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Breaking the Cycle of Diet Culture

Updated: May 28


In honor of Mother’s Day this past month, I want all of you amazing mothers, to feel seen and empowered to be your best self, while feeling supported and cared for, as you empower your little ones.


Growing up in a world where diet culture was the norm, many of us have internalized negative messages about body image, food, and self-worth. As mamas, we have a chance now to break this cycle for ourselves and our daughters. We can be an example of what having healthy relationship to food and fitness can look like.



As an ED warrior myself, former gymnast, and mother to two girls, I had to ask myself when I became a mom: How can I teach and show my girls what true health looks like?


As a woman and a mother, I am constantly learning how. So as you read this, I hope that you remember as well, to continually give yourself a lot of grace along the process in your own food freedom journey, and in your parenting. Your children will see the work and care you are putting in and remember it.


There is so much I could share in this journey of parenting littles, but below are some examples of my own personal steps to create a home free of diet culture mentality:


1.Not labeling food as healthy and unhealthy, or good and bad.


Rather than labeling foods on a moral scale, I try to show them the importance of having protein, carbs, and fats, OF ALL KINDS, at their meals. I plate it all (most of the time; you know how it is as a mom!), but don't show one food group as better than the other. At times i've explained in simple terms, that each of these macros has a job to do to keep us from getting sick, give us energy, and make our tummy and tastebuds happy. I often say to "listen to your tummy, to know when finished or not".


When asked to have dessert, a food commonly seen as “bad”, I never want to use the word “junk food” or say it is bad. I aim to explain that she can definitely have it, but will feel better if she eats your meal first. When eating dessert, I allow it without extreme restriction. If they want a cookie after their dinner each day, then no problem! This shows them that it is just a cookie, nothing that they need to eat all of now because they might not get more anytime soon. The dinner nourished their bodies and the cookie nourished their taste buds, soul, and brought connection with family.


With foods more often seen as “good”, such as veggies and fruits, etc., I try not to say that this is better or worse than any other food, but encourage my girls to explore with how they taste, what they like about it. I like to explain that foods such as these, have so any important jobs to help fight off the bad germs and keep us feeling our best, so we should try to ADD them to our plate often.


Without the labels of good and bad, we can teach our children the different ways that ALL foods can nourish us, while they continue with their natural instinct to eat mindfully, curiously, and to listen to their hunger cues. As soon as we bring shame into the picture for choosing a food, this natural ability to enjoy food and listen to our bodies, begins to change.


What about those tricky situations?

If you have a little one who gets stomach aches often, like I do, this can be trickier at times. I aim to use words such as, “Maybe slow down a bit when you eat so it digests better”, or “Sometimes mommy has tummy aches too after eating, that’s ok, its normal. Maybe that certain food didn’t agree with you, and we can try something different next time if you want?” Or I simply acknowledge that stomach aches can happen, but that she didn’t do anything wrong, and may just need some rest while her food digests.


Another personal issue with using anti diet wording, is my daughter with autism, who is extremely picky. I never want to force her eat anything or over applaud her for eating foods, while I am so proud of her. I try to show by example how much I am enjoying the food, and ask her if she can give it a try too to see how it tastes? I make it fun for her. If she doesn’t like it, it’s ok. I let her know how awesome it was to face that fear and try something new. I am still learning daily.


Actions not just words

While I make their plates and do all the steps to teach balance and shame free eating, I also want to make sure that I am showing that with my own actions as well.

Some small examples of this could look like:

  • Eating sandwiches (WITH BREAD) along with the kids, with veggies and fruit included with that meal.

  • Prioritizing my own nutrition, instead of normalizing moms just eating their kids crust for lunch.

  • Going out for ice cream and getting some for myself too, without any comments of “being bad” or “making up for this later”.

  • Letting them help with cooking or baking. Showing them the connection that comes with food.

  • Sitting together as a family for meals.

  • Eating regularly, such as consistent meals and snacks, myself, just as I do for them.

  • Eating the cupcakes at kids parties, to show that grownups enjoy cake too!

  • Eating a bunch a veggies along with my balanced meal, to show how much I love the taste of them, but also need more to be full and satisfied.

