Has food become the latest battleground in your house?

Do you notice your child eating all the time and worry they are gaining too much weight?
Having worked as an eating disorder dietitian for the past 20 years, this is a concern I hear from parents all the time. It’s hard to relinquish control of our kiddos’ food now that they are spending so much more time away from home. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if your child is gaining weight as a by-product of puberty, or if they are eating out of stress, boredom, avoidance, or just not being as physically active as they used to be.
No matter the cause of this weight gain, it’s important to handle this situation sensitively. That is my goal with this article. To help you with some good strategies to use that will be helpful not hurtful. Your relationship with your teen will get a boost as well!​​​​​​​
There are helpful and some potentially harmful ways to help your teenager feel good about food and body image and with teens, it is crucial that you approach this topic in a helpful way.
Teenagers are often in an emotional state with hormones, body changes, stress of school, and peers… how you approach food and body image can be a make or break in your relationship with them. My goal is to help you to end with positive results!
Here are 11 Strategies that will HELP your Teen Feel Good about Food and Body Image:

  1. Do not panic! Calmly tell your child that you love them but you have noticed some changes in their eating and exercise habits. Let them know that you love them regardless of their size or shape, and that you are there to help if they want it.
  2. Do help them figure out if the changes in food intake and body weight could be related to:
    • puberty,
    • emotional eating and self-soothing with food,
    • eating out more with school friends,
    • or less physical activity due to time constraints or other factors.
  3. Do consider a visit to your child’s doctor to rule out any medical issues.
  4. Do teach your child that there is natural body diversity and that people come in all different shapes and sizes.
  5. Do help your child learn to listen to their body’s internal signals of hunger and fullness rather than focus on external numbers like body weight.
  6. Do become a role model of healthy habits for your child and offer to help them work on exercising for pleasure and eating for hunger rather than emotion.
  7. Do help them develop an outlet for their feelings, such as listening to their concerns in a non-judgmental way and help them work on non-eating related coping skills.
  8. Do have family meals when you can and be role model parents who eat a wide variety of foods for nutrition, satisfaction as well as pleasure.
  9. Do stock your home with a variety of meal and snack foods including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy, meats and other proteins, and fats for added satiety.
  10. Do keep some less nutritious “fun” foods in your pantry or your child will find these at friends’ houses and/or sneak them without your knowledge.
  11. Do make your home a safe space for your child to talk about their feelings, changing bodies, as well as their food intake.​​​​​​​

How to Help your Teen Feel Good about Food and Body Image
Here are 7 Strategies that are NOT helpful:

  1. Do not nag your child or hyper-focus on their food intake. This usually backfires and your teen may end up eating more as a result.
  2. Do not put your teen on a diet, tell them to simply “eat less” or tell them you will diet along with them!
  3. Do not tell them that some foods are “good” and others are “bad.”
  4. Do not weigh your child (unless directed by your dietitian or MD for medical reasons).
  5. Do not bribe your child with food or reward/praise them for not eating a certain food.
  6. Do not emphasize your child’s weight by commenting on any weight loss/weight gain.
  7. Do not reject your child for having a body shape or size that is not to your liking.

It is so tough to parent these days (I know, I have raised two myself), and even harder to parent in the backdrop of diet culture, media exposure and inevitable body comparisons these provide. If you focus on your child’s body weight and body size, these unhelpful strategies can lead a vulnerable child towards disordered eating and poor body image.
When parents try to restrict their child’s food intake rather than teaching him/her to listen to levels of hunger and fullness, and that all foods can be part of a balanced diet, it usually backfires! Most of the time, kids with restricted diets end up eating secretly and eat larger quantities of food than their body needs, which can lead to weight gain and an unhealthy relationship with food.
Many of the adult clients I work with can remember feeling bad in their bodies, felt shame for their appetite and weight, and began dieting when they were just children. They remember starving themselves, battling against their bodies and inevitably, yo-yo dieting.
If you struggle with making this work and want some peer support to help you stay strong as you make these changes, consider joining our Free Facebook Group onlineEat – Live – Nourish is open to anyone struggling with food, body image and starting the process of intuitive eating. We are a non-diet, Body Positive Group. Click here to get a special link to join this group.
Want to avoid passing on your eating struggles and issues to your children? Click here to download my ebook, 3 Steps to get OFF the Diet Roller Coast for GOOD!