Three things parents should say to girls to help them build a positive body image

By Katie Hurley

“Hello, I’m a fat person, fat, fat, fat.”

Taken out of context, these words, from the mouth of a 6-year-old female toy tester at the Mattel headquarters, are a bit jarring. They are the kind of words you hope your child won’t use out in the world. They are words laced with hurt and judgment.

For her Time cover story on the new and improved Barbie, Eliana Dockterman observed young girls at play with the new dolls. While the first child referenced was direct with her body comments, another girl attempted to spare the feelings of the doll by spelling out the word, “F-A-T.”

How do very young children learn to judge others by the shapes and sizes of their bodies? Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer. Between subtle messages in the home, the influence of media, peer interactions and the shrinking of childhood (many girls are growing up quickly these days), young girls consume and internalize countless messages about body image every single day.

Many parents know to be careful about the words they use when discussing their own bodies. We know, for example, that saying things like, “I feel fat today” or “do I look fat in these jeans?” sends harmful messages to young girls. Parents avoid those overt statements and replace them with comments about physical strength in an effort to teach young girls body confidence. But what about the most subtle statements that sometimes slip through the cracks?

Standing in line at Gap not long ago, I witnessed a mother-daughter conversation that sent a subtle, but powerful message about body image. A young girl, about 6 years old, ran up to her mother with a pair of winter gloves in her hands. “I found some but I don’t like them that much,” she stated, in that matter-of-fact tone kids of that age often use. “They make my fingers look too skinny.” She looked up her mom for confirmation. Her mother’s response took me by surprise. “That’s better than looking fat,” she uttered, without missing a beat.

Perhaps it was an isolated incident. We’ve all experienced impatient moments and bad days and sometimes we respond before we consider the potential impact of the response. But what if it wasn’t an isolated incident? What if that message was one of many?

For years, I worked with a young girl who struggled with body image, self-esteem, and anxiety. Her home life was defined by a seemingly endless discussion on weight gain, weight loss, exercise and fad diets.

Ever on a quest to find the perfect diet, her mother constantly removed foods from the house and talked obsessively about calories, sugars and “bad” foods. Don’t get me wrong; her mother had good intentions. Maintaining a healthy weight was a lifelong struggle for her, and she wanted to make the challenge easier for her daughter.

The body and diet talk was overwhelming for this young girl, however, and she developed her own coping strategy to combat the negative emotions she experienced almost daily: sneak eating. She saved her coins to purchase snacks from the school vending machine and ate them in the dark of night. In doing so, she lived up to her own carefully constructed self-fulfilling prophecy: a young girl powerless over the lure of junk food.

Recent findings show that kids as young as 32 months pick up on fat shaming attitudes of their moms, and a report released by Common Sense Media reveals that half of the girls and one-third of the boys between 6 and 8 think their ideal weight is thinner than their current size. It’s time to consider how we talk to kids about body image.

It’s easy to set a few rules around body talk, including removing “fat” from your vocabulary and not commenting on the size or shape of someone else’s body. Where it gets complicated, however, is when your daughter comes home with difficult questions. “Am I fat?” or “will I get fat if I eat this?” speak volumes about the inner struggle of a young child.

Cara Natterson, a pediatrician, and New York Times bestselling author of The Care and Keeping series has some great tips on talking body image with young girls.

“I have always felt that the most important thing a parent can do is, to be honest,” explains Natterson. “But when there is an issue – particularly around weight – it can be incredibly difficult to walk the fine line between protecting your child and being truthful.”

How should parents handle questions and concerns about body image? Start here:

Answer the question with a question

Natterson suggests using conversation starters to help children uncover the feelings beneath the surface. She suggests, “What makes you ask that question?” as a starting point. “This is seriously the BEST answer because it allows your child to explain where the concern is coming from,” Natterson explains.

It’s important to keep the dialogue open. When we jump in with solutions to “fix” the problem, we close down the conversation. To help young girls work through these difficult topics and overwhelming emotions, we need to listen more than we talk.

Watch your words

Words like “fat” and “chubby” are sometimes used in jest to describe animals in books, toys or other fictional characters. While that seems harmless at the moment, it can send mixed messages. Sometimes the subtle messages internalized early on can lead to negative thinking later on.

Emily Roberts, psychotherapist and author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Speaking Up and Being Who You Are, cautions parents to choose their words carefully. “Don’t fat shame, weight shame or categorize others by their weight,” says Roberts, “This sends the message that their weight is what you see, not their character.”

Talk about strengths

Children need to feel heard and understood. To that end, it’s important to listen to your daughter’s concerns about body image. Empathize with her and talk about what it feels like to struggle with the emotional and physical changes that naturally occur as children grow. Then steer the conversation toward the positive.

