For many parents (more often mothers), the fear of being overweight is communicated to a child or teen without the parent even realizing it. This message can result in the youngster worrying excessively about her own weight or body image. It can also lead to secret or closet eating, which can result in a child becoming overweight or developing an eating disorder (or both). In this excerpt from Dr. Susan’s Fit & Fun Family Action Plan: 301 Things You Can Do Today, Dr. Susan Bartell explains how to raise a child with a healthy self image.
Take the following quiz to see whether you may be communicating too many weight fears to your child:
1. Do you weigh yourself more than once a month in front of your child or teen?
2. When the family eats meals together, do you tend to pick at your food, rather than enjoying the meal with everyone else?
3. Does exercise take precedence over almost every other activity in your life?
4. Do you talk in front of your child or teen about dieting, watching your weight, losing weight or how fat you think you are? (You may need to ask someone else to give you an objective answer to this question.)
5. Are you almost always dissatisfied with the way you look in clothes, and do you express this openly?
6. Do you put your body down in front of your child or teen?
If you answered “yes” to any one or more of the above questions, you could be giving your child the message that you are not satisfied with your body and that, no matter how much you try, you never will be. This gives your child a very clear message: Being happy with one’s body is not even worth striving for, because achieving a fit, healthy body is so difficult (even impossible) to achieve.
What message are you sending?
In addition, your behavior also lets your child know that you are so fearful of being overweight that you will go to extremes such as overexercising, overweighing, undereating and/or obsessing to keep your weight and fear in check. For an overweight child, this may feel like a powerful rejection of his very self. The mental soundtrack goes something like this: “If my mom hates being fat and will do anything to avoid it, she must really hate me.” This can be a heartbreaking thought for a child or teenager.
Now that you’re aware of the strong connection between your fear and your child’s weight and body image, here’s how to change your behavior — so she has every chance to become healthier and reduce the chance of her developing an eating disorder.