Teaching Healthy Body Image
IFBB pro Sandi Forsythe discusses the importance of teaching healthy body image
I have had several messages from concerned mothers about how to talk with their teens about body image. One recent message said, “My 14 year old is at the age where girls start picking on each other about body image and weight. My daughter is by no means overweight but could definitely eat better and exercise more. I don’t want her to have to worry about her weight or be bullied about her body. So my question is how do I help her live a healthier life style and educate her without feeding into the skewed image that our society holds?”
I must first say I do not have teens yet and can only imagine how it will be when my triplets hit the teenage years. Second, society places a great deal of emphasis on being “thin” and “body image” which makes it hard for teens and only fuels the ever growing rate of eating disorders. I am by no means an expert but having struggled myself with an eating disorder which lead to a year long stint in treatment provides me a unique insight into the struggles both parents and teens face.
Of course we do not want to encourage “starvation type diets” for our teens, rather we want to set the example for them of what health looks like and take the emphasis off “skinny.” I feel there are several ways we can teach our teens to be “healthy” without encouraging the need for the perfect body. How can we help our teens as they enter the teenage years in terms of attaining a healthy body without fueling the need for perfection?
Lets look at some steps a parent can take to help teens live a healthy life style and feel good both mentally and physically.
1) Don’t emphasis the need to be “skinny or thin”. Teens these days are bombarded by social media, magazines, movies, and icons that demonstrate that beauty is “skinny.” Encourage your teen to talk about her body in a positive way reminding her that her body is hers and she can dictate how it looks and feels. Encourage your teen to embrace her curves and new shape explaining that during the teen years she is becoming a women and that is a beautiful thing.
2) Lead by example. Make sure you (as a parent) are not talking about diets, making weight related critiques, or negatively talking about your body. Your teen observes your patterns, behaviors, and beliefs about who you are as a women.
3) Showing her the way. One way you can lead by example is to practice healthy eating habits at home. Have your teen help you “make over your pantry” – set aside a day for you and your teen to get rid of the “junk” and replace it with “healthy options”. Explain to your teen this activity is to create a healthier lifestyle for the family (again taking emphasis off the need for “thinness” and placing it on the need for health).
4) Establish a workout routine. Take time to join a local gym or set aside time for you and your teen to participate in exercise. This a great way for you and your teen to spend time together while reaping the benefits of exercise. Explain to your teen “exercise” is healthy when done for the right reasons. The family should exercise for health with less emphasis on weight loss. Help your teen develop a workout routine that will fit into her week, and help hold her accountable to completing it. Of course if you’re teen is in after school activities this will be limited to weekends and could be done as a family.
5) Never too late, never too early. It's never too late to develop healthy patterns for the family and you can never start too early. My triplets are 5 and the example I set today will be carried with them as they enter their teenage years. Establishing healthy behaviors is critical at any age!
Remember you (as parents) must set the presidency for the family. Place less emphasis on “thinness” and “weight” and more emphasis on “health” and “lifestyle”. You cannot expect you’re teen to be comfortable with her body if you are not comfortable with yours. You set the stage for your healthy family and your teen needs today more than ever as society places so much pressure on today’s teens to be “thin.”