It is imperative that young girls hear body positive messages. Talk about physical strength and what their bodies can do for them (hanging from those monkey bars isn’t easy, after all). Educate them about healthy eating and playful exercise. Cook meals together and helps your daughters take control of their own health so that will internalize a positive message: They have the power to live healthy and happy lives. That’s a message worth sharing.

Katie Hurley is a child and adolescent psychotherapist and parenting educator in Los Angeles, and the author of The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World. You can find her on Twitter and on her blog, Practical Parenting.

8 things this mom will do in 2016 to set a better example

A few weeks ago my sons pulled out the bathroom scale, which lives under a dresser in my bedroom gathering dust, and took turns seeing how much they weigh. They wanted me to join in the fun. “Mommy, your turn! Let’s see your number!”

The next 1.3 seconds inside my head went something like this: “Noooo way I haven’t stepped on that in forever I don’t like scales they don’t like me my shoes are on should I take them off I’m wearing too many layers I just ate lunch the number would be wrong what if the boys say my weight when we’re in public I shouldn’t be weird about this don’t let them see how scared you are,” all while a slightly embarrassed smile, masked as amusement, was spreading across my face.

And then I declined. Stupidly. For no good reason. “Nahhh,” I said as casually as I could as if the tone of voice I used made a difference in the way they understood my refusal.

They didn’t understand it and pleaded a couple more times before moving on to a new discovery, leaving me there in the bedroom staring at a dusty black scale and thinking about what I might have inadvertently just taught them – or missed out on teaching them – by what I didn’t do.

We don’t just learn from words and actions. We also learn from silence, refusal, inaction and disregard. Those lessons are perhaps scarier than the ones we actively, knowingly teach our kids, because we’re not really in charge of them. Sometimes we’re not even conscious of them. They’re just happening, right there in the middle of an ordinary Tuesday, because of space we leave open to interpretation when we freeze, or stay silent, or appear oblivious, or say “Nahhh” with no reasonable explanation.

The realization bothered me so much that I came up with a list of things Idon’t do very much that could very well be affecting the way my boys view themselves and the world around them. So this year, in a twist on the traditional New Year’s Resolution, here is a list of eight things I don’t do – or don’t do enough – that I will aim to do with both intention and frequency in 2016. Join me?

Pick up trash. I always thought I was pretty good at this one until I went for a half mile walk with my kids last summer. That’s when I noticed that I picked up easy target items – an empty Gatorade bottle, a discarded plastic grocery bag – while my kids picked up every tiny piece of trash they saw. Everything. It must have taken us 40 minutes to walk that half mile, and that empty plastic bag I’d picked up was stretched full of straw wrappers and gum wrappers and receipts and broken pieces of godknowswhat. There is no difference too small to make in the world.

Say the compliment I am thinking. Everyone wants validation and words of affirmation. I’m pretty good about doling out compliments to the people I know, but not the people I don’t know. If I want my kids to be observant, kind-hearted and sincere, I need to start modeling that, which means not just noticing someone’s pretty bracelet or well-behaved child, but telling them.Every time you think something positive, say it.

Work toward my dreams. The other day my boys asked if I’d read them a children’s story I wrote long ago, which they love. So I brought my laptop over to the couch and opened the Microsoft Word file that houses my dream. Why is it still on my laptop instead of in the hands of a publisher or agent? I have envisioned the day I could hand them a hardcover version of it, and they’d see their names inside and their mom’s on the cover, tangible evidence not just of imagination but tenacity. Don’t let your kids become the only dreams you work on.

Read. Not counting what’s on my laptop or iPhone, my kids rarely see me read. I have stacks of books I’d like to get to but don’t make the time. I don’t like what that is subtly telling them. Sometimes clichés are true: Knowledge is power, and reading is fundamental.

Put myself in the photo. When I look back on an archive of photos that document my kids’ growing up years, I want it to be apparent that I was there enjoying it with them, even when my hair was in a ponytail and I didn’t have lip gloss on. They do care about your appearance – but not your looks.

Cross traditional gender lines. My kids routinely ask me if my favorite color is pink, and are always shocked when I say “No.” Someday they’ll understand the subtle power and unseen strength in all that women do and are, but for now, they see whether or not I hand the hammer to a man when it’s time to hang a picture. If you don’t want them to believe in stereotypes, don’t become one.

Pray out loud. I want my kids to grow up turning to God in times of gratitude and distress. How are they going to know how to do that if I don’t show them? Since they can’t hear all the silent prayers I send up – for them and others – I need to pray aloud, not just at the dinner table or at bedtime, but when I receive good news about a loved one. Or when we pass the aftermath of a car accident. Or when they tell me a friend is sick or hurting.When you get the urge to call on God, do it out loud.

Step on the scale. The fight against our culture’s barrage of messages that suggest women are largely imperfect (and objects to conquer) is a daunting one, yet frowning at the mirror or refusing to get on a scale only reinforces those lies. I want my sons to believe all women are beautiful and deserve respect because they love and respect themselves. There is no numeric value attached to who you are.

