Category Archives: For Parents

Helping Teens Get Over Overeating

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Parenting a teen can be a bumpy ride—they need you around, but often don’t want you around as they navigate friendships, love interests, school, homework, hormones and future goals. And as if all that wasn’t enough, today’s teens also have to contend with the constant images and messages they see on social media, telling them how they should look, eat, exercise and feel. Many teens simply aren’t equipped to handle the traditional pressures of adolescence, as well as the additional pressures of being a “screenager.”

As a society, we’re all given endless rules about food and fitness. It’s hard enough for adults to navigate all of this in our perfectionistic, plugged-in, fast-paced, image-obsessed culture. For teens, it can be really easy to slip into body hatred, depression, anxiety, addiction, food restriction or overeating—and sometimes all of these.

With diet ads, fad fear foods and air-brushed images enticing them on one end of the spectrum and supersized portions, big gulps and carb-laden drive-thru meals on the other, our culture sets up many teenagers to ride the diet/riot roller coaster. Then they have the constant “shoulds” and rules about exercise, which break down their natural rhythms of movement and rest. Here, one end of the spectrum beckons them with cardio calculations and images of six-pack abs, while the magnetic pull of their screens and a good dose of hopelessness beckon them toward the couch. Constant images of perfectionistic bodies have most teens anxiously striving to look a certain way, leaving a wake of millions feeling depressed and ashamed about looking the way they do.

I started hating my body and yo-yo dieting when I was a teenager, and because the only solutions I sought were fad diets or Jane Fonda Feel the Burn workouts, my struggles escalated from there. It would be many years before I would finally unlearn the cultural craziness and relearn the natural wisdom we are all born with. I then decided to devote myself to helping others—the ol’ lemonade out of lemons deal.

Having spent the last twenty-five years counseling people who struggle with eating and body image, I’ve recently become dedicated to early prevention. The sooner someone gets help with disordered eating and body hatred, the higher the rate of success in overcoming them. While there is certainly hope for improvement at any age, an early start can save someone years of futile dieting and painful overeating. My latest book, Getting Over Overeating for Teens, is geared toward just that: helping adolescents who are struggling with overeating, binge eating, ineffective dieting and body-image issues. Parents and health professionals can also utilize the tools and activities to help the adolescents they are concerned about.

In this book, I teach readers about four important areas that need to be addressed in order to get over overeating: emotional, mental, physical and spiritual. Of course, I use much more teen-friendly language but knowing that all four areas need to be addressed in order to create what I call a “Stable Table” will help teens, parents and health professionals heal the pervasive problem of overeating in our diet-crazed, supersized culture.

In section one, “Healing What You’re Feeling,” I help teens learn how to identify their emotions and exactly what to do with them other than turning to excess food. I write that “one of the biggest reasons people overeat is to try to stuff down their painful feelings. Overeating is like saying ‘go away’ to your feelings, especially painful ones. The only problem is that when we overeat to try to make our pain go away, it ends up causing more pain. This is because once we finish eating, we still have the original feelings we ate over, plus all the feelings we have from overeating. It’s a good try, though. Food does give us some comfort and distraction—for a little while anyway. Once you learn healthy ways to deal with your feelings, you’ll no longer need to use food like a drug, to try to make your feelings go away, and you can eat what you really like, in healthy amounts.”

So the emotional aspect of getting over overeating entails learning how to cope with difficult emotions rather than eat over them. Most of us have been taught that we are supposed to feel happy all the time, so feelings like sadness, anger, loneliness and fear get a bad reputation. Ironically, this has contributed to an epidemic of depression and anxiety. So learning to identify, tolerate and even welcome our uncomfortable emotions is a huge part of healing overeating. One metaphor I use is riding a wave. I write that “we can learn to ride a wave of emotion just like a wave in the ocean.”  I teach teens that happy people are not always happy and that just like the weather has patterns, so do we. This will arm them, not only to get over overeating but to be much more equipped for healthy living in general.

