Parents might have the best intentions, but often some pretty crumby low self-esteem habits. Constantly talking poorly about their bodies? Acting awkward in a swimsuit? Always on a diet?
Turns out these hallmarks of disordered eating are often passed down by generation – and can affect how children feel in their own skin.
Sound familiar? Do you think you might have negatively contributed to your child's body image?
This realisation is actually a good thing - it means you can do something about it.
Find out more in this episode.
And don't forget to download my FREE toolkit for building a healthier body image! Even if you’ve been hating your body for years, a few simple strategies can help you feel healthier and happier in your skin - know-how that you can pass down to your kids...
Want to read some more about this topic? Check out Lyndi's blog
5 things you should never say to your child about food
What to do when family comment on your child's weight
Should I comment on my daughters weight?
How your mums dieting might have messed with you
Hey, everyone, and welcome to today's episode of the No Wellness Wankery podcast. I'm your co-host, Lyndi Cohen, dietitian, nutritionist, and the new nutritionist, and I'm joined by Jenna D'Apice.
Hello. My name is Jenna D'Apice. We are chatting all things wellness or wankery today and as always if you have any questions send them through to the Instagram because this is where we get so much fuel for all the things that we need answers for. Good questions.
Like today's question which I'm going to paraphrase because it got a little bit long and I also want to just help anonymize it a little bit. I got a message from a mother who's really in a situation where her child is going through recovery for disordered eating, particularly a tricky relationship with exercise. And now that she knows what she now knows, she can kind of see how she may have contributed to that tricky relationship with food and with exercise. And now she's like, well, what do I do? You know, I can see what I've done wrong. How do I now support my child even though I played a role in all of this? And we're going to have a chat about that because it's a good and powerful topic.
So I suppose if someone's feeling that they have done this, what would be step one? Yeah, so if you're, particularly if you're a parent or someone who's had a really influential input into a child's life, you may have made these comments like, should you really be eating that? Or you know, you should really go and exercise. Or you know, you don't have the legs to wear that outfit. All these little passing comments that we make, or wow, I can't believe you ate that much. We can make these really, these passing comments as parents. They have a big impact. Big impact. And I think everyone has these little shame stories they can share. You think back to you growing up, to being a teenager, someone made a passing comment about what you ate or how you looked, and it stuck with you. You cannot forget that memory of, you know, this one time I was like walking on the beach and I wanted to take off my top, but I was told that I didn't have a good enough body to walk on the beach in a crop top. And that stuck with me, and I feel like you listening, you probably got a handful of those, maybe something your partner said, and so these things stick with
So we've got another podcast episode where we talk about raising kids who like their bodies and advice for parents. So if you haven't, please go listen to that. But let's say you have done something that you're like, I shouldn't have said that, and now it's too late, and now they're paying the repercussions and so am I. I think the first thing we can do is to apologize. Even if it's like something that happened 10 years ago, 20 years ago, ancient, and you're like, well, maybe they don't really remember. They remember.
They absolutely remember.
It's etched into their brains.
And you think, well, what's the point in apologizing? I've spoken to a lot of clients who've had this experience because there is this very interesting relationship that specifically happens between mothers and daughters, which I talk about a lot in my upcoming book. There's like a whole chapter on it because it's a whole thing, where we have a mother who's like, I love my child so much, I wanna do the best by them, I wanna give them the best chance of success, therefore it's my duty to make comments to help mold them. And the child believes, my parents should love me more than anyone else does, they should think I'm unconditionally lovable, why do they keep criticizing me? And so you can have these both perspectives and both can be correct. And I think when we come in with an apology, we can really start to make amends for that relationship and I feel like in my life that's really made a big difference, in my client's life it's made a huge difference. When it might be an apology that sounds something like, hey, I know I made a lot of comments when you were growing up about around exercise or what you should be eating around your body and I just feel like I thought I was doing the right thing and now I can see that was not the right thing to say and I feel like I contributed to your relationship with food, your relationship with exercise being so much harder than it needs to be. I've never thought there's anything wrong with your body. Of course you have to say the things that you feel comfortable with, but we need to make a really sincere apology and adding in details to really help them understand that you understand what they're saying, and I think it can really make amends for some of the, not amends, but I think it can help reduce that trauma response to some of those things, take that sting out of it, make them feel like, okay, maybe my parent was judgmental when I was growing up, but they are becoming a more neutral space now, because as long as your child believes my parent still judges me. And if you've made these comments historically in the past, they're going to look at you and think that you are criticizing them. They're going to assume, oh, they're watching what I'm eating. They're criticizing me for not exercising. So every time you're helping them understand that you're actually a judgment-free zone now, that you are gonna support them to listen to their bodies, to eat what they need, to exercise as much or as little as their body tells them to, I think that's really important. We need to help our children feel like they have autonomy over their body and that we respect their decisions around how they look after it. I know as a parent that's so hard, because you're like, they're destroying their life. If I don't control them, they're gonna, you know, all these crazy things, but I think it's a really important step to helping them feel like independence. And interestingly, I think they're gonna be a whole lot healthier because you're willing
to let go and to trust them be more intuitive around food and exercise. Yeah, I think letting go of the thoughts that you think you're always being criticized and that there is something inherently wrong with you from the people that you think are supposed to think the best of you is so helpful. And kind of just as you get older, I suppose, like getting a little bit more context as to why they may have thought some of these things or why they could have said some of these things. Like I know when me and my mum have come a long way in terms of relationship with food and I can see now like we've had discussions where it's just, she never had a problem with my body. She never thought there was anything wrong with my body like I thought she did. It's just she thought I thought I had a problem with my body and she was trying to help me as any parent tries to help their child because she thought that if I help you do this, then it'll solve the problems. So it's just kind of everyone's trying to do their best. And when you have open and frank discussions, you can see that people weren't coming from bad places and you can see that they never really thought those things in the first place.
