by Dana Suchow
As the first kid to get acne in my 2nd grade class, I grew up hyper aware of my face, my body, and how others perceived me. By the age of 25, this obsession with my external appearance had become overwhelming. And by age 26, I’d developed a serious eating disorder. By then I was binging on thousands of calories daily, only to purge them each night through compulsive exercise. In just a short period of time, my eating disorder was costing me jobs, relationships, and had nearly ruined my life.
Now, 10 years later, as an eating disorder survivor equipped with a toolbox full of knowledge and experience, I work with parents, teachers and caregivers, giving them the tools they need to raise body confident kids and prevent eating disorders before they start!
Today I am so excited to share 5 easy tools with you to help you put your child on a path towards body love, empowerment, and self-acceptance!
Compliment your child’s humanity instead of their body.
We often give children appearance based compliments that seem harmless because they come from a place of love. But these words can end up backfiring as they send the message to kids that their most worthy and valuable aspect is their appearance. The next time you praise a child, instead of you look nice, compliment who they are on the inside by using phrases like, You have a great sense of style! Or Wow, you’re so creative with colors!
Other non-body based compliments you can use are:
- You’re so kind and loving to animals.
- My world is a better place with you in it.
- You’re wonderful at making sure no one feels left out.
- I love how you didn’t give up until you got the right answer.
- You lit up the room with your energy when you walked in here.
Talk about exercise as a way to make friends, release energy, and build a strong heart.
One heartbreaking aspect of our diet obsessed culture is the way in which exercise has become all about weight loss. It can be difficult to find a fitness routine that’s not only FUN, but that doesn’t advertise weight loss as the #1 goal. Well I’m here to tell you that there’s so many wonderful reasons to move your body that aren’t about changing your appearance!
Instead of viewing movement as a way to lose weight, get yourself and your kids excited by finding something they love, and discussing it as a way to:
- Build social connections.
- Learn team building skills.
- Release pent up energy.
- Get a quick mood-boosting endorphin rush.
- Build healthy bones for moving, a strong heart for loving, and a smart brain for learning.
Neutralize all foods by using Sometimes/Always language.
When we categorize foods as “good & bad” or “clean & dirty,” it places moral judgement on those foods, which in turn places moral judgement on the eater when they eat those foods. Instead, try using the phrase Sometimes/Always Foods to help remove the shame and guilt felt when eating certain things. Because at the end of the day, food is not just calories in, calories out. Food has the power to bring people together, to create laughter, to strengthen familial bonds, and to celebrate culture, heritage and history.
Don’t body shame yourself or other people in front of children.
Look, I get it! Loving your body 100% of the time can be hard! But sometimes we just have to fake it until we become it, and that’s especially true when talking about bodies. When an adult speaks negatively about their body, what children end up hearing is: I won’t love you if you look like that. Kids are hardwired to need an adult’s love for survival, because without a parent’s love, a child is at a high risk of not being fed, clothed, or cared for. So from a basic survival perspective, children will do anything to maintain an adult’s love and approval, even if that means changing their appearance. So make sure you speak positively and lovingly about bodies when little ears are present.
Let kids know you’ll always love them no matter what their body looks like.
Weight should never ever be the deciding factor for whether or not a child is worthy of love. Break the cycle of conditional love that so many of us experienced as children, by letting your kids know you will always love and protect them, no matter what their body looks like. Positive words like this can have long-lasting effects on your child’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being!
Dana Suchow is an award-winning speaker, educator and coach.
Since overcoming Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder and exercise compulsion, Dana Suchow has become an expert in the field of body image and eating disorder prevention. Offering a nonclinical and holistic approach, Dana gives parents, teachers and caregivers the tools they need to prevent eating disorders in kids before they start! Learn more at www.DanaSuchow.com
For free daily tools and help, follow Dana on Instagram: @DanaSuchow!