Section two, titled “Pay No Mind to Your Unkind Mind,” is all about our thinking. I write that “we all have automatic thoughts that pop up in our minds, just like we have automatic pop-up ads on our computer screens. It’s so easy to believe our thoughts. After all, they are our thoughts! They seem and feel so real, but the truth is, our thoughts aren’t always real, and they sure aren’t always helpful, kind, or true. The good news is that, just like we can close those unwanted pop-up ads on our computers with a simple click, we can learn to close the pop-ups in our minds.”

Readers will learn the concept of having different “mind moods.” We can have an “unkind mind, kind mind or quiet mind.” Oftentimes, people who turn to excess food have loud unkind minds and they use food in an attempt to soothe, quiet or even confirm their unkind thoughts. Teens will also learn about different ways to combat their unkind minds. “Strong, soft, silly or silent” is one chapter that gives them a menu of different tones they can take with their unkind thoughts.

The third section of the book, “Befriending Your Body,” teaches readers how to take care of what I refer to as their “body battery.” Many adolescents who struggle with overeating are disconnected from their bodies’ natural signals. They, like many adults, turn to the only solutions our diet-crazed culture has up its sleeve—eat less and exercise more. But if this simple advice worked, most people would have a healthy, peaceful and natural relationship with food and movement (something we certainly cannot accuse our culture of having!).

In this section of the book, I teach readers how to “step off the diet/riot roller coaster”; how to identify their “hunger number”; how to “find their natural weight in a natural way,” and much more.

Teens will learn to “follow the clues of the foods that they choose.” This will help them see that the foods they overeat hold important clues as to what need they are trying to meet. For example, excess sugar may mean they need more sweetness in their lives (externally and internally). Turning to comfort foods might mean they need more comfort, and so on. They also might be choosing a certain food because it reminds them of when they were little and felt more taken care of and less pressure; or a certain food reminds them of someone they miss or resent. It’s so important to know that overeating is not about being weak but about important feelings and unmet needs. And as those get addressed, food will take its proper place.

In the final section, “Filling Up Without Feeling Down,” I teach readers many ways to feed their spirits. I write that “it’s pretty easy in our fast-paced world to focus on feeding our bodies and feeding our minds. But if we want to get over overeating, we also have to feed the deeper parts of ourselves that can’t be seen, the parts of us that have nothing to do with the material world—our hearts and our souls. These are places that food won’t fill. If we overfeed our bodies, we might be full, but not truly fulfilled. If we feed only our minds, we might think and learn a lot, but we won’t be really satisfied. We all need to fill our spirits too, on a regular basis. When you truly feed your spirit, you feel better afterward. You feel truly filled up, and there are no negative or harmful consequences.” It’s essential for us all to find healthy, inspiring, satisfying ways to fill up. What fills you up?

If you love, work with or care about a teen (or tween) who is struggling with overeating, binge eating or body image, I hope you will consider this new read.

The above book excerpts from Getting Over Overeating for Teens have been reprinted with permission from New Harbinger Publications, Inc. copyright © 2016 Andrea Wachter

The term screenagers, coined in 1997 by media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, refers to techno-savvy young people, who have been reared on television and computers.

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Getting Over Overeating for Teens: Talking with the Author

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT and Janice Bremis

I was recently interviewed by Janice Bremis, founder of Eating Disorders Resource Services, to discuss my new book, Getting Over Overeating for Teens. I’m posting our discussion in the hopes of reaching any teens, parents and health professionals who might benefit from this resource. Please help spread the word by forwarding or sharing this interview on social media.

Janice: What sparked the idea for this book? 

Andrea: Overeating, binge eating and body hatred are epidemic in our culture, and I’m passionate about trying to help people who are struggling with these painful issues. I began hating my body as a teen and was given the only tips the crazy culture had up its sleeve: diet and exercise. These were definitely not the solutions I needed, and like millions of others, I began a downward spiral of overeating, bingeing, sneak eating and yo-yo weight fluctuations, not to mention decades of body obsession and self-hatred.

