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How we can raise kids to have healthy relationships with food, themselves and all kinds of bodies

I have never heard my kid say a bad word about how she looks or her body overall and, at seven years old, she still doesn’t know what a diet is.

That’s saying something, given the statistics about how early in life girls start thinking about diets.

My kid is lucky. Her parents are fat-positive needles in the parent haystack. We are working overtime to give her the skills she needs to have a positive relationship with food, activity and her body.

Margaret Bryans’ kid has parents who are fat-positive needles in the parent haystack. (Jess Koroscil)

If anything, we have tipped her over into a deep sea of vanity, which I consider a protective factor against the body-hating fatphobia of the rest of the universe.

I know that if we are not constantly examining how we engage with our kids about food, activity and fat, they will just end up defaulting to the socially acceptable norm, which is actively harming everyone and is literally dangerous for those of us navigating these norms in a fat body.

I am aware that in a hot second my kid will be thinking everything I have to say is irrelevant garbage, so there are a few things I am doing now to give her the skills she needs to lead a shame-free existence when it comes to food and her body.

For all the others working against time and society to raise kids who feel good in their bodies, I offer my top three strategies for raising a fat-positive kid:

Be value neutral about food

Our family has found that talking about food in terms of energy is value neutral and sets our kid up to think about how to mix and match food to get the right kinds of energy, for the right activity, when she needs it.

For example, if she is going outside to play and is feeling hungry, she knows that she should snack on something that will give her a quick jolt of energy and probably something that will give her more lasting energy. That could be a cookie and some tuna or carrots and hummus — really, any number of things.

This teaches her that food is an important part of her life and helps her understand how food helps her do the things that she wants to do.

It also eliminates the idea that food can be bad/good or healthy/unhealthy. We think that is important for two reasons:

  • Explaining food choice through a value lens gives kids zero tools for how to understand food in terms of how it works in their bodies.
  • If our kids learn from us that certain foods are bad, then that opens the door for the rest of the world to get a chance to tell them what they think is bad, too, and that is where harmful relationships with food can begin. No one needs to feel like crap for eating a potato, and yet, here we are.

Food is not bad. It is literally essential to life.

Listen to your belly

Since our kid was little, we have been asking her to listen to her belly.

My partner read something about telling kids their job is to fill their bellies. We were into it, and because we like to amp everything up, we made it a HUGE thing in our house.

Our kid’s belly has got a lot to say. Her belly tells her when she is full and when she needs to eat. That belly is as wise as hell and teaching our kid to listen to that wisdom means she checks in with herself on the regular.

We have also found that bellies generally don’t believe in diet culture, so that is a bonus.

Move your body ’cause you love it, not ’cause you hate it

We talk about learning our bodies and how good it feels to move them, to get sweaty, to play games, to run.

Too often people exercise as punishment for being fat or as a consequence of something they ate.

That, team, is a heaping serving of garbage.

We should — every time — move our bodies because it feels good.

Our kids should not learn that when they eat dessert they should do 50 crunches and a couple laps around the block. Adults suck the fun out of so much, the least we can do is keep fun policing away from food and activity.

Kids want to be active. This step is easy — we literally just have to get out of their way!

‘We may have tipped my daughter over into a deep sea of vanity, which I consider a protective factor against the body-hating fatphobia of the rest of the universe,’ Margaret Bryans says. (Submitted by Margaret Bryans)

So there you have it, a few of what I believe to be bomb strategies for raising tiny humans who love themselves and tolerate exactly zero body-hating nonsense.

Look, as a fat babe from a ways back, I’m pretty dedicated to laying the foundation for a fiercely positive relationship to food, bodies and fatness for my kid. And I am here for other parents trying to do the same.

So here’s to growing a generation of kids who feel no shame, do no harm and take no crap.

This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

Read more opinion pieces published by CBC Manitoba.

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