As a parent, you role model every day. Truthfully every thing you do and say becomes an example for your child. But are you confident you’re modeling healthy food relationships?
When it comes to your child’s eating behaviors, like so many things, you want them to be spared the same struggles and hard times you went through (most of the time). So you try to teach them a better way. Sometimes you teach by telling stories or explaining the details of what will go wrong if they do it the same way you did. And other times you teach by showing them through your actions.
And if you were raised in diet culture like I was (umm, hello, how could you escape it?), then you know very well the tangled web that diet culture weaves. When it comes to untangling this, it isn’t as easy. But the freedom and peace and brain space you find when you replace diet culture with intuitive eating is well worth the effort. This is doable. With a little help.
Forgiveness makes room for healthy food relationships
When you have a troubled past with eating, and you have food relationships that leave you confused and empty inside, it can be hard to set that aside and role model a better way. Rest assured, this is not your fault.
I know that is harder to believe than it is to say. Many humans have a tendency to play the blame game, looking for someone or something to find at fault. It’s not always us we find to blame, but one of the evil things about diet culture is that it teaches us to blame ourselves for all diet related failures.
And diet culture is inescapable. It’s everywhere. And it permeates everyone. Or at least those who are not aware of it. Which most of aren’t until it’s too late. But you can stop that cycle.
When you’re exposed to something as pervasive as diet culture, it’s all you know. You can’t expect yourself to know anything different. You were raised in diet culture, and so were your parents. They raised you the only way they knew how. You can’t blame yourself for the way you were raised without essentially taking on the blame for all of diet culture. And that is simply ridiculous.
Isn’t it time to forgive yourself?
Put your own oxygen mask on first
You know this saying if you’re in business for yourself, if you’ve ever done any self-care course, or if you’ve traveled on an airplane. Basically, it means that in case of an emergency, you can’t possibly expect to help anyone else if you haven’t taken care of yourself first. If you try, you’ll pass out from lack of oxygen and you’ll not only be of no help to others, but you’ll become a part of the problem.
So when it comes to role modeling mindful and intuitive eating behaviors for your child, you don’t want to put yourself in a place where you cannot help, and you definitely don’t want to create more of a problem for them.
Putting on your oxygen mask when it comes to recovering from diet culture looks like learning a new way to look at food, your body, and your health. You have to learn this stuff first and begin to make the changes you want your child to emulate.
Diet Culture plays a critical role in our food relationships
To help you with this, you need to first understand how diet culture has impacted your own relationship with food and your eating behaviors. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you able to recognize true physical hunger and satiety (fullness)?
- Do you find yourself comparing your food and eating to others?
- Do you worry about what others think about your eating and the way you look?
- Has the way you feel about your body interfered with relationships?
- Do you place judgment and morals on food and eating (label as good, bad, healthy, unhealthy, etc.)?
- Can you trust yourself to make appropriate and healthy food and eating decisions?
- Do you feel you have binge eating episodes or ever feel out of control with food?
- Do you think about food a lot, or often between meals and snacks?
- Is food on your mind and the topic of your conversations a lot?
- Do you “make up for” eating too much by skipping meals even if you’re hungry?
Your answers to these questions will give you insight into the areas diet culture has woven itself into your thinking. It will begin to show you what words you are using, what actions you are taking, and what thoughts you are thinking that will need to be changed in order to promote those healthy food relationships.
Where do you notice similar behaviors in your child?
Using the questions above, and either your observation of your child or their own answers to these questions (you can base this on age and maturity of your child), what do you recognize as diet culture influence in your child? Remember, this is not a self-blame game…these behaviors are a result of diet culture. It’s diet culture that interferes with our healthy food relationships.
Role modeling healthy food relationships begins
Once again, kids do as they see and hear. Your thoughts lead to your spoken words and actions.
Consider how you handle the following:
- handle stress and frustration
- respond to problems
- express anger and other emotions
- treat other people
- deal with competition, responsibilities, loss, mistakes
- celebrate special occasions
- take care of yourself (what you eat, how much you exercise, balance your commitments)
Believe it or not, all of these relate closely to your food relationships and eating behaviors. How you handle these situations is how you handle your food relationships. These are the influences you’ve had on your kids.
If this scares you, don’t fret. I know of 80 year olds successfully making the switch to intuitive eating. It is never too late to begin.
And when making any change, always, always, always start with awareness. If you took those questions seriously and started coming up with your own answers, you’ve already begun the process of awareness.
Just creating and increasing your awareness of these situations and how you respond will help you to slow them down. It’s a process akin to mindfulness. Slowing the process down helps you to make conscious choices about how you respond from this point forward.
Forgiveness is next to intuitiveness
I’m not even sure intuitiveness is a real word, but in the end, being forgiving and understanding of mistakes you make, as well as those your child makes, builds trust between you and your child. Learning to look at food and eating behaviors as neutral rather than taking a judgemental stance removes the need for blame. And the resulting shame is lifted.
Creating a space of trust, as well as a judgment-free zone, are imperative to making room for healthy food relationships. What have you found are your biggest challenges with doing this in your home?