I also know how important early prevention is; helping someone dismantle their unhealthy beliefs about food, fitness and feelings when they’ve been struggling for a few years (as opposed to a few decades) is likely to be that much more successful. While there’s always hope for change regardless of how long a pattern has gone on, guiding someone onto a healthier path in their teens, rather than starting when they are more entrenched in their beliefs and behaviors, can really make a difference, both in prognosis as well as quality of life.

Janice: Who is the target audience for your book?

Andrea: The book was written for adolescents who struggle with overeating, binge eating and body image. It can also help parents and health professionals to better understand and guide the kids they are concerned about.

Janice: Can you clarify for me and our readers, the difference between overeating and binge eating?

Andrea: Yes, this is a very common question. Overeating is when you eat more than your body needs. It’s important to know that even people who have a totally healthy relationship with food will overeat on occasion. It only becomes problematic if they do it too often or if it has negative consequences.

Binge eating is when someone eats a large amount of food in a short amount of time. They usually eat fast, and until they are stuffed and ashamed. And they usually eat over painful emotions and thoughts, rather than true physical hunger. Someone who binge eats can also be considered an overeater but someone can struggle with overeating and not necessarily binge on large amounts of food.

Janice: In your introduction, you describe the importance of building a “Stable Table.” Can you explain this concept? 

Andrea: The book is divided into four sections that each represent one leg of a metaphorical table: feelings, thoughts, body, and filling up. The idea is that in order to get over overeating (to have a “stable table”), all four areas need to be addressed.

Building only one leg, which is what most diets do, results in an “unstable table.” So, for example, when someone focuses solely on eating less and exercising more but doesn’t learn how to identify and cope with the emotions they are eating over, they will likely turn to overeating in an attempt to soothe their intolerable emotions and unmet needs. Or if someone is trying to do more fulfilling things in their life but is filled with unkind thoughts and an internal soundtrack of self-hatred (what I call the “unkind mind”), they are likely to pick up extra food in an attempt to quiet that mind, get a break from it, or confirm its critical messages. If someone goes to therapy to get help with their emotions but does nothing to address their restricting and overeating habits, they are not likely to feel better in their body. So working on all four areas—feelings, thoughts, body and filling up—which the book addresses in detail, is how someone can get over overeating and gain so many more necessary life skills in the process.

Janice: Can you tell us a little bit about each of the four sections of the book? 

Andrea: Gladly! Section one is what I call “Healing What You’re Feeling.” In the same way our culture teaches us that there are acceptable and unacceptable foods, many of us are also taught that there are acceptable and unacceptable emotions. Namely, happy is good; sad, mad and scared are not so good. I think this is a large part of why our culture is more depressed, anxious, addicted and medicated than ever. So this section helps teens learn everything they need to know about emotions: where they live inside of us, how to name them, what their purpose is, what to do with them, and how to welcome and tolerate them rather than eat over them. I write that “we either deal with the feelings we are eating over or we deal with the feelings we have from overeating.” Personally, I always wished there was a door number three, but no such luck. As they say, “The only way out is through!” So section one arms readers with many tools that will help them not only get over overeating but also with life in general. Over the years, I’ve received many calls and emails from clients who originally came to me for eating and body issues in their teens. They report back from college or adulthood that they feel so much more equipped to deal with stress, emotional ups and downs, and relationship issues as a result of the early work they did.

Section two is about our thinking. I call it “Pay No Mind to Your Unkind Mind.” An overeating problem is, in large part, a thinking problem. Most overeaters have a very strong internal program running (the unkind mind). Unkind thoughts lead us to have painful feelings, and painful feelings lead many people to crave extra food in order to comfort themselves or numb out. So learning how to challenge our unkind minds and upgrade to kinder ones is a huge part of getting over overeating. This section of the book, in large part, uses teen-friendly language to teach mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Section three is titled “Befriending Your Body.” I liken it to taking care of your electronic gadgets. You don’t want to overcharge them, and you don’t want to run them down too low. So I encourage readers to “take care of their body battery,” and this section teaches them many ways to do this. Readers will learn about the ineffectiveness of dieting and how restricting (either in reality or mentality) most often leads to rebelling. (I call it “diet or riot.”) They can learn how to access an intuitive inner voice that will help them make their food choices and step off the diet/riot roller coaster. Other related topics include “Finding Your Natural Weight in a Natural Way” and “Beating the Body Image Blues.”