  • Not having strict food rules.

  • Not using diet culture language, such as "cheat days".


2. Avoid Making Comments About My Body or Anyone Else’s


One thing I have learned as a mom, is that kids don’t notice the “flaws” that we see in ourself. Our kids see us as their everything, and don’t know that something is “not beautiful or desired”, unless they hear it somewhere.


So as they grow and begin to be more aware of their bodies, my desire is to show them that its normal to have days as women of feeling bloated or uncomfortable, but to speak to yourself from a place of self compassion, appreciation, nourishment, and most importantly, openness to talk about it.


I aim to practice the same, as an example to them, through my consistent actions of nourishment and proper training, no matter how I may be feeling that day, body image wise.


How We Speak Matters

How we speak about ourselves and others matters. If I am trying on clothes, all my girls comment on is the pretty color or design. If they are choosing clothing, they choose off of the same (with maybe a few more sparkles or bows that I do lol).


When I comment on their clothes, I choose to comment on the same things they do to me. “ I love that color, it’s so fun!” “That dress is so pretty, I bet it’s fun to twirl in”. “Ooh that looks comfy. That’s a good choice.”


Following this, I choose to show this example about others. I show them the kindness of telling someone how pretty their dress or shirt, etc. is. This shows no matter the body size, they are beautiful and unique in those clothes.


Openness

As my daughters get older, I want them to always know that they can come to me about body image. I aim to remind them the unique body they were given, and to nourish it well in all aspects.


3. Show my Girls that I LOVE What my Body Can DO

Beginning with the beauty of pregnancy and breastfeeding, I was in awe of all my body was able to do. Then beginning crossfit and weightlifting was life changing for my own mindset and body image.


My girls hear me talk about being strong and fast, and see mommy doing something she loves in regards to movement. I never use words such as “working off food” or “losing weight” or “that I even HAVE to workout”. I encourage words such as “I WANT to workout because it’s fun to me. I like feeling strong. It helps me feel good and have energy to play with you. "

The focus is on how much I can put on the bar, rather than what is on the scale.

I recently enrolled my oldest daughter in a 1:1 adaptive crossfit session each week, as well as gymnastics, and seeing her joy for the skills is amazing. Along with my youngest, who is full of energy, always showing me the newest trick she came up with (making me nervous daily lol).





4. Celebrate Non-Physical Achievements


Diet culture often equates success with physical appearance, overshadowing other important achievements. I want to celebrate their hard work, creativity, kindness, accomplishment. We are more than our appearance.


5. Normalize Periods and Body Neutrality

Starting from a young age, I am open that periods are very normal and a sign of being healthy as you get older. If questions arise, I am always here to answer and explain in simple terms ofcourse, right now. Not avoiding questions at a young age, has been my outlook on ,I hope, creating a space for openness about body image as they enter puberty later on in life.


6. Focus on My Own Mental Health and Relationship to Food, Movement, and Body Image

As an ED Warrior, it is crucial to keep in touch with my own continual healing and coping skills when stress arises. This will help me be the mom I want to be.


Some examples are:


  • Practicing mindfulness, praying, and gratitude.

  • Doing my best with Stress management and small actions of self-care (washing my face, taking a hot shower at night, getting comfy on the couch after the kids go to bed, etc.)

  • Take rest days/listen to my body

  • Talking with a friend or counselor when needed. Not keeping things in too long or trying to do everything alone.

  • Engage in the things I enjoy often.

  • Nourish my body.

  • Get Sleep (working on this one).

  • Make time for getting out with friends.

  • Be real with my kids, and not always hide my emotions. I say sorry when I need to, and show that compassion and forgiveness is always there. That we are not perfect and can lean on others for help.

Conclusion

So breaking free from diet culture and instilling a healthy, positive mindset in our kids is a powerful way to create lasting change.


Remember, the journey towards change starts with small, consistent steps. AGAIN, I want you to know that stepping away from diet culture, can take time, and to give yourself a lot of grace along the process in your own food freedom journey, and in your parenting. Your children will see the work and care you are putting in and remember it.


If you are a mom and needing guidance in beginning your own whole health and food freedom journey, first of all, reach out! You can do this.


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