Most mothers want to raise strong girls who feel good about their bodies and don’t obsess about being thin. But how? Especially around New Year’s resolution time, it can seem like the entire culture is focused on dieting. Even among girls who clearly are not overweight, more than one-third report dieting, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
Rebecca Scritchfield is a Washington mother of two young girls and also a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She is the author of the new book “Body Kindness: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out — and Never Say Diet Again,” which teaches women how to transform their health by treating themselves with empathy. Diets, juice cleanses and punishing fitness classes are nowhere to be found in Scritchfield’s guide. Instead, it’s about listening to yourself and figuring out what you need in each moment. Do you really need to check your work email again or can you give yourself permission to go to sleep? Could you use a fun night out with friends? A hike? Your favorite dessert? Go for it.
We spoke to Scritchfield about how she is passing the body kindness approach down to her daughters. Here are some ideas to try today, which obviously work with boys as well:
- Cook dinner with the kids. Yes, it is messier and takes longer. But Scritchfield considers it “one of the best things I can do for their well-being for their life.” That’s because it models the value of eating nutritious foods prepared at home. She finds one way her kids can help out, such as counting the green beans or taking the waste tips to the compost bin. Older kids, of course, can have bigger jobs such as chopping or mixing.
- Make a game out of trying new foods. The Scritchfields often do a “cheers!” with their broccoli and then everyone votes “thumbs up, thumbs down or thumbs to the side” after they taste it. Be consistent and offer fruits, veggies and other nutritious foods each day but expect the kids to go through phases of preference and put up some resistance. Your job is to not engage in “food fights” with them.
- Bake together. It sets up the idea that dessert is a part of life and not something to be afraid of — plus it will taste better. It counters so many other messages about avoiding desserts, which can create food fear. “You can’t run forever,” Scritchfield says. “It’s better to build the confidence so kids think, ‘I can make it delicious and fun.’ ”
- Clean out your closet. Break up with dieting culture by accepting that there is no magical time in the future when your body is smaller and, therefore, life will be happier. Get rid of the clothes that won’t ever fit right and then donate them to charity. You don’t have to announce to your kids exactly what you’re doing but let them see that you’re helping the community. “That letting go is important for them to see.”
- Fear no Barbie. Dolls have their place in imaginative play, so Scritchfield “doesn’t drive a super hard line” against them. Many doll collections have diversified over the years, so be sure to choose a variety of shapes and colors. If your child notices some strange body proportions, “instead of burning the doll and freaking out, it’s your chance to have an honest conversation about how it is a toy. You can point out the doll’s feet and how they are so high-arched and pointed, and how that’s not realistic,” she says.
- Chill out together. Every day for a few minutes, the whole family can practice being quiet. This can be taking deep breaths (the yoga-inclined can call them “Namaste breaths” and put their hands together). For younger kids, it might help to make it into a game like “sit quiet like a frog.” “You’re practicing that skill so when you need to use it, you can jump to it,” she says. Bonus: kids will internalize the need to regroup and be able to point out moments when they (and you!) could use a deep breath.
- Play actively. Hopscotch in the driveway, freeze dance with their favorite songs, letting them try your workout DVDs with you. Little kids will think it’s silly fun, but it’s valuable, active bonding time.
- Don’t talk badly to yourself. Complaining about your appearance or what you ate doesn’t serve your health goals and it could potentially damage your children. “Yes, your kids hear the negative talk, learn it and are hurt by it. It’s confusing and it can become their inner voice.”
- Support body-positive products and companies. Don’t buy diet foods at the grocery store or magazines that focus on weight loss. “People think, ‘I can do this for me and hide it from my kid,’ but that doesn’t work,” Scritchfield says. “You’re participating in diet culture and even very young kids are more perceptive than we think.”
Another important takeaway from “Body Kindness” is that it’s a crooked, messy and sometimes confusing road to establishing habits such as these. But the effort is worth it. “I see my girls — so innocent and pure — as my chance to make things right,” Scritchfield says.
Rachel Saslow is a freelance journalist living in Portland, Ore. with her husband and three children.
You might also be interested in: