How to Talk to a Co-Parent About How They Talk About Food to Your Kids

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When I’m working with mothers on parenting without diet culture, one of the most common questions I get is: How can I explain this to my husband?

Whether we’re working together in group or one-on-one, I always explain that one of the most important things we can do is be honest with our parenting partners about our own history. If you’ve suffered in the past with disordered eating or chronic dieting or worry about your weight, explaining those experiences to a partner you trust can be really helpful. Sharing a personal experience is often more compelling than sharing what an expert said, or sharing something you read in an article or even in a research study.

I’m always shocked when one parent reveals to another during a session that they themselves have struggled with disordered eating for the first time. Yet, it happens frequently. Since sharing your own experiences can be a huge turning point for a spouse, I always encourage you to start there. (And if you need help with this, reach out to a professional.) In the meantime, here are some tips to help you open a parenting partner’s eyes to the dangers of dieting and micromanaging our children’s food intake.

Help! My Husband is a Food Cop

Most of us know these comments are damaging to our daughter’s relationship with food. Yet we may need a little extra clarity on why they have the potential to hurt her in order to feel motivated enough to address them. Here are at least three reasons it’s so important to put your foot down when it comes to commenting on your daughter’s eating. If you have a parenting partner who is learning about how to be a more positive, non-dieting influence on your daughter too, share these ideas with them, too.

Eating comments disconnect girls from their bodies

When an adult makes a comment towards a child, direct or indirect, it has power. For the most part, adults appear as authorities to kids—particularly so if they’re loved, trusted, and someone the child usually looks to them for approval. Hearing a comment from a trusted adult about how much or little you’re eating can feel like criticism. It tells the child, “I don’t approve,” which stirs up negative emotions such as shame, fear, and self-consciousness—none of which mix well with eating.

Eating is meant to be the exact opposite: joyful, nourishing, and self-directed. In order for our daughters to be physically, emotionally, and socially healthy eaters, we need them to come to the table feeling confident, comfortable, and expectant of a positive experience that honors—not dismisses—their bodily signals.

In order for our daughters to be physically, emotionally and socially healthy eaters, we need them to come to the table feeling confident, comfortable and expectant of a positive experience that honors—not dismisses—their bodily signals.

Eating comments cause portion distortion

In addition to stirring up stress and shame, commenting on amounts can cause a child to eat more (or less) than she needs. Research shows that kids who feel restricted ultimately eat more when adults aren’t around and kids who feel pressured to eat more than they want to ultimately eat less than they might otherwise. In other words, while we (or our mothers or grandmothers or uncles or brothers) think we are helping our daughters eat the “right” amount we may be inadvertently causing the opposite impact.

Eating comments steal joy and pleasure

In addition to portions, we also want our family to know they have no right to comment on the types of foods our daughter prefers to eat. When a loved one announces how “bad for you” they think pasta, donuts or cheese is, your daughter will probably be wrought with internal conflict whenever she decides to eat it. Kids are very literal; they don’t have the ability to discern that great aunt Mattie is overly critical and prone to exaggeration, never mind that she has been steeped in decades of diet culture and is dangerously perfectionistic in her eating. (!) They take what is said at face value (ie this stuff is bad!) and run with it.

Plus, making girls hyperaware of how caloric or sugary foods are doesn’t help them avoid eating high-calorie foods, it simply makes them feel bad about eating them. Ultimately, your daughter might turn those negative emotions including guilt, shame, and disappointment inward towards herself when she’s eating those same foods, too. (ie Pasta isn’t only “bad”, I’m “bad” for wanting to eat it.)

Additionally, depending on your daughter’s personality type, hearing that certain foods aren’t safe to eat could lead to self-imposed restriction and even extreme restriction of those “bad” foods, which is a form of disordered eating and a risk factor for eating disorders. Heavy stuff, right? Yup! So even though it might be challenging, rooting these comments out of our daughters’ mealtime experiences is crucial.

Want More Tips on How to Protect Your Daughter From Diet Culture? Learn more about NourishHer’s FREE Audio Guide.

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