This article is all about setting boundaries, reducing the chances of Eating Disorders in children who become adults with perpetual food issues (like you and me who have had to work extra hard to heal this), and focusing on the deep meaningful stuff that life is about.
Please, if you can protect the children (and a cool side-effect, YOU), you will impact their health and peace for life. We are trying to avoid a breakdown of trust with your child and their body. This may have happened to you…why would you want to proliferate this harm?
I watch this time of year really escalate with harmful language and fearful/misguided authority over our vulnerable children.
PLEASE read this, and do something different this year and advocate for our precious youth (AND yourself!).
My advice is to call ahead to the best of your ability to reduce more escalated conflict than you were hoping for. Here are some scripts that you can borrow or be inspired by to create some new ones:
STOP TALKING ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE’S FOOD:
- Setting boundaries with food for yourself and others is critical. You don’t need to discuss what others are eating, what’s on their plate, and what they should or shouldn’t eat (even if you made the most scrumptious pie in the world or you’re worried about their blood cholesterol). Your body is your choice. Their body, their choice. And it’s your responsibility to protect your children from other people violating their body rights.
- If someone makes a comment directed at you or your child, here is something you can say, “My child will eat as much as their tummy desires. Please don’t fuss over whether or not they are eating or what they are eating.”
STOP TALKING ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE’S APPEARANCE:
- You don’t need to discuss what others are doing with their bodies and what they “look” like. If you are doing this, this speaks volumes about how you feel about your own body/worth and your own deep conditioning from childhood. Please flip the script and talk about something more meaningful and non-violating.
- If someone comments about your child’s appearance, here is something you can say (and it’s always best in front of your child so they can learn healthy advocacy for themselves), “I know you desire to compliment my child, but please refrain from commenting on their appearance, perceived intelligence, or goodness. I see she’s really interested in showing you her train set. You can chat about that!”
- My son gets called a “good boy” all the time by my parents and it drives me batty. I have to first calm myself and say gently, yet assertively, “Just because you like the behavior he did does not make him innately good or bad. It’s only his behavior you are pleased with. You can say I like it when you help pick up your toys because it makes the room clean.”
STOP TALKING ABOUT DIETS:
- Even if you are feeling so jolly about your latest fad diet or one you are wanting to try, please don’t talk about it in front of people, especially children. You are perpetuating diet culture that disconnects their little body signals to their brain and them honoring that feedback. What a gift we are born with. THIS is how we take care of ourselves for life. Listening to our body’s precious signals and heeding them. Are you attuned to yours? Do you wish you could reconnect with them? You know you can, no matter how old you are. Now be a responsible adult and give our children permission to honor their bodies.
- If someone starts discussing their diet with you (trust me, I get this all the time being a Dietitian), try to have a script in mind to show the children (and yourself) this is not a healthy focus. Here is one you may want to adopt: “It seems like you want to discuss your diet, but I would like to veer the conversation for my child’s sake and mine. I’m interested to hear about your most favorite activity when the family gets together!”
STOP FORCE-FEEDING OR TAKING FOOD AWAY FROM CHILDREN (OR ANYONE FOR THAT MATTER):
- Can you imagine someone chasing you around with food telling you to eat this and that? Or taking food away? Or forcing the plate to be completely finished? Or saying “just two more bites please” when you are full? Can you imagine trying to push food in your mouth, chew, and swallow? I know this is conflictual. I know because I have a five-year-old who lives on air sometimes, and candy. I have seen in action how he self-regulates when I trust him to trust himself and tell me what he needs. He tells me when his tummy is grumbling or when his tummy is tight and full. He gets to decide how much and when he eats, and often what he eats. I offer veggies, fruits, whole grains, plant proteins, sugary, carby, and overly processed foods. I offer it all. I know…it’s scary. They are only going to eat candy, you might say. But try to give them this trust. Show them that they are built with powerful skills of body attunement to steer them to proper self-care. They will learn their limits. Can you then do that for yourself?
- My parents…sigh… during our Thanksgiving – they kept force-feeding my son and I taught him a script: “No thank you my tummy is full.” Or “No thank you, I don’t want to eat that right now.” And…to tell me that happened so I can have the same boundary discussion with them (AGAIN). Repetition is sometimes needed. Then when it gets excessive it’s best to leave the environment. I have done that. Teach people how to treat you and your children. This is how change happens.
- A script you can say beforehand: “You have your own cultural traditions, and in my family we have our own. I respect yours, can you respect mine? If you cannot, we will need to go.”
Now is the time to change it up! Make this holiday time, and every day thereafter, no longer about these things. Stay strong.
Do this for the children and your inner child who didn’t get this body-trust encouragement. Now you may struggle with food and body – I know you don’t want that for your wee ones.
With love and protection,
Miriam Jirari MPH, RDN, CPT, Intuitive Eating Counselor
Studio SWEAT Dietitian