It’s important to have regular conversations with your child about how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking about. But when it comes to food choices and body image, it can feel challenging to know how to talk about it in a way that won’t be damaging to a child’s mental health.

And if you have a concern about your child’s view of their body, or you think they may have an eating disorder, how do you bring that up? We have some conversation starters to help!

Talking About Food

Food is fuel. It gives our bodies energy and helps kids grow, concentrate and play. It’s important for kids to know that food helps them do important things. Talking about nutrition that fuels our bodies is a good place to start.

Many people also have an emotional connection with food. This can be positive for mental health, like when a child connects a certain kind of dessert with a relative. Having certain traditions that involve food (such as holidays) can be an important part of a child’s understanding of their family background and culture.

However, some children can have feelings tied to eating certain foods that can be harmful to their mental health, such as shame around eating certain foods or guilt for liking food, which can be tied to ideas about negative body image.

Whenever possible, start by examining your own relationship with food and how you talk about eating.

Instead of saying:

Try saying:

“Don’t eat that! It has so many calories!”

“We’ve talked about limiting how much sugar we eat since sugar isn’t the best fuel for our bodies. Can you please pick one sweet treat to eat today and we can save the other one for tomorrow?”

“That’s bad for you.”

“That’s a sometimes food. We don’t want to eat our sometimes foods all the time because then they would not be a special treat.”

“I have such fat thighs from eating all this ice cream.”

“Sometimes, I don’t like certain parts of my body, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like myself. Our bodies do amazing things for us. What do you like about your body?”

“Are you sure you want to eat that? That has so many carbs.”

“Carbohydrates give us quick energy but that energy gets used up fast by our bodies and then we feel sluggish, cranky, and hungry again. Let’s think about what foods we can eat that can give us longer term energy, like an apple and a cheese stick.”

It’s okay to make mistakes. If you find yourself repeatedly talking to your children in negative ways about your food choices or theirs, you may want to seek help from a mental health therapist.

Talking About Body Image

A lot of parents worry that even mentioning body image could give their child an eating disorder. That’s not likely! Having a healthy view of their bodies is something that you can help build at home.

  • Focus on health, not weight. By talking about eating nutritious foods, exercising, focusing on mental health and self-care and having a limited amount of nutrient poor foods, you’re building a picture for them of what it means to live a healthy life.
  • Model positive body image. Make a point of talking about your own body in a positive way. Talk about all the amazing things our bodies do for us, like allowing us to move in so many ways, helping us to concentrate and learn, and allowing us to connect with others through hugs and touch.Avoid talking poorly about other people’s bodies. Remember that kids pick up on, and repeat, things that they hear.
  • Celebrate bodies of all shapes and sizes. You can read books, watch movies and look at art that shows people in a variety of shapes and sizes. Talk about something that you find interesting or lovely about different people.

Questions to Help You Get Started

If you’re not sure how to start, you can ask questions. Choose a time when you can talk privately. Avoid distractions. Try to find a time when you are both calm. Ask them if this would be a good time to talk about how they think about their body and their eating.