1. Teach them that health is multifaceted.
Health is more than the absence of disease. A “healthy” individual is not defined by their food choices or how often they exercise. It even goes beyond the weight, size, and shape of our bodies. Yes. Our BMI is not an objective measure of our health status as I’ll point out in item #3 below.
There are several facets that contribute to the overall health of a person. Physical health is certainly important. However, there are psychological, emotional, intellectual, social, and even economic aspects that must be developed and nurtured as well. Furthermore, they are tightly integrated.
When we’re struggling emotionally, it may have a profound impact on our physical activity and/or the food choices we make. What happens when you’re sad, lonely, or hurt? Do you reach for the ice cream? Do you eat more than usual? Maybe you lose your appetite and find it difficult to eat. While it varies from person to person, it’s quite common to see this tight connection between psychological and emotional health (acutely or chronically) and our nutrition. The same is often true for physical activity.
How Do We Teach This To Our Kids?
We need to be intentional about developing and nurturing each facet of health in our children. Modeling the importance of each area has a powerful effect. When our kids see it in action, it’s more likely to stick.
In addition, an overemphasis on their diet including numerous food rules and restrictions may encourage the development of an unhealthy relationship with food. Labeling foods as “good” and “bad” does not typically have the effect we would hope to see. One common manifestation is emotional eating where a person might regularly reach for food to suppress and soothe negative feelings. Another negative consequence is feelings of guilt around food or certain foods. This kind of thinking can develop into conditions such as binge eating or the development of disordered eating over time.
Long story short, talk to your kids. Take interest in each of these facets of health. Avoid implementing too many rules surrounding food. Develop a relationship of trust, respect, openness, honesty, and non-judgment as you help grow and develop each of their facets of health.
2. Teach them to enjoy and experiment with a wide variety of foods.
It’s important that our kids are familiar with the foundations of nutrition including a basic understanding of energy balance, macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs), fiber, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), hunger/satiety, etc.
However, they don’t need to be counting calories or tracking macros. They don’t need to be overthinking about the food they’re putting in their mouths. When they’re young, we should focus our attention on healthy habits and behaviors that will naturally equip them and put them in a position to live a healthy lifestyle as they grow and transition into adulthood. We want to find ways to prevent them from reaching a place where they would get caught up in diet culture.
One of the most effective ways to do this with kids and adults alike is to teach and encourage them to enjoy and experiment with a wide variety of foods. This is a powerful habit.
How Do We Teach This To Our Kids?
One great way you can start doing this today is to start to involve them in meal planning, shopping, and preparations.
While at the store, ask them questions about different foods that they think might be interesting to try. If they like rice, ask them if they’d like to try something a little different like quinoa. Point out different fruits or vegetables that they may have never tried like red bananas, pomegranate, or dragonfruit. Make it a bit of a challenge. Each time they go to the store with you they pick something new to try (food, seasoning, garnish, beverage, etc.).
When it comes time to prepare the meals, get them involved. Teach them various cooking techniques. Engage in conversation (that social facet of health). Allow them to taste the food and ask what they think and if it needs anything. There are countless ways to help them enjoy many types of foods.
Why is this so important? When we eat from a wide variety of sources of food we are more likely to get all of the macronutrients and micronutrients we need to support the physical aspect of our health. We don’t have to overthink it. It’s just a natural consequence. If all we eat is broccoli and chicken, we miss out on the nutrients found in legumes, whole grains, colorful vegetables, fruit, nuts, seafood, other meats, etc.
Would you like to start your kids off in the right direction when it comes to their understanding of nutrition and fitness? Check out my nutrition and fitness course specifically for kids and teens called Equipped to Thrive™!
3. Teach them to respect and celebrate the amazing things our bodies can do when we take care of them.
Our BMI does not define our level of health.
To be fair, the amount of body fat we carry on our bodies is associated with a number of health issues including diabetes, heart disease, and some other conditions. So, it is wise and prudent to be mindful of this aspect of our bodies.
However, we don’t need to be criticizing our kids, partners, ourselves, or others with regard to the size or shape of our bodies. Even joking can have negative consequences.
What’s one of the most common cognitive features present in those struggling with an eating disorder? An overvaluation of the weight and shape of their bodies.
When our kids see us getting down on ourselves or obsessing about the number on the scale, this teaches them that they should do the same. This teaches them that the scale determines whether they should feel good about themselves or not.
If our kids hear us criticizing the bodies of others when watching TV, shopping, or even sitting around talking with friends, they will internalize that. They begin to learn that if they don’t measure up to the arbitrary standards of others that they are going to be criticized, laughed at, or rejected.
Instead, we should teach them to respect and celebrate the amazing things our bodies can do when we take care of them.
How Do We Teach This To Our Kids?
We should make sure they understand that our bodies require adequate energy to function properly and that this fuel comes from the food we eat.
They should understand that when we take care of our body by staying physically active and providing the right amount of energy for it, that it can do amazing things.
Whenever an opportunity arises to point out the accomplishments of someone, do so. I’m not referring to professional athletes. I’m talking about average, everyday people. For example, we may hear an inspirational story about someone losing 100 lbs, improving their health, and running a half marathon. We could say something like, “Look how much weight they lost. Wow! They look so much better now.” However, this puts the focus on their size and shape implying that smaller people look better. Instead, we could focus on the fact that they changed their eating habits and began to exercise. Pointing out how they did this without speaking about their appearance and body size/shape.
What’s one of the best ways to prevent our kids from developing an overvaluation of their bodies based on weight and shape? Don’t do or say things that would encourage the development of this mindset.