Robyn Passante is a journalist and writer. Find more of her work atrobynpassante.comShe tweets @robynpassante.

Eating a Healthy Diet May Reduce Brain Shrinkage

People who eat a diet rich in fish, fruits and vegetables but low in meat may lose fewer brain cells as they age, according to a new study.

In the study of 674 older adults, the researchers looked at whether the participants’ diets during the past year included the following nine components of the so-called Mediterranean diet: eating lots of vegetables, legumes, cereals, fish, fruits and nuts; consuming healthy monosaturated fats like olive oil but avoiding saturated fats; drinking moderate amounts of alcohol; and eating low amounts of meat and dairy products. The average age of the people in the study was 80.

The researchers scanned the participants’ brains, and found that those whose diets included at least five of these nine components had brain volumes that measured 13.11 millimeters larger on the scans, on average, compared with the brain volumes of the people whose diets included fewer than five components.
This difference in brain volume between the two groups is equivalent to the amount of shrinkage that happens over five years of aging, the researchers said.

“These results are exciting, as they raise the possibility that people may potentially prevent brain shrinking and the effects of aging on the brain simply by following a healthy diet,” study author Yian Gu, of Columbia University in New York, said in a statement.

When the researchers took a closer look at the relationship between brain shrinkage and the Mediterranean diet, they found that the diet’s protective effect was driven to the greatest extent by two components: eating more fish and eating less meat.

This finding suggests that “eating at least 3 to 5 ounces of fish weekly or eating no more than 3.5 ounces of meat daily may provide considerable protection against loss of brain cells equal to about three to four years of aging,” Gu said. [7 Ways the Mind and Body Change With Age]

None of the people in the new study had dementia. The researchers noted, however, that greater amounts of brain shrinkage have been linkedto a greater risk of cognitive decline.

The new study was observational, and more research is needed to examine the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and brain structure, Gu told Live Science. The new study does not prove that following the Mediterranean diet prevents brain shrinkage; rather, it shows there is a link between the two, she said.

The mechanism between the Mediterranean diet and a greater brain volume is not clear, but it may have something to do with the beneficial effects of nutrients present in the foods, the researchers said. For example, the omega-3 fats as well as vitamins B and D in fish have been shown to promote the growth of neurons and slow brain shrinkage, they said.

The new study was published today (Oct. 21) in the journal Neurology.

Follow Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on Twitter. Follow Live Science@livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.

My Summer Cold!

Summer colds are bad enough as it is, but when you live in Fresno…  a summer cold is unbearable.  The mixture of dry air, smoke from local fires, air pollution and temperatures in the high 90s, equals a recipe for a long miserable cold with little hope for a speedy recovery.

So I looked to the internet for some tips and I have concluded that eating the right food (mixed with piles of cough medicine and decongestants) was the solution I was looking for.

I came across this article on the CNN website.  If you or your child has ever had a summer cold, you know it is bound to happen again.  So make sure you take note of this article and be prepared for that summer cold!

Here is the article:

The worst foods to eat when you’re sick, and the best ones

 

This Is Your Brain on Junk Food

Junk-Food-300x200

We’re not going to tell you junk food is bad for your body (you already know that).

We’re not even going to tell you junk food is bad for your brain (you probably figured as much).

But what you might not know is how junk food is bad for your brain. Turns out, there’s actually quite a lot going on in that head of yours when you fuel your noggin with fatty, sugary foods.

Continue reading

Chocolate Improves Memory…In Snails!

Can I have a bite?

In the category of “weird news of the day,” it turns out that scientists have discovered a way to study the impact of dark chocolate on memory skills.

But not the memory skills of humans, many of whom would crawl on all fours to be chosen to eat chocolate for the advancement of science. No, the participants selected for this particular study were actually snails.

Continue reading

Breakfast for the Brain

Why not make your morning meal count even more by choosing these mind-sharpening meals for a stronger brain?

They incorporate foods shown to keep brain cells healthy and stave off age-related cognitive decline, including berries, nuts, olive oil, veggies, fish, and more—all power nutrients that will keep your whole body well, too.

It really boils down to 7 morning brain foods.

Continue reading

Eat Your Way to a Healthier Mind

To Lower Alzheimer’s Risk, Eat More of These 10 Foods (And Less of These 5)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, with one in three senior adults being impacted by the disease.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that a new study offers hope for people who want to lower their risk for Alzheimer’s..

Continue reading

Fill Your Stomach AND Your Brain!

All natural. Organic. Cage free. Range free. You’ve read the food labels, shelled out a little extra cash for the promise of healthier options, and savored the flavor of your favorite organics. But wait. If the truth were known about wholesome-labeled foods—the 100% real, 100% pure truth—you might find yourself lowering your fork. Or at least rethinking your grocery list.

Continue reading