Finally, the fourth section is what I call “Filling Up Without Feeling Down.” It’s filled with stories, teachings and tips about how to nurture the deeper parts of ourselves. Teen readers will learn many ways that they can get support, connect with their own innate intuition and feel truly filled up without feeling bloated and ashamed afterward.

Janice: I noticed that out of the forty activities in your book, only five are actually about food. Can you say something about this? 

Andrea: While overeating is certainly about healing one’s relationship with food, it’s also about so much more: learning how to cope with painful emotions; communicate difficult thoughts, feelings and needs; quiet your mind; treat your body with respect; and find more sweetness and comfort in life, just to name a few. The reason traditional diets have such a high failure rate is that they usually neglect to address all the important underlying issues that need to be revealed and healed. Once people understand and resolve the deeper issues that caused them to turn to excess food and diets in the first place, they’ll no longer need to use food and body obsession as distractions or numbing agents. Food can take its proper place and serve the purpose nature intended it to: nutrition and pleasure. Then new healthy coping skills can replace unhealthy over- and undereating.

JaniceHow does a parent, counselor or doctor touch on such sensitive topics like overeating and body image if they want to recommend your book to a teen they are concerned about?

Andrea: Very compassionately, very nonjudgmentally—and definitely not while the teen is eating! You are right; eating, weight, body image and exercise can all be extremely sensitive and charged topics for anyone who is struggling with these areas. Our culture bombards us with so many messages about how we are supposed to look and what we are supposed to eat and how we are supposed to exercise that it’s no wonder eating disorders and body obsession are rampant.

If a teenager has previously shared their body or eating distress with their parent, that could be a good lead-in for the parent to open the topic. For example, “You’ve mentioned lately that you’ve been struggling with your body image and wanting to go on a diet. I recently heard about this book for teens who are dealing with dieting, overeating and body image. Are you are interested in taking a look at it?” (This could be spoken or written, by the way. Sometimes a note or an email can give teens a little time to process a sensitive topic.)

If the parent has similar issues, that can be another good way to start. For example, “You know that I’ve been struggling with dieting and overeating since I was a teenager. I know that you’ve said that you are too. It’s so hard, and I know that strict dieting is not the answer, and neither is overeating and feeling bad about ourselves. I heard about this book and wonder how you would feel about reading it together, or reading it on your own if you prefer? I’m going to work on this stuff too and I thought it might be cool if we did it together.”

Although it sometimes reduces shame when a parent who has similar struggles lets their child know this, it’s important not to get too into your own issues, eliciting the classic glazed-over eyes that often follow the classic “When I was your age…” line! Keeping it brief and planting a seed is ideal.

Counselors, dietitians and nutritionists who are working with an individual (or a group) might consider recommending the book or offering a no-obligation invitation for the teen to share anything they write or learn from it. You could also consider going through one activity each time you meet.

I often let my young clients know that I’m recommending the book to several other clients as well, in the hopes of diminishing shame and letting them know they aren’t the only ones who are struggling in this area.

Doctors and other health professionals who want to recommend the book to teens and parents might let them know that they work with many teenagers who struggle with overeating, that strict dieting is not the answer, and that there is hope and help for anyone struggling with food or body-image issues.

Hopefully you can see a theme here: being kind and nonjudgmental, and trying to remain neutral about whether they read it, steering you clear of the ever-so-popular parental power struggle!

