How to Talk to Your Daughter About Healthy Eating

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Here’s why we need to be smart about how we talk to girls about foods and eating

We all come to the table with a certain set of biases about foods and eating and often try to persuade our children to think and feel the same. Sometimes our words may have the opposite impact of what we\’re going for, causing confusion and discomfort instead of, say, a joy for swiss chard. Here are a few tips for rethinking our \’food speak\’ in ways that\’ll support our daughters in feeling good about what and how much they eat, which will help them be well-nourished in more ways than one.

Go With an All Foods Fit Approach

By keeping virtue out of the kitchen

Avoid words like \’bad\’, \’junk,’ and ‘unhealthy’ when it comes to talking about foods and drinks. Labeling certain foods as evil can trigger feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, and shame in girls, especially if you’re referring to something she really likes or wants to eat.

The truth is ALL foods can provide some nourishment—and while we may choose to offer our kids certain foods over others, identifying the ones you want them to avoid as ‘bad’ does way more harm than good.

Another reason to avoid name-calling when it comes to food: When we do this, we inadvertently teach our daughters to judge not only themselves but others who eat them as ‘wrong,’ ‘bad,’ or deserving of shame, too. If a friend or classmate eats a lunch or snack food that your daughter feels you\’d disapprove of, she may pass unfair judgment on them too.

Help Figure Out the Right Portion Size

By nixing “one more bite” and “that’s enough” comments and requests

When our daughters tell us they\’re finished or that they’re still hungry, we need to believe them! We are all born with an innate ability to regular our food intake based on body signals such as hunger, appetite, and satiety. This ability is something our daughters might lose with touch as they grow if we interfere with it. When kids start listening to outside influences instead of internal ones—influences such as well-meaning parents, messages from “health” experts who promote restricting foods (aka dieting) to reach a certain BMI, and celebrities, friends, and extended family who comment on our “good” or “bad” eating. Prompting our daughters to eat more (despite them feeling full) or to stop before they feel satisfied teaches them to distrust their own body and listen to outside cues instead. In the short-term, it can be a ding to self-esteem (thoughts of  \”the feeling of hunger is bad and can\’t be trusted\” and, worse, \”I\’m not good at eating\”). In the long-term, it teaches girls that they can’t listen to signals from inside their body, which can be disastrous to more than just their internal regulation and eating.

Help Girls Reach a Healthy Weight

By cutting this word from family vocab

In families where parents talk about “weight,” kids have more disordered eating habits (such as restrictive eating and binge eating), lower self-esteem, more body dissatisfaction, and are more likely to be depressed. This is regardless of whether that child is underweight, normal weight or overweight—and whether the parent is talking about their child’s weight or their own. Moms aren’t the only ones who impact their daughter’s feelings about eating. This effect is even stronger for fathers who promote eating a certain way to lose weight or avoid gaining weight to their daughters. The negative effects of “weight” talk are powerful: they’ve been shown to last at least 15 years, following girls into adulthood, making it even more important to create a positive tone by avoiding the subject instead!

Help Girls Have Better Eating Esteem

By taking note of your tone

When talking to kids about food, be gentle, kind, and guiding, as well as very direct. Children are more likely to listen to directions when they feel respected, supported, and when they clearly understand your request. Kids are less likely to comply with requests that are critical, shaming and unclear. Worse? Such comments are known to lower self-esteem and cause overeating. For example, \”Sweetheart, please take just one scoop so there is enough for everyone,\” works much better than, \”Oh my gosh, that’s a lot of calories!\”, “After today, we can both start a diet”, or “You’ve been eating too much lately.”

Make Family Meals Easier

By being curious

Does your daughter have a particular eating habit you hate? Or is her focus on carbs or sugar or snack foods something you often worry about? While it’s natural to be concerned about her eating habits, yet if she picks up on your stress or concern it could make the situation worse. The best thing to do: Ask yourself the \’why\’ behind your worry and talk about it with a partner or professional. Letting concerns get the best of you during meals can ramp up stress for everyone eating. Even the most legitimate worries and fears need to be addressed away from the table, either with another caregiver, a nutrition therapist. Believe it or not, even infants can pick up on stress during feeding so if you approach meals with negative emotions, there\’s a chance your daughter will feel anxious or afraid, too.

“Even infants can pick up on stress during feeding so, despite having the very best intentions, if you approach meals with negative emotions, there\’s a chance your daughter will feel anxious or afraid, too.”

Big emotions can also dis-regulate eating, decreasing or increasing your daughter\’s appetite which may inadvertently contribute more to whatever issue you\’re concerned about instead of improving it.


 

Wondering about the best next step to solving your family’s food ‘ish?

Here’s a free and fast option: Set up a time to talk.

I can give you some general guidance, as well as point you to the exact right resource at NourishHer (I have over 15 and counting)! Don’t be shy about reaching out for support. There’s no obligation, you’re not the only one who’s struggling, and just like all the other parents I’ve worked with, with a few little mindset tweaks and fine-tuning to mealtimes, you and your kids can start feeling good about feeding and eating in no time!

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