By Liz Bergren
As the clock winds down toward 2019, many of us start to finalize our New Year’s resolutions. These resolutions can be anything we want them to be—spend more time with family, spend more time in nature, volunteer, save more money, and so on. However, many of us associate New Year’s resolutions with weight loss. Why do we do that? Weight loss is a great resolution if you have been advised to improve your health and well-being.
For those of us who live and/or work with kids, we want to make sure that we are modeling healthy and appropriate conversations about food and weight. At times we can make mindless comments about food or bodies. Americans live in a weight-obsessed world, and it is very common to allow our thoughts and beliefs about food and weight to slip out in casual conversations with other adults and kids.
This post offers eight suggestions for parents and teachers to be more mindful about our language regarding food, bodies, and weight when discussing New Year’s resolutions.
- Avoid making body-shaming statements or frequently talking about weight loss. If you are uncomfortable in your body and hoping to make changes with your weight in the New Year, work hard to focus on the overall health benefits. Send the message to young people in your life that you want to prioritize your health and vitality. Avoid making comments about other people’s body shapes and sizes.
- Use New Year’s resolutions to discuss how to set goals and the steps necessary to reach those goals. To combat diet culture, have students set goals that have nothing to do with health, bodies, or food. Help them associate New Year’s resolutions with other topics. This post from the Free Spirit blog has strategies for helping students set goals.
- Parents can use this time of year to set family goals. Those goals can be about food or other changes that can be beneficial for the whole family. Think about setting a goal to try one new food each week or to reserve one day a week to exercise as a family. Perhaps you’d like to set goals for less screen time. If you’d like to set health goals, focus on just that—health and vitality—and not on weight loss or altering or fixing one’s appearance.
- Help students become critical thinkers about diet culture. This time of year, we may be barraged with messages to fix this, change that, lose this, alter that. Use this time to teach students ways to challenge the beauty industry. Help them understand strategies used by marketers who generate money by making us feel dissatisfied with our appearance. The Dove Self-Esteem Project has ready-to-use lesson plans that address challenging beauty industry standards.
- Although there are foods most of us know should not be consumed frequently, it is best to take an “all food can fit” stance. When you allow room in your diet for foods traditionally labeled as “junk,” you can eliminate rigid food rules and reduce the risk of bingeing. We can and should enjoy dessert, and it can be part of a healthy overall diet. When students are eating in the lunchroom or in your classroom, refrain from making comments about their food. When feeding children at home, try not to withhold all sugar or all foods with low nutritional value such as candy and chips. With nutrition education and healthy food modeling, the “all food can fit” stance helps build a better relationship with food.
- Think about how you label food. When applying the “all food can fit” stance, avoid labeling foods as good or bad. Placing labels on “types” of food can be confusing. Actions speak louder than words, and working on how you model your relationship with food is what matters most.
- If you are a parent of a child who is overweight and want to support your child’s efforts to improve health and well-being, wait for your child to lead the conversations. Help children understand that they are loved regardless of size or weight, focus on eating patterns, and explore feelings about food and how emotions may influence eating patterns. Practice cooking together.
- If you are using the New Year as an excuse to set weight-loss goals, try not to keep a scale in your home. For young people, it is important to send the message that the number on the scale is not an accurate representation of one’s body composition. A scale—and the number that it reads—can become an obsession. A good rule of thumb to use for weight loss is to use your clothes as a guide.
Liz Bergren is Free Spirit’s education resource specialist. She is a former teacher with 15 years of classroom experience. In addition to being a teacher, she spent five years working for Park Nicollet’s Melrose Institute where she counseled and taught classes to patients who struggled with eating disorders. She has a B.A. in health and secondary education from the University of St. Thomas and an M.Ed. in family education from the University of Minnesota.
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