 Andrea Wachter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of Getting Over Overeating for Teens. She is also co-author of Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell and The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook. An inspirational counselor, author and speaker, Andrea uses professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others. For more information on her books, her Huffington Post blogs, or other services, please visit www.andreawachter.com

Janice Bremis is the founding member and Executive Director of the Eating Disorders Resource Center (EDRC). She graduated from San Jose State University with a BA in Liberal Arts and has worked in the healthcare community for most of her career. She was diagnosed with an eating disorder in 1975 and is well aware of the stigma associated with the disease, as well as the importance of emotional support and access to quality treatment. She is very passionate about advocating for people who have eating disorders. For more information, visit: www.edrcsv.org

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Helping Kids Break the “I Feel Fat” Spell

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Most people in our thin-obsessed, fitness-crazed culture are battling with their bodies. For some it’s an occasional pastime, for others it’s a full-time job. It used to be mainly adults and teens who were struck by what I call the “I Feel Fat” Spell. But these days, even young kids are hating their precious bodies.

We are all surrounded by unrealistic, perfectionistic messages about how we should look. And while we may not be able to shield our kids from all the diet talk, fat chat and photoshopped images that surround us, we can certainly clean up what happens in our homes. If your child is struggling with body image issues, here are some tips for you:

How to Help Your Child Break the “I Feel Fat” Spell

Stop Fat Chat – Refrain from talking about how “fat” you feel or how “good” or “bad” you are according to how much you ate or exercised. Stop commenting on or criticizing your own or other peoples’ bodies. We can tell our kids all day long that all bodies are beautiful and that all food groups are essential, but if we are trash talking our own bodies or certain foods, these are the messages our children will soak up.

Stop telling and laughing at fat jokes. Laughing at the expense of someone’s size shames people who are large and scares people who are not. If everyone stops laughing at fat jokes, people will stop telling them.

Ban Body Bias – People are either genetically predisposed to look the way they do, or they have medical factors that contribute to their size, or their size is a sign of emotional pain and unmet needs. No matter the case, we all need compassion and kindness, not criticism and judgment. When you see someone who is larger, smaller or simply different than the cultural ideal, refrain from making judgments in front of your child (or better yet, at all!).

Love The One You’re With – Help your child to foster love for themselves when they look in the mirror. One of the best ways to do this is to role-model it. This means making positive comments when you look at yourself, or at least, remaining neutral and non-judgmental. Teach your child that weight fluctuations are normal and healthy and that we all have a natural weight range, just like we have a natural eye color and a natural height.

Avoid Strict Restrictions – Strict dieting is a set up for obsession and rebellion. It leads many people to bounce back and forth between the prison of restriction and the rioting of supersizing. If you eat a wide variety of foods, in moderation, and honor your physical hunger and fullness cues, your child will be more likely to do the same.

Manage Media – Refuse to buy magazines that feature emaciated, unrealistic-looking models. Let’s all stop reading articles, and buying from companies, that teach and preach extreme and unhealthy ideas about food, fitness and physiques. And while you’re at it, how about writing to the editors and letting them know that you are signing off until they make a change? Screen the programs, websites and magazines your kids are looking at and treat dieting, extreme fitness and pro-anorexia sites the same way you would porn sites.

Dealing With Feeling – It’s essential to teach your child that there are no good or bad feelings. Many of us are taught that happy is good, and sad, mad and scared are bad. Though some feelings are certainly more pleasant than others, they are all natural and necessary. When people stuff their emotions down, they end up using unhealthy coping strategies to manage their distress. Dieting, overeating and body obsession are among the most common means of distracting and coping; depression and anxiety are the most common results. Teach your child that emotions are healthy, and are not to be “stuffed” or “starved” away.

Early Prevention – If your child starts hating their body, dieting, overeating or engaging in fear-based exercise, take action in the same way you would if they started using drugs. The earlier you catch and treat body image disturbances and disordered eating, the lower the chances are of them blooming into full-blown eating disorders.

Food For Thought – Even if you have a healthy and peaceful relationship with food and your body, it’s entirely possible that your child can still catch the “I Feel Fat” Spell from someone or someplace else. After all, we live in culture that is obsessed with thinness, fitness and perfection.

If it so happens that you, too, have caught the “I Feel Fat” Spell and innocently passed it on, there is no blame or shame here. You can heal and start role-modeling healthier behavior. We can turn the tide. If we can say no to racism, child abuse and animal cruelty we can say no to body hatred.

