Diet Culture: 4 of the Best Ways to Help Your Kid this New Years

It’s the time of year:  we may be slipping into diet culture as we start thinking about wrapping up the year and leaping into the new one.  And for some, that means New Year’s resolutions.  If resolutions are your thing, there are many ways to do healthy New Year’s resolutions, and some less healthy ways, like how diet culture tends to show up around this time of year.  Many people might consider making a resolution to get healthier, be more active, or feel stronger, and those can all be wonderful things.  But depending on how those goals are framed or advertised, our kids can sometimes pick up on unhelpful messages about body image, food and exercise. 

Research indicates that kids start picking up on cues about how bodies are expected to look as young as age 3.[1]  They get these cues and beliefs from all kinds of sources – advertisements, friends, teachers, media, and caregivers.  And around the time of New Year’s resolutions, this can intensify as messages like, “look your best!” “new year, new you!” and all the new diet fads hit the internet, the magazines and the airwaves.  This is a lot of content for kids to sort through, and much of it can encourage developing an unhealthy relationship with your body.  But you can help your kids navigate this and come out on the other side still feeling positive and comfortable in their own skin.  Here are a couple of ideas.

Notice how you talk about your own body and your weight. 

Your kids are watching you first and foremost for information about how to think about this. Diet culture is everywhere we turn and it’s easy to forget we’re in the middle of it. If you can be kind to yourself and love your body and the way it looks, you can help pass this on to your kids.  This can be easier said than done (and can get extra complex if we have physical limitations or disabilities), but try to send some love to your body in the way you talk to and about yourself.

To avoid diet culture: Focus on what bodies can do rather than how they look.

Try talking about the amazing things our bodies can do for us instead of on someone’s appearance.  Saying things like, “wow, they can jump so far,” or “isn’t it neat how her fingers have learned how to paint like that,” or “you’re getting so strong” can help us remember that bodies of all shapes, sizes and abilities can do wonderful things. 

Help your kids develop media savvy to recognize diet culture.

When you see media portray expectations about bodies, talk to your kids about what you are seeing, what the message is trying to communicate and why, and whether they agree with it.  Call it out when you notice ableist or sizeist media, or advertisements that reduce people’s value to what they look like.  Help your kids learn to question what they are seeing. 

The anti-diet culture: Practice mindful eating with your kids.

Think about modeling how to check in with your body about what it needs in that particular moment, and then taking time to eat that food intentionally and savor all the five senses of the food.  You can do this as an activity with your kids, too. 

As we transition into the new year, keep diet culture in the back of your mind as you think about ways you can be kind to yourself and those around you, because everyone needs a little gentleness.  You can start by being gentle in how you talk to and about your body, and help your kids develop kindness toward their precious bodies too. 

What’s Next?

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[1] Johnstone, N.  (2022, December 5).  Body Image Issues in Children and Teens.  Mayo Clinic.