and Their Body

AMY GARDNER / December 21, 2019

A Rockette Shares What She Eats (And I’m So Glad My Daughter Is There To Hear It)

Going to New York City during December has to be one of my favorite things. The twinkling lights, the hustle of the city streets. It feels as if the song “Silver Bells” has come to life, and it’s truly magical.

This past weekend, my family and I traveled into the city. The whole family was there! Between navigating the busy streets, picking up last minute presents, and choosing new restaurants to test out, ry, we were exhausted by the end of the day! Although tired from our day in the midst of the magic of the city, we suddenly got our second wind when it was time to see the Rockettes in ‘A Christmas Spectacular,’ and oh boy, was it spectacular!!

My daughter who is 7 is a passionate dancer herself, so it goes without saying that this was a big moment for all of us, especially her!

Before the show started, we were lucky enough to take a backstage tour of the performing hall. Our group, all mesmerized but the depth of the stage and the sparkle on the costumes, we’re even more mesmerized when at the end of the tour, we got the chance to meet one of the Rockettes!

Our tour guide quickly introduced the professional dancer, and opened the floor up for any questions. Before I could even begin to think of which questions I wanted to ask (I had hundreds!!), one lady peeps her head up from the back of the pack and asks “as a professional dancer, do you have to follow a strict diet?”

You can bet I felt my body tense up immediately.  “What would she say?” I thought to myself. My 7 year old daughter is standing here, wide-eyed next to me, a dancer herself! “Please,” I pleaded, silently in my head, “please do not ruin this by sharing your diet tips in front of my daughter…or any of us, for that matter.”

After a million thoughts crossed my mind in a matter of seconds, the dancer smiles as says “Right now, my diet consists of a lot of Christmas cookies. It’s really important for us dancers to fuel our bodies well.”

YES! You nailed it! Thank you, a million times, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!! In that moment I could also see my daughter looking up to this young woman as a strong role model, because she, just like all of us, definitely enjoy some Christmas cookies this time of year!

I first felt so worried, and then suddenly relieved during this moment because have you ever stopped to think that our kids are literally swimming in diet messages? Children, have fresh young brains that are like mini sponges, soaking up every tiny detail we say, and every action we make, in their little curious minds.

And it doesn’t end with children having knowledge- seeking minds either. Well-intentioned adults in America are worried about the pediatric “obesity epidemic” (and yes, this is in quotes for a reason because I don’t agree with the sensationalization, or even using the term obesity, which assumes health risk simply based on size) has contributed to many negative outcomes including internalized shame and stigmatization (health risks themselves) and eating disorders.

The fear-inducing “obesity epidemic” messaging has increased global concern around children’s weight has increased parental anxiety around normal growth trends, particularly in during the 6-8 year period of adolescence when the average weight gain is 40lbs.

It’s completely understandable that parents WOULD be alarmed given all the health-based fear that’s been assigned to this issue and the fact that it’s really hard, often traumatic, to grow up “fat” in in our culture. The problem is though, while we’ve been so focused on pediatric obesity, the trend hasn’t declined. Yet, the incidence of eating disorders has steadily increased.

So what do we do?

Here are a few suggestions to help parents shape a positive body image and a healthy relationship with food within their children:

1. Talk positively about your body and others’ bodies’
2. Emphasize what your body and your child’s body can do versus how it looks
3. Set structure around food, providing regular meal and snack times
4. Trust your child’s body knows how much it needs to eat at meal and snack times
5. Trust that your child’s body is growing as it needs to. Look at the trend over time versus the percentile.
6. Seek support and guidance if you’re worried about your child’s weight
7. When you overhear someone making a “fat joke” or a comment on a TV show that pokes fun and/or fosters stereotypes based on body size, take the opportunity to process with your child (the same way you would do with any other kind of discriminatory messages)
8. Talk positively about food – about how it tastes, how much you’re enjoying it, your favorite foods
9. Avoid categorizing food as good or bad; all foods fit
10. Heal your own food and body image issues. Kids know when we’re faking it.

Remember this season, and every season, be like a Rockette and just eat the cookie!