That sounds so therapeutic and helpful. Yeah, it is. I think it helps take away the anger we can feel as well, that resentment and that judgment that you feel when you can go, all right, well, I see where you came from. The other thing that we have talked about before is this idea of having empathy. And I think if you're a parent speaking to a child, you were probably raised in a climate where maybe your mom or your parents or someone else close to you told you that you needed to exercise more or lose weight or there was something flawed and wrong with your body. And what we can do as parents is we can often teach the way we've been taught. And I think by explaining where you've come from and the fact that you didn't have anyone who is talking about body positivity or not dieting. You got slammed the hardest by fat-free, carb-free, sugar-free, you got it all. And so you were just coming at it with as much knowledge as you had at the time, trying to make the best decisions with their interest at heart, and you got it wrong. But I think showing where you came from, not as like a defensive, justifying why I said what I did, you're blatantly going, I shouldn't have said those things, that was really hurtful. But I think that kind of showing where you came from can really give that empathy that I think can help them forgive you and take the anger out of what you've said away from them. So your relationship can be a whole lot better.
Yes, I love that. Is it more about the parents trying to then work on their own relationship with food so that they can be a better role model?
That's a huge one. I mean, easier said than done to work on maybe 30, 40 years of dieting experience and unwind that, but that is the work you should be doing. So often as a parent, especially when you've got young kids, I think we're always trying to fix, not fix, but guide them in what direction. Once your kids get to a certain age, you kind of have to be a little bit more hands-off and move away from thinking, I have to fix someone else's life, and rather go, what can I do in my life? Be the change you want to see. I think that's a really important thing and I think that one of the best things you could probably do for your child right now is to work on your own relationship with food and your body, your body image and start going on that journey kind of with them but your own journey to kind of go, well, how can I make peace with myself? I wake up every night, every morning and I hate how I look. I'm constantly dieting. I'm obsessed with food. How can I work on these things?" I think if you have a healthy body image and you have a healthy relationship with food and exercise, you are going to be able to mirror that and you're going to create a culture where your child feels they're in a judgment-free space, which is fundamentally what I think is going to heal all of this, is when they feel like they're not going to be judged by you. What I'm referring to specifically is not to make comments about your body in front of them as a first step, not to make negative comments about other people's bodies, even if you're not commenting on their bodies. You don't want to be watching TV and go, oh my goodness, I can't believe she looks like that. I can't believe he let himself go, whatever kind of comments. We don't want to be commenting on someone else's physical appearance.
Because then I always think when other people do that, it's like you could be thinking those things about me, but you just don't want to say it because you might hurt my feeling.
Exactly, exactly. And also you believe the world is a very judgmental place when you live with someone who is judgmental. I just want to put this out there, it's a bit of a hard thing to kind of swallow. We are judgmental toward other people on the things we are most self-conscious about. So get curious about what are you most judgmental about someone else's body. If when you're looking at someone's body or their life, if you're like, oh, she's gained weight or her tummy is wrong or whatever it is. That's probably because you have work that needs to be done on your body image. It's got nothing to do with that other person's thing. So that is a reflection on things that you could possibly do from here on out.
100%. Whenever you think of, look at anyone, if I ever feel like I'm looking at their weight or thinking about their weight, it's really I'm thinking about my own weight.
