How to Talk to Your Kids about "Diets"

Sugar Snap Shift was founded by two moms, and our coaches are parents to children ranging in age from six months to 21 years.  Most of our clients have children, and if not they have nieces, godchildren, or other young people in their lives who they care about.

One common concern is how to talk to children about healthy eating in a way that doesn't feed into body image issues or negative self talk.

Despite the fact that 41.9% of Americans are clinically obese, and it is the number one cause of preventable disease and death, the narrative around "diets" is that anyone seeking to lose weight is buying into a negative societal norm. The word "diet" has all sorts of negative connotations- restriction, deprivation and sad, bland food.  Parents are scared to discuss weight or "dieting" around their children for fear of fueling disordered eating or body dysmorphia.  Yet we do our children a real disservice when we avoid the topic entirely. So how do you approach your lifestyle change when talking with your kids?


1. Try not to comment about your appearance or weight. Talk about wanting to have more energy, or say that you feel better by feeding your body things that are good for you.  Tell them you want to live a long life by keeping your heart healthy.


2. Food doesn't have morality- Don't ever call a food "good" or "bad".  Talk about food that is healthy fuel for your body or food that is just for "fun". 


3. Fat shaming anyone- including yourself- is NEVER ok.  You never want to message that being thin is "good" and being fat is "bad". Talk about how you haven't been eating as nutritiously as you'd like and you have habits you'd like to change.


4. Don't call it a diet. Say you are working on a healthier lifestyle.  Say you want to eat nutritious foods because they give you more energy.  This isn't a "diet" that you're "on" or "off of" it's a lifestyle change.


5. When you turn down sweets or other less healthy foods don't demonize them or say you "can't" have them. Say that those foods don't make you feel your best.  Say you will indulge when the time is right, but you're not in the mood.


6. Don't consistently reward your kids or yourself with food.  We aren't dogs- we don't need a treat every time we do something good. Yes, it's fine to celebrate a good report card with a trip for ice cream, and birthday parties should have cake, but if you consistently reward your kids with sugary food they will associate junk food with joy. Trips to the toy store, an outing to a movie, or a later bedtime is also special.  For you, a new pair of jeans, a massage or concert tickets are great ways to celebrate without food.


7. Break out science.  "Being fat" is an evolutionary necessity.  Explain that our bodies retain fat to protect our vital organs, and (historically) to protect us when food may be scarce. Explain to your kids that your body retaining fat is just a signal that you're consuming more food than you're burning, and you need to adjust your habits. Similarly, calories aren't "bad", they're simply a unit of energy.


8.  Explain that you can love your body and still want to change it.  Self-compassion and self respect is not at odds with healthy eating, it's the very foundation of it. You can want to improve the way you look and feel, while still loving yourself every step along the way.


Remember that the language you use around healthy eating will frame your children's mindset about food.  Make it clear that your healthy eating is a positive and enjoyable experience and this journey is one you are on because you love yourself and you love them.

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