What You Say Matters: How Self Talk and Food Can Heavily Affect Your Children

All most parents want is the best for their children in all things, including their physical and mental well-being. Yet, even while feeding them wholesome foods and encouraging physical activity, the attitudes parents inculcate can have a negative effect. Sometimes what is said is more important than what is done. Regarding food, the self-talk that children learn from their parents around food can influence them for decades to come.

Family cooking together (Source: Shutterstock)

This article explores how self-talk and food can affect children’s health and offers some tips and strategies for promoting positive self-talk and healthy eating habits.

How Self-Talk Can Cause Eating Problems

Self-talk, or the internal dialogue we have with ourselves, can greatly impact behavior, including how we eat. Feelings of shame, guilt, and inadequacy brought on by negative self-talk can result in unhealthy eating patterns.

For instance, a child who engages in self-talk critical of their body image may develop disordered eating patterns like binge eating or restrictive eating. Like adults, kids who experience feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness may use food as a coping technique, resulting in emotional eating or overeating.

A child’s connection with food can also be impacted by negative self-talk, which may lead them to label some foods as “good” or “bad.” As a result, a youngster may develop restricted eating habits and stop consuming particular foods or food groups.

These self-talk habits often come from parents. Here are some ways that parents may inadvertently impart negative self-talk about food to their children.

Food Labeling

When parents categorize specific foods as “good” or “bad,” it may cause children to associate such foods negatively. When kids consume “poor” foods, this may cause them to feel guilty or ashamed, which may result in unhealthy eating patterns and negative self-talk.

Restricting Food Intake

Parents who restrict their children’s food consumption risk making them feel anxious and ashamed about food. Negative self-talk and disordered eating patterns are often a result of food shame.

Disparaging Remarks About Their Bodies or Eating Habits

When parents disparage their own bodies or eating habits, it may imply that these behaviors are intrinsically bad or shameful. This could lead to concerns with body image and negative self-talk.

Rephrasing Negative Self-Talk

Two Easily Remembered Questions That Silence Negative Thoughts | Anthony Metivier | TEDxDocklands

Here are four examples of phrases to avoid when talking to your children:

“I am so fat.”
“I can only have dessert if I skip a meal.”
“I need to burn this off later at the gym.”
” X, Y food is bad for you. Only Z is good and won’t make you fat.”

These phrases could be reworded as follows to avoid negative effects on children:

  1. “I am working on being healthier by making positive choices for my body.”

Instead of critiquing the speaker’s physical appearance, this comment emphasizes the constructive actions that they are carrying out. It conveys that taking care of our bodies is crucial but should not be at the expense of body-shaming or negative self-talk.

2. “I will enjoy this dessert as a treat, but I’ll eat a balanced meal earlier in the day.”

Instead of implying that certain foods should be avoided unless we restrict ourselves to other foods, this phrase highlights the need for balance and moderation when it comes to food. This serves as an example of healthy eating behavior and conveys that treating yourself occasionally is OK.

3. “I enjoyed this meal, and I’ll get some exercise later to help me feel good.”

Rather than implying the meal was bad and needs to be compensated for, this comment emphasizes that the meal was enjoyable. It also promotes the advantages of exercise rather than viewing it as a ‘fix’ for bad eating choices.

4. “All foods can be part of a healthy diet, but we want to make sure we eat various foods that nourish our bodies.”

This claim emphasizes the value of moderation and balance when it comes to food and conveys that any food may be a component of a balanced diet. It also encourages kids to emphasize the advantages of adopting healthy eating practices by serving as an example of positive self-talk about food and body image.

How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Food

Small boy holding an apple (Source: Shutterstock)

Parents can set an example for healthy eating by eating a balanced diet and refraining from self-talk about food and body image. Children can be included in meal planning and preparation by their parents, encouraging them to experiment with various foods and flavors.

Parents can further encourage a positive relationship with food in their children by refraining from enforcing restrictive eating habits or using food as a reward or punishment. Focus on encouraging moderation and balance instead, allowing kids to indulge in sweets in moderation while simultaneously teaching good eating practices.

Finally, rather than focusing on weight or looks, parents should encourage their kids to have a positive self-image by stressing the value of self-care and self-acceptance.

Wrap Up

What you say to your kids about food really does matter. By carelessly feeding them negative self-talk about food, we can inadvertently be setting them up for a negative relationship with food and their body. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Rephrase your negative self-talk and turn it into positive growth and examples of healthy physical and mental living. Who knows, your own inner child may even thank you as well.