Balancing Weight Loss and Body Positivity: A Guide for Parents Supporting Their Children

In a society often obsessed with appearance and body ideals, parents face the difficult challenge of helping their children maintain a healthy weight while nurturing a positive body image. To gain insights into this delicate balance, Get it Magazine’s Laura Broad spoke with Veya Seekis, a renowned body image researcher at Griffith University.  

How can parents approach the topic of weight loss with their children without triggering negative body image issues or low self-esteem? 

The discussion of weight loss should only be necessary if there is a medical concern that relates to the child’s weight. Speaking about weight loss with a child in any context will likely trigger in them the idea that they are not accepted as they are which can lead to negative body image and low self-esteem. Body image research shows that discussions with children about the positives of healthy eating far outweigh discussions about losing weight. 

What role does body positivity play in promoting a healthy approach to weight loss for children? How can parents foster a positive body image while addressing weight-related concerns? 

We would we encourage parents to discuss healthy eating and how that can help them feel more energised and how it can help their brain develop. Speaking about food should always be in the positive, in other words, the things it can add to the child’s life rather than in the negative (i.e., what they are likely to lose). This sort of talk helps them to understand the purpose of healthy living and promotes the idea that people can be healthy regardless of their body shape or size. 

How can parents create a supportive and non-judgmental environment for their children during the weight loss journey? What are some effective communication techniques to use when discussing weight and health? 

Focus on the gains of healthy living such as the functionality of their body and appreciation of what their body can do. What can they do that they couldn’t before? Some examples could be, climbing stairs without running out of breath or carrying shopping or school bags without having to stop all the time. In other words, eating healthily and exercising are likely to strengthen their body, improve their respiratory system and allow them to enjoy activities. 

What are the potential psychological impacts of focusing solely on weight loss without considering body positivity? How can parents strike a balance? 

Focusing on weight loss contradicts the point of body positivity and I would not recommend discussing the two with children. Help them understand the types of images they are likely to see on social media are unrealistic and promote very narrow body type standards. If on social media, they should mix up their feed so that they are not simply engaging with appearance but other interests as well such as art, comedy, animals etc. Following body positivity and body neutrality, accounts have also been shown to be useful in helping young people be more appreciative of their bodies and understand that a healthy body comes in all shapes, sizes, and abilities. 

Are there any warning signs or red flags parents should watch out for that indicate their child may be developing an unhealthy relationship with food or body image during the weight loss process? 

Food should be considered the fuel that helps us function. The focus should be on the benefits of healthy living not weight loss. 

How can parents promote body acceptance and self-love throughout their child’s weight loss journey? Are there any specific practices or exercises that can help cultivate a positive body image? 

There is evidence to suggest that self-compassion can provide a sense of comfort if the child is going through a challenging time. This includes acknowledgement of the negative feelings, putting them into perspective and understanding that the feelings are shared by most people at some time, and then showing themselves the type of kindness and comfort they would show a friend who was sad. Self-compassion has also been shown to increase resilience in young children. Self-appreciation is also an excellent way to encourage children to be body positive. For example, as a daily exercise, they may write down in their journal something they are grateful for about themselves (it doesn’t need to be appearance related), identify those positive feelings, write about the act (if they helped someone that day) or about an achievement, or even about their family and how they may have contributed to the thing they are grateful for. They can then show themselves some kindness – for example, they can say something to themselves like, “Thank you for being so understanding today.” 

 

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