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Marci Warhaft-Nadler

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Parents, Your Fat Talk and Calorie Counting Is Setting Your Kids Up For a Lifetime of Pain

Posted: 03/24/2013 6:01 pm

Yesterday, I heard from a mother whose 15-year-old daughter had two friends over last weekend, and all they kept talking about was how obsessed their parents are with their weight. They each complained that although they are easily within healthy weight ranges, their parents (who obviously have issues of their own) make ridiculous, ignorant comments about everything they eat. This mom told me that she was tempted to contact me right away and ask me to talk to them and reassure them that they weren't the ones with the problem. I told her that she should have and asked her to promise me that the next time this happens, she will.

One of the girls shared that her father will eat the french fries off her plate while explaining that he's trying to save her from getting fat. The other one said that whenever she reaches for anything to eat, her mom looks at her disapprovingly, shakes her head and says things like, "Should you really be eating that?" or "Don't you think you've had enough? You don't want to gain weight,do you?" It was explained to me that one of these moms is struggling with her own weight and is quite obese, while the other one has just lost a significant amount of weight and has become determined to make everyone follow in her footsteps, whether they need to or not.

The positive thing about this situation is that the girls understand that their parents are being overly critical and even irrational, and they are feeling angry towards them instead of personalizing it and letting the comments affect their own self-esteem. The negative part is that one of them has already started to rebel against the criticism with food. Instead of avoiding food to please her parents, she's started eating more of it to prove a point. The quickest way to get a teenager to do exactly what you don't want them to do, is to try and take complete control over it. Without realizing it, every time her mother tries to steer her away from certain foods, it just makes them that much more enticing. Every bite is a "screw you, mom!"

There are so many parents who believe that they're helping their kids by constantly offering diet and weight-loss advice when they may actually be setting them up for lifelong battles with food and negative self-esteem. I hear from so many women who are still wrestling with these issues years after they've grown up and moved away from their parents' critical words.

Thirty-five-year-old Jean, shares: I can vividly remember being at a family gathering when I was about 8 years old. The table was filled with food, and I went to take something to eat. My aunt pointed at me and said to my mom, "Look at her, she's eating AGAIN!" My mom felt the need to react, so she walked over to me, slapped my face and told me to stop eating." The sad part is, I don't even remember eating very much that day.

Forty-three-year-old Susan: I grew up with a mother that was overly concerned with weight -- her own and everyone else's. I feel that it was her constant negative comments that encouraged my issues. When I was a kid, I was always active and always playing sports, nevertheless, my parents nicknamed me Pillsbury Dough Girl. As I got older, the comments didn't stop. When I was pregnant with my first baby, my mother told me that maybe I'd get lucky and the baby would suck the fat out of me.

As parents, it may seem like our kids spend most of their time ignoring our advice and direction, but the truth is that our words yield a tremendous amount of power and need to be chosen carefully. If we are constantly commenting on their bodies (or our own) they will mistakenly grow up believing that our love is conditional and based more on how they look than who they are. It's our job to teach them how to tune out the negative messages they're bound to hear from our diet obsessed society and be a voice of balance and reason. By sharing our body image insecurities and food anxieties with our kids, we are almost guaranteeing that they will continue the unhealthy cycle of negative self-esteem.

6 super quick tips:

1. Stop the fat talk. No more counting calories or fat grams. Pick foods for their healthy ingredients and listen to your body's hunger and satiety signals.

2. Understand that kids are growing and have the appetites to match. Keep nutritious foods around the house, washed and ready to grab and eat.

3. Food should be enjoyed and not feared.

4. Get active with your kids. Being active feels good and when we feel good, we tend to treat ourselves better and that includes what foods we decide to eat.

5. If we want our kids to love and respect themselves, we need to love and respect ourselves first so they can see how it's done.

6. Play more, stress less.

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