Sure, maybe you don’t think dieting or disordered eating has anything to do with your children. You may think they don’t even notice. Or you’re setting a good example. Teaching them how to be “healthy” or “disciplined. Whatever your rationalization, it’s time to get radically honest with yourself. And to look at the dangerous messages sent when your children watch you diet.
Dangerous Messages You Send When Your Children Watch You Diet:
1. Shrinking Your Body Is A Top Priority
When your kids watch you diet, they pick up on what matters most to you. They see you prioritizing dieting. And this comes at a cost.
Dieting becomes more important than sharing a meal with your kids. More important than allowing yourself enjoyment. Even more important than listening to your body.
Your main priority while dieting becomes watching what you eat. Limiting yourself. The size of your body (and shrinking it) takes precedence over joining in on the meal. It matters more than going to lunch with your friends. Eating at a restaurant. Having a piece of their birthday cake.
Restricting your food matters most. Not joy. Or satisfaction or satiation. Listening to your body, and how you feel matters much less than the calories in your mouth and the number on the scale. Your target weight matters more than feeding yourself enough.
2. Your Value Comes From Your Body Size
For decades I watched my mom’s weight go up and down like the waves in an ocean. Today I don’t blame her for the example she set. Instead, I feel compassion and sadness for a woman who grew up to believe her body size determined her worthiness and lovability.
It’s not like she made the idea up herself. She was just responding to a culture that brainwashed her to believe striving for the ideal body size would make her happier. Gain her more privilege and power. She was a victim of diet culture in the same way I was. Her attempt to perform societal beauty standards was the only way she knew to achieve acceptance and value. It’s not f-ed up that she responded in this way.
It’s f-ed up that our society is set up this way in the first place.
Because in many ways she wasn’t wrong. Meaning power and privilege IS doled out based on body size and appearance. And how closely we perform the beauty ideal. While this isn’t right- it is true. But the lie comes in with the message: she could make her body smaller if she just tried hard enough. Diets don’t work. After trillions of dollars have been spent by researchers searching for that one quick fix- we still don’t have ANY diet that works for at least 5 years for 97% of the people.
I remember my mom sweating over a hot stove daily to make meals she enviously watched us eat. While she swallowed down her “meal” from a microwaved cardboard container. Toddler sized portions of rubbery chicken and soggy vegetable. Or as dished herself another serving of the zero point cabbage soup. She spent money, time, and energy feeding everyone else in our family. While she starved herself.
I began to believe part of being a woman meant never getting to enjoy food.
But it seemed, to her, this suffering was worth it. I watched her pose for pictures in crop tops when she’d lost weight. Beaming with pride. But the crop tops were always temporary. The weight never stayed off. Neither did the pride in her eyes.
The dangerous narrative I internalized was: it’s a mom’s job to cook for and provide her family with delicious food. But she doesn’t get to eat the food. Her job is to shrink her own body while nourishing everyone around her.
Worst of all- I watched my mom attach her self-worth to her body size. When she “successfully” shrunk her body, she felt good about herself as a woman. Sadly, the flip of this experience is the shame she carried when her diet failed. And this happened over and over.
3. Everything Can Be Labeled As “Good” or “Bad”
A key part of dieting, clean eating, or wellness culture is the labeling of foods as “good” or “bad.” There are many harmful side effects of falling into this pattern of labeling. First off, it reinforces the all-or-nothing binary idea that everything in life is either good or bad. Wrong or right. It leaves zero room for nuance of continuums.
Children internalize this type thinking quickly. They begin to see themselves as either “good” or “bad” or “wrong” or “right.” When in reality- we are all human. We all make mistakes. Life doesn’t happen in all black-and-white. There is so much room for grey.
Another problem that happens is all “bad” foods are suddenly not allowed. Making them much more attractive. Food gains an electric charge when it is “off limits,” and this actually contributes to the reaction of binge eating.
The problem isn’t the food itself, but the villainization of the food.
4. You Should Ignore Your Hunger Signals
Dieting relies on looking to outside sources to determine how much or what you should eat. Instead of listening to and trusting their body- a dieter shuts off any connection with their body.
Many dieters don’t even know when they are hungry. This is harmful and heartbreaking for multiple reasons. Our bodies communicate with us all the time.
There is so much wisdom to be gained by listening to our bodies’ intuitive signals.
Rather than being in communication with our bodies, dieters internalize the narrative that food is scary. Harmful. And a threat. For some of us this leads to obsession with food and weight. Decades of weight cycling. And for others it develops into a full blown eating disorder. Either way- the outcome is miserable.
When your children watch you diet, they’re taking in this harmful story that food is dangerous and needs to always be micromanaged. If you don’t trust your own instincts, how can your children learn to trust theirs?
5. To Be Healthy You Must Be Thin
This is probably the most toxic message your children learn when they watch you diet. Fatphobia is based on this harmful lie. It’s reinforced by the industrial medical complex. Sadly it not only reinforces oppression based on size, but it also increases body shame and weight stigma. Which both are correlated with worse health outcomes than simply being at a higher weight.
Don’t believe me? Check out many of the resources on Health at Every Size here.
I want to teach my kids to be individuals who think for themselves. I dont’ want them setting their goals on superficial things. I want them to connect with their souls. With their purpose. To love with their full hearts.
I don’t want them to believe a women’s highest achievement in life is to be thin and pretty.
Or that a women’s role is to be submissive. To make sure everyone else around her is taken care of and to put herself last. So I must show them by example that I deserve to care for myself. I deserve rest and I deserve a full serving of the meals I prepare. I deserve help from my husband and partner.
And I deserve to be seen for who I am- not for the size of my pants.
When Your Children Watch You Diet- You Miss Out On Teaching Them Valuable Lessons
One of the biggest reasons I chose recovery was to help make this world a better place.
I want my boys to grow up understanding at their core they should never judge a person by their appearance. That includes race. Abilities. And yes- body size.
I want to raise kind, compassionate, loving humans who add love and light to this world.
I can’t do any of this if my children watch me diet all my life.
There’s another more selfish reason I do this work.
I want my own children to know that fundamentally at their core, they are good, valuable, lovable, and worthy humans. NO MATTER WHAT SIZE PANTS THEY WEAR.
In my heart, loving and accepting others is a core value of mine. I believe in working to create a world where kindness and love connect us all. I know for now this is a pipe dream. But I don’t believe in descrimination and oppression and I refuse to participate in the systems that reinforce them. Such as diet culture.
I know I can’t change the entire world. I’m not capable of taking on big pharma, the patriarchy, or the diet industrial complex. I am just one person. But what I can do is every single day take actions and make choices that are in alignment with my own values. In a way that’s consistent with my beliefs. And I can guide and raise my children in the same way.
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