A mom who diets is more likely to pass on food anxiety to her kids. Intuitive eating kids have healthy relationships with food.

Is Candy Junk Food?

Is candy junk food in your family or do you freely allow it? A big deciding factor for me to finally heal from years of dieting was realizing I taught my kids how to have a bad relationship with food. I wouldn’t buy certain foods like candy, cookies and chips. And if they had access to some, I would heavily restrict the amount they could have. Essentially trying to override their intuition and teach them my own dieting habits. It caused fights and them over-eating it if they were offered it. Keep reading to learn how food rules in your home could be hurting your kids too.

Food anxiety is a learned behavior.

Kids know exactly what foods they like and what they don’t. Think of a two year old sitting in their high chair with Cheerios, yogurt, slices of banana, and diced watermelon. The child will explore all four foods with their hands and mouth. Depending on how they’re feeling in that moment, they will either eat, leave or throw the foods. Factors such as taste, texture, familiarity, smell, looks and what they’re in the mood for will impact them. Because kids are naturally intuitive eaters.

Imagine that same child as a 22 year-old. In the past twenty years, they have been exposed to diet culture by their family, dance teachers, cheerleading coaches, friends, social media and society in general. They now will choose what they eat or leave (hopefully, no more throwing!) based on fear of gaining weight, self-judgement, concerns for their health, and societal pressure to be thin. No longer will they base their food choices solely on their own intuition.

A dieting mom influences dieting kids.

While we can’t shield our kids from all diet culture messaging, we can make a significant impact on how we handle food in our own homes. Our kids are always watching and listening. They can tell when we’re on a diet or eating differently. Sense when we’re feeling self-conscious about our bodies. Internalize our words about certain food being “fattening,” “unhealthy,” “junk food,” or “bad.” And they learn to feel the same guilt, shame, and fear around their cravings and food choices that we do. Elevating dieting voices and demonizing foods like candy, pasta, bread, potatoes, milk, potato chips, etc. teaches them to have the same bad relationship with food that we do.

Ways we label foods (like candy) junk food

Anxious thoughts and rules around food often get passed down generations. The majority, if not all, my clients have moms who were always on a diet when they were growing up. They had grandmothers who would make comments about their weight. Or dads who gave them “cute” nicknames related to their weight or size.

Our language matters. Below are some of the common rules and restrictions for fun foods that impact kids and their relationship with food. Let’s use candy as an example. Do you freely allow candy in your home? Or do you have the following rules around it:

  • You can’t have it often
  • It’s a treat to earn after a busy day of sports and a fully-eaten nutritious dinner
  • It’s only allowed on special occasions (e.g. Halloween and Easter)
  • It must be a small amount
  • Organic, sugar-free, dye-free candy is better but still bad to eat
  • Any leftovers get hidden out of sight in a hard-to-reach cabinet

I used to pass these junk food beliefs to my kids too.

I believed every rule listed above had to be followed. On Halloween, I would even do my own version of the Switch Witch by having them “cash in” their candy in exchange for a $10 toy of their choice. I’d watch my two boys at parties. Obsessed with the food table because it was their only opportunity to get candy, “junk food” and baked goods. They would hide wrappers and stash more to bring home since they knew this party was their only chance to eat these foods. I was creating more issues than not. I was missing the opportunity to teach them that when you eat a wide variety of food, and listen to your body for what it needs, you’ll end up establishing healthier habits.

Read more how I taught my kids my diet culture BS.

The thing is, the more we limit and put mental restrictions around food, the more we want it. When we finally get it, we eat a ton of it. Overeating actually stops happening once you give yourself permission to eat. So when we put the same limitations and restrictions around our kids’ food, the more they want it. When they get it, they eat a ton of it. But all of these behaviors stop once we give them permission to eat unconditionally. This is how we preserve their natural way of intuitive eating.

Ditching diet culture is how we teach our kids self-trust. Helping them know their body will always take care of them. Will regulate the amount that feels satisfying. Will always let them know exactly what it needs to thrive. And will find the balance that helps them feel in control around food. And the best way to do this is by healing our own relationship with food, fitness and body image.

End your dieting cycle for your kids.

I know you’re a great mom who’s just trying to help her kids be healthy. I remember how I believed limiting food types and only buying specific brands was me doing my best. But, if you’re like me and you’ve been dieting for 25+ years, the last thing I want is for my kids to have the same guilt and shame around food and body image I had. It makes life so much more difficult. This is one of the main reasons I got help to stop dieting and to start eating intuitively. Prioritizing my mental health directly impacts my kids’ mental health.

If you’re ready to end the dieting cycle. To stop labeling foods like carbs and candy junk food. To demonstrate to your kids how a healthy woman has self-trust and confidence around food. Then sign up for my next group coaching session of Diet-Free Academy. Learn how to become an intuitive eater and establish sustainable healthy behaviors that serve you. Click the button to learn more.

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Meridith Oram is an anti-diet nutritionist at Love Yourself Towards Healthy where she helps chronic dieters heal their relationship with food, fitness and body image by ditching diet culture and finding freedom in their God-given intuition. Focusing on behavioral change and Intuitive Eating, Meridith helps her clients unlearn diet culture, stop negative self-talk and set wellness goals---not appearance goals. Follow Meridith at @loveyourself2healthy on all social channels.

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