Posted by Brittany Allison on November 27, 2023
Family is a cornerstone in a teenager’s life, shaping their values, beliefs, and behaviours, including their relationship with food and body image. Parents and caregivers play a vital role in influencing how their teenagers perceive food, exercise, and their own bodies.
Here are some tips on how to support teens in developing a healthy relationship with food and body image at home.
Teens often emulate the eating habits and attitudes of their parents, and it is important to show your teen a balanced and positive attitude toward food and your body. Avoid talking negatively about your own body or dieting in front of them. Shift conversations away from weight, and towards behaviours that support both mental and physical well-being.
When it comes to food, if parents are dieting and discussing foods that are “off-limits” or “bad,” it can create shame and guilt about those foods. This can result in restrictive tendencies, secretive eating behaviours, and/or binge eating. Make an effort to demonstrate a positive relationship with food by eating a variety of foods and showing enjoyment in your meals. Avoid labeling foods as “good” or “bad” and approach all foods with neutrality. Emphasize the importance of nourishing your body with wholesome foods to stay healthy and energized, and share that it’s okay to eat a variety of foods (pizza and cookies included)!
Positive Food Environment
Ensure that your home is a safe space where your teens feel loved and accepted, regardless of their body size or appearance. Create a safe space for them to talk about their feelings, concerns, and experiences related to food and body image and listen actively and non-judgmentally.
The atmosphere during meals can significantly influence a teen’s relationship with food. Encouraging open communication, limiting distractions (like screens), and making meals a pleasant and relaxed experience can help foster healthy eating habits. Encourage your teen to share their thoughts and feelings while sitting around the table, and avoid using mealtimes for criticism or punishment. Refrain from pushing teens to clear their plate, or shaming them for taking larger portions or second helpings.
Food Rules and Restrictions
Encourage your teens to view food as nourishment rather than a source of guilt. Excessive food restrictions and dieting in the household can lead to disordered eating habits in teens. Parents should aim for a more flexible approach that allows for enjoyment and variety in food choices. All foods are neutral and belong in a balanced eating pattern. Instead of imposing rigid dietary rules, teach your teens the principles of balance and listening to their body’s hunger and fullness cues. All foods fit!
Allowing occasional treats without judgment (not just saving them for the weekends) can help prevent an unhealthy relationship with food. Teach them about the importance of variety and balance in their diet and empower them to make choices within these guidelines.
Celebrating non-food-related achievements and qualities can promote a healthy self-esteem in teens, reducing the need to seek validation through their appearance or weight. Acknowledge your teens’ accomplishments in school, sports, or other interests, emphasizing their talents, kindness, and intelligence. The less emphasis directed on body size or shape and the more focus on other unique attributes, the better off your teen will be.
Promote Body Positivity
Emphasize that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and refrain from commenting on your teen’s body shape or size. Teach your teens to appreciate their bodies for what they can do and their unique qualities. Encourage them to focus on what their bodies can achieve and how they feel rather than how they look. Another great way to promote body positivity is to help them build self-confidence through activities that showcase their abilities and talents.
Discuss how images in media are often unrealistic and heavily edited. A highlight reel on Tiktok is not a fair comparison to one’s own life. Help your teens develop media literacy skills to deconstruct beauty standards and the illusion of “perfection” in the media. Encourage them to question the authenticity of images they encounter online.
Involve Your Teens in Meal Planning
Let your teens take part in meal planning and cooking. Ask them what they want to see on the menu for the week, or if they have any favourites that can be included. Involve them in meal preparation or cooking. This fosters a sense of autonomy and responsibility regarding their food choices. It’s an excellent opportunity to develop the practical skills needed for healthy living and to teach them about nutrition while allowing them to experiment with flavours and ingredients.
Seek Professional Help if Necessary
If you suspect your teen is struggling with disordered eating or body image issues, don’t hesitate to seek the assistance of a Registered Dietitian or therapist who specializes in this area. Early intervention can make a significant difference in your teen’s well-being and long-term relationship with food and body image.
Your role as a parent is instrumental in fostering a positive and nurturing environment for your teen to thrive. Remember that every family is unique, and it’s essential to adapt these guidelines to your specific family dynamics and needs. As you guide your teens through their journey toward a healthy relationship with food and body image, you’ll be equipping them with invaluable life skills that will serve them well into adulthood.
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