Don’t Forget Your Audience, Mama: Creating a Healthy Body Image in Kids

If you’ve decided 2020 is finally your year to drop the baby weight, get in shape, and ditch the self-destructive habits, I am your biggest cheerleader, mama. I am ALL FOR nourishing our bodies with healthy foods, tossing out the junk, and moving our bodies every day. I applaud you for putting your health back on your priority list in 2020.

I just have one little favor to ask, though. Can we reframe this conversation, just a little bit?

WHY THIS MATTERS

Let me go ahead and drop a bomb so you know where I’m coming from here. I am a recovered anorexic. I grew up watching many women in my life yo-yo diet, obsess about their weight, and constantly talk about themselves in very negative terms. It all played a part in my eventual spiral into a mental illness that almost killed me.

So it’s important for me to get this right. For my sons and daughter more than anything.

I have been pretty public with my story, and the number one question I’m asked from mamas is how to develop a healthy body image in our children so our sons and daughters don’t end up on the path I walked.

I’ll admit—I don’t have fancy titles or degrees that prove my knowledge here. But I have a heck of a lot of life and counseling experience, many hours of study, and have learned from several friends who are much smarter than me who do have those fancy degrees.

Today, I want to give you a list of just a few dos and don’ts as you navigate this tricky territory with your kiddos watching. If I know anything at all, it’s this: They are watching. And listening. And learning how to relate to their own bodies as you weigh and measure and poke and prod your own.

So, how do we go about creating a healthy body image in our kiddos?

DO: Drop the black and white talk.

One of the hardest things for me to shake in my many, many years of counseling was the black or white thinking. In my old way of thinking, broccoli was good and cake was bad. Period. I assigned a “good” or “bad” title to food, and in turn, to myself for consuming them. If I ate a salad for lunch, I was “being good.” If I ate pizza with friends on a Friday, I was bad. And fat. And ugly.

You can see where this shame spiral is going.

Here’s the issue with this—we need kids to know grey. With regards to food and life. We need to help our kids learn moderation and balance.

The truth is that all foods can and should be enjoyed as long as they make us feel good. Put the focus on the feeling we get from food and ditch the label. We know our focus should be on whole, unprocessed foods, but we need our kids to know that the occasional treat isn’t bad as long as we feel good enjoying it.

DON’T: Focus on the scale.

One of my absolute favorite things to talk about with my kids is how strong they are. Nothing gets my boys more fired up than showing off their muscles. We talk a lot in our house about how healthy food, exercise, and sleep helps us grow big and strong.

When my kids step on the scale in the bathroom or at the doctor’s office, I cheer for them. No matter what that thing says, we celebrate it because it shows us how much we’ve grown. And when they want me to step on that scale for them? You’d better believe I join in their cheering, no matter what number I’m looking at or what my insecurities are telling me.

I’m often asked by the little two why we go to the gym. My answer is the same: because exercise keeps Mommy healthy and strong. Never once have I said anything about weight or my jeans or how much queso I ate the night before. I may have had those reasons in my head, but you’d better believe I wasn’t planting those seeds for my kids.

All they need to know is that exercise is fun and makes us stronger. Period. Don’t make it complicated. Because to them, it’s not.

DO: Eat meals and exercise as a family.

You saw this one coming a mile away, didn’t you? But, y’all, it’s SO true! Going on family walks or bike rides is not only great for bonding, but it’s so good for cultivating a healthy view of exercise. When you’re going on a walk as a family to the park or exploring a new hiking path together, there’s a sense of adventure and fun there.

We WANT our kiddos to find exercise fun! It shouldn’t be seen as punishment. We need our children to see exercise as a pleasurable experience and something to look forward to, and there’s no better way to cement that than family outings.

Before I go into family meals, let me just preface by saying I GET IT. With 832 different schedules and practices and homework and jobs, I know this one’s hard. And it certainly doesn’t have to happen every night…but at least a few nights a week, enjoying a meal together is critical to developing a healthy relationship with food.

There is so much more that happens at a dinner table than dinner. There is eye contact, conversation, taking turns, laughter, and, okay, a little bit of chaos if yours are little like mine. BUT! It’s worth fighting through the chaos to share a healthy meal when you can. And bonus points if your kids help you with the cooking! (That’s another blog post.)

DON’T: Talk about appearances.

For the love, people…STOP TALKING ABOUT APPEARANCES ALL THE TIME. And by this I mean your body AND other people’s bodies. We have such a fixation in our society with our physical appearances. We fixate on our hair, we gossip when someone has put on weight, we constantly whine about our wrinkles and cellulite.

IT HAS TO STOP.

When God created us, His primary focus was not on how we looked, but what we could DO with our bodies. We were created to work, to learn, to carry, and feed children. We nurtured that body with healthy food so we could continue to work. We were never meant to focus so much on how that body looked.

One of the gifts of my job is that I get to meet women from vulnerable countries whose lives have been changed because of dignified work. You know what those women aren’t worried about? Stretch marks. Their plates and bellies are full and happy for the first times in their lives, and they are just grateful. Their perspective inspires me.

Enough complaining. Enough fixating. Enough battling something that was never meant to be fought in the first place.

So, can we shift that thinking this year? Join that gym. Buy the Peloton. Start Whole 30 if you just really hate your life. (Kidding.) But don’t forget your audience. They’re not going anywhere, and they are always watching.

Allison Ezell
Allison and her husband, Blake, grew up in Dallas and made the move to the 'burbs in 2010 when she began teaching middle school in Frisco. After attending Texas A&M University for her undergrad, Allison came back to Dallas in 2008 to pursue her Master's of Education from SMU. Over the last ten years, she has taught everything from preschool to eighth grade and has a huge passion for literacy. Today, McKinney is home for her family of five which includes Carter (7), Kate (5), and Brooks (3), who was adopted from China in 2016. When she's not chasing the kids around, she can be found drinking coffee, running, avoiding the laundry, traveling, or headed to a girls' night. Follow her self-proclaimed hot mess on Instagram!