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“Fat Chat is No Light Matter” – Guest Post by Jen Charbonneau

“Fat Chat is No Light Matter” – Guest Post by Jen Charbonneau

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As an body image/self esteem coach and woman who spent most of her twenties in the grip of a weight and food obsession, I walk around with my antennae tuned in to whatever might help me understand how we got ourselves into this mess.

Recently in a grocery store check-out line, I stood behind a 30-something mom and her little girl. The mother was chatting on her cell phone while the daughter was clinging to her mom’s leg with one hand and sucking on the thumb of the other. The mother’s side of the conversation went like this: “Oh, I was so bad yesterday! I had a whole piece of chocolate cake at the party. I am not eating any carbs today. I feel as big as a house.”

I wanted to hand the daughter my business card right then and there! I refrained, though, since the kid, still in diapers, was a little too young for therapy.

My point is that your children are listening. They are listening when you partake in what I call “fat chat.” They are listening when you say you feel “fat” (which by the way is not a feeling). They are listening when you say you were “bad” or “good” or “evil” or “sinned” because of a food you either ate or passed up. They are listening when you say you need to go to the gym to work off your dessert. They are listening when you comment on other people’s bodies or your own.

Your children are listening and learning and following suit. And what they often end up thinking is: “I better watch out. I might get fat. Maybe I am fat. If I am, then people are judging me. I better control my eating. Uh oh, I can’t stop eating. Hunger is bad. Fullness is worse.”

Every year, I hear new stories….and the issues seem to begin in girls younger all the time. I have heard about six-year-olds who think they need to diet and know about carbs, fats and calories. Nine-year-olds who have to change their school clothes several times each morning until they find something they don’t feel “fat” in. I currently work with a 12 yr old who is entrenched in an eating disorder.

While an eating disorder is possible to overcome, the longer it goes on, the harder it is to heal. We need to do prevention at the ground level.

We have a choice:

We can teach our children to relax, listen to their bodies and love themselves, or we can teach them to be anxious, controlling, and out of touch with their inner sense of hunger and fullness.

My message here is not to blame or to shame, but merely to highlight the fact that unless we model a healthy, balanced, and loving relationship with food and our own bodies, our children are at risk for developing disordered eating, poor body image, and/or weight problems.

Take a look at the messages you are teaching. Learn to enjoy food again. Stay conscious of your body’s hunger and fullness levels and act on them. Get help if you can’t. Treat your body with respect and appreciation. After all, isn’t this what we want our kids to do?

Tips for Helping Your Child with Body Image

 If you find yourself “feeling fat,” explore a little deeper to see if there’s something else going on in your life. Model for your children that “fat” is not a feeling, but rather “feeling fat” can be a distraction from more difficult issues.

 Try not to label food as “good” or “bad.” Some foods are more nutrient dense than others, but morally all food is fuel! Talk with your kids about the nutritional value and variety of different foods, the art of cooking, and the fun and pleasure of eating.

 Talk to your kids about the difference between emotional and physical hunger and how the two often get mixed up. Physical hunger is a feeling in the belly that the body needs fuel. Teach kids to notice degrees of hunger and fullness as well as how to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Emotional hunger is usually a need to express feelings or have feelings acknowledged. When kids are sad, they might need to cry, talk about it, or draw a picture. When they are mad, they might want to write, draw, punch a pillow, tell you about it with gusto, and have you really hear them.

 Along these same lines, talk about the role of feelings: that they are signposts for living, and not to be “stuffed” or “starved” away. Teach them that just as there are no “good” or “bad” foods, there are no “good” or bad” feelings.

 Do not comment on other people’s bodies. This sets up a comparison mentality that is harmful and hard to give up. Talk about how everyone is beautiful in their own way, and that beauty is an inner quality that can be expressed in outer characteristics such as kindness and enthusiasm.

 Exercise with your kids for the joy of movement, not for how many calories you might burn.

 Look at family photos and talk about where your size and shape came from.

 Watch TV together and discuss the emphasis our culture places on looks, image, and thinness. Help them to notice special qualities in themselves like compassion and humour as well as things that interest them beyond their appearance. Teach them that they are enough just by being who they are—on the inside. (While you’re at it, think about yourself that way, too!)

 Do de-stressing activities together, like: listening to music, walking, spending time in nature, playing games, doing a hobby or craft, or reading and discussing a particular book.

 Help them to foster love for themselves when they look in the mirror. Teach them to “see” themselves with the same love that they feel for other people or animals in their lives.

 Make a list together of all the things that our bodies do for us. Help them to appreciate their various body parts rather than criticize them.

 Talk about what makes a good role model. Ask for an example of a person who seems to be a healthy, balanced eater with a positive body image. Discuss what qualities that person has that demonstrate good health. Ask your child to imagine embodying those same qualities.

 Teach your child that weight fluctuations are normal and healthy and that we all have a natural weight range just like we have a natural eye and hair color. Help them prepare for weight changes, especially girls approaching puberty.

 Role model and practice these things along with your child so they can experience you as a healthy eater with positive body image!

Jen Charbonneau, RDH, CMC, BA
Disordered Eating Consultant/Coach
Facilitator – Self Esteem Workshops for Youth
168 Third Ave.
Arnprior, On
K7S 1Y9

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Comments (5)

  1. Crystal Friday - 09 / 11 / 2012 Reply
    Thanks Jen for this awesome post! I am TOTALLY guilty of a lot of what you said above. I am always saying I need to loose weight, or don't like myself, or that certain foods are 'good' or 'bad'. My daughter even asks a lot 'is this healthy food?' As a kid I remember my mom not liking herself too. Saying how bad she looked in pictures etc. I never thought of anything at the time, i loved her and as most do, their moms are the best. But I was subconsciously taking it all in. Those feelings she had I reflected upon myself at an early age. I don't want that for my daughter AT ALL. Thanks for making me more aware to what I am unintentionally doing to her mindset for the future. :)
  2. Kathleen Friday - 09 / 11 / 2012 Reply
    This is a great article that I hope people read and take to heart. I've been trying to live this with my kids. Started with my son when he was born 6 years ago. Boys need positive body and food images as well :) But now I've got three girls as well, so I really want to try and give them the best chance I can to not follow in my negative body image. For me it's been a learning curve, but I found starting it early when he was so young has really helped. Doesn't mean I am getting it right all the time, but I keep trying. Articles like this help me to get some new ideas and just support in what I am trying to do for my kids. Keep writing them. We are listening.
  3. Tricia Friday - 09 / 11 / 2012 Reply
    Thank you for the great post Jen. I think its so important as women to make sure we don't project this message to our children. Its difficult to do because we are faced with it everywhere. We should focus on being happy with our bodies and living a healthy lifestyle so our children follow suit.
  4. Jen Friday - 09 / 11 / 2012 Reply
    Thanks Ladies. I do believe it's such an important topic & something that, although inadvertently, as mom's, we can pass along to our children. I'm glad to shed some light on positive body image but also want to remind women that we are MUCH more than any number on a weigh scale. Our children see all of our beauty and aren't inclined to look at the "bits" we don't think we like. It's difficult, if after years of self loathing, to begin with "from now on I'm going to love my body", so I suggest we start with "each day I'm working on accepting my body" ..... Anyway....thanks so much for reading & commenting !!
    • Crystal Friday - 09 / 11 / 2012 Reply
      I agree Jen, our children love us unconditionally....we need to do that too! :)

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