It's a hard pill to swallow, but it's true. Another idea is your child is on this journey, trying to work their way through recovery. Their body will never look perfect. I want to put that out there. Just in the same way, your body will never be perfect. You've probably reflected in your life and going, no, there's no point. Have I ever had this dream, dream body? And theirs won't too. Can we forgive ourselves for not being perfect? Can we forgive your child for not being this perfect thing that society has told us we need to be? I think especially if you've got a daughter, I think our success as women has often been defined by how we look and how thin we are. Can you start to see the value for all the other attributes that they have and start to think about, okay, and complimenting them on the things that you see. What do you see? What brilliant things do you see? Helping them understand that you see the real them and you're helping to counteract the poor self-esteem that was contributed to by helping them reveal and see things in themselves that they can't see. Sometimes we need someone's help to kind of go and remember how brilliant we really are, which is what I think a parent's job is.
Sometimes you doubt yourself and if you say, if you have people in your life that you can talk to, of course you can do it. You're going to be great at this and you're so smart and you're going to nail it. You need that little voice, that little cheerleader.
You certainly need that reminder. You can kind of just make a really active effort to make sure that these compliments don't relate to how they look. That is that, I just think you're a really empathetic person. I really like that about you. That was such a kind thing that you did. You know, your father and I really appreciate everything you do for us, whatever it is, just finding those really nice, sincere compliments that you can give. And this is going to be a personal one that I think I would have found is always very helpful. So I've been diagnosed with anxiety. If your child is working through disordered eating, there's often an interrelationship between being diagnosed with another mental condition, whether it's anxiety, depression, bipolar, it could be anything on any kind of spectrum. I think what I would have found very useful is someone going, how's your anxiety today? And just checking and doing a really active non-judgmental check-in for my mental health Really supportive, like, hey, have you been feeling alright mentally recently? And not just when you think something's off. Yeah, and just as like a general check in. How's your day, how's the weather, how's your mental health? I think that shows that you've removed the stigma that you feel around them having mental health struggles. Remembering that you can be hugely successful, highly capable, and have a mental health condition. You can be a splendid, brilliant person and have a mental health condition. Do not think your child being diagnosed with one of these things is gonna be a barrier. Sometimes these mental health conditions can actually be their superpower strength and you need to start seeing it that way and helping destigmatize it by not whispering about it, by not ignoring it, by not covering it up and going, well, we don't talk about that. I think bringing it out into the open helps them reduce the shame they feel about potential diagnosis that they've had. And you know, especially with their disordered eating, you know, have you been filling around food these days? And that might not be appropriate for you depending on where your relationship is at a certain period of time, but I do think having these nice open front conversations where you're willing to go there would be a really big step.
I love this. So I think it's more about if you've realized that you might have contributed something negatively to your child's body image, then it's actually a good thing that you've realized this and you can make steps to change it and better the future. It's not like, oh, I've realized I've done this and it's just all my fault and we can't
Yes, totally. I'm going to add one more thing into the ring. I think as, and I was thinking more specifically about mothers and daughters here, I think we can often connect over food and weight loss and diet chat. I know for myself, I think you and I, we have talked about this before on the podcast, but you go to Weight Watchers and you drive there with your mom and you have chats and you always have weight loss as this thing that you can come back to and you can connect over. And when your conversations run dry, this is always this thing that you're kind of returning to. And I think if you maybe still have that with your trials, try to create a food and weight free zone where there are so many other things that you can try and connect over, but I think not falling back into weight loss chat as a default is so important. Even if it's what is obsessively running through your mind, you need to make that a clear free zone for them.
Yeah, that's a very good tip. That was a great question and a big one. As Lindy said, we have other episodes about when your mum's criticized your body in another one, how to raise children with a healthy body image. So I think this is another reoccurring theme.
Yeah, and also if you want to read more articles like this on my blog, I do talk about this in quite a big detail. Reason being, it's really common. So if you're a parent who's made this error before, you're not alone. This is a common thing, which is why we're doing a whole episode around it and we can make small changes, big changes as well that can help improve our relationships with our kids and ourselves.
I will link those articles in the show notes so you can have a little read if you'd like to and if you have any questions, send them through, nude underscore nutritionist.
Oh, and I just want to add, if you are working on your relationship with your food and your body and you're like, I don't know how to do that, check out my app, Back to Basics. It's like the whole point of Back to Basics is an app to help you be healthy without dieting, to work on your body image, to help you develop a healthy relationship with all food and kind of give you an example of how it can be done. So check it out. You can get 20% off by using the code podcast on the website when you check out Back To Big.
Amazing. Thank you so much for listening and we'll chat to you next time.
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