We are all listening and learning from each other. So can we agree to stop berating our bodies and start appreciating them for what they do for us? Can we stop dieting and restricting and learn how to eat real, delicious food in moderation? Can we learn to move our bodies in ways we love and rest when we need to? Can we learn to reach out for support when we are filled with emotions, rather than stuff them down or use substances or excessive behaviors to distract from them? Can we upgrade the soundtracks in our minds and speak more kindly to ourselves? Can we change the conversations we are having with each other about fats, carbs, calories and weight, to what truly matters and what we hope our kids will talk about? Can we commit to finding sweetness and fulfillment in our lives, even in the smallest of ways, rather than only from excess food or the fantasy of weight loss?

May we all learn these things and teach them to the children in our lives and may we all live healthily ever after.

View on The Huffington Post

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Book Excerpt from Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell

 

Children are not born with a bad body image. They learn it. They learn it from the culture and the media, or from relatives, friends, and schoolmates who learned it from the culture and the media. And since body hatred is an epidemic in our image-obsessed culture, there is no shortage of places for kids to learn to dislike their bodies. As a psychotherapist who has been specializing in eating disorders for over 25 years, I have been helping people of all ages who battle with their bodies to varying degrees. Whether they are dealing with a full-blown eating disorder, less severe “disordered eating,” or painful body image issues, they all deserve and need help.

I began hating my body when I was twelve years old. Someone teased me about the size of my thighs, and I felt what I now know was shame for the first time. This is what I refer to as a “Dart in the Heart” moment. My solution was to embark on my very first diet. Like many, this led me to sneak eating, bingeing, and roller coaster weight fluctuations. Like some, this morphed into a serious eating disorder. I say serious because it colored most of my life for several decades and greatly affected my mental and physical well-being. Fortunately, after many years of searching for help that actually helped, I began to unravel the root causes of my eating disorder and body obsession. I learned that I could not stop bingeing if I did not stop dieting. I learned what emotions I was eating over and what to do with those emotions instead. I learned how to challenge rather than believe every thought that popped up on the screen of my mind. And I learned how to find sweetness from many different sources, not just from cookies and ice cream. It was a long road. And the lovely parting gift from that arduous journey is that I now have the honor of helping others who struggle in similar ways.

The majority of my clients over the last few decades have been teenagers, college students, and adults, with a small sprinkling of young kids. But as our cultural obsessions with thinness, dieting, fat phobia, and social media have all gotten bigger, the age range of my clients seems to be getting younger. So instead of getting occasional calls from concerned parents, counselors, and doctors, I now receive them regularly. Imagine a small six-year-old child who cannot get dressed for school in the morning because she thinks she’s too “fat,” or an eleven-year-old girl who won’t go to a sleepover because all her friends are thinner than she is. Imagine a lovely eight-year-old who once enjoyed swimming but will no longer go in the pool because she feels too self-conscious in a bathing suit, or a nine-year-old boy who, though underweight, refuses to eat carbs. Or how about an eight-year-old girl who is obsessed with working out?

When I was eight years old, I was blissfully unaware of my body. I was playing tag in the yard with my siblings or watching The Brady Bunch in the den. I listened to records. I read in my canopy bed. Today, many young kids are surfing the Internet on iPhones and computers. This means that on top of the brainwashing they get on television, they are ingesting an additional barrage of messages on their other screens. They are bombarded with information about unnatural thinness, fat phobia, excessive fitness, endless food rules, and adult sexuality. Most of us adults did not experience anything like this until we were much older. And even then, we found it difficult to get through unscathed.

As I began to see more young children each week, I found myself needing to adapt the work I had been doing with adults into a more “kid-friendly” version. Some of the parents reported that they had already taken the advice from the current self-help literature: limiting screen time, filtering media, and teaching their children that all bodies are beautiful. While these suggestions are great, they weren’t helping to change what was already going on with their kids. It was as if their children had fallen under a spell, and nothing these parents said seemed to make any difference. What we needed to do was find a way to break the spell, or Retrain the Brain.

So, as I began teaching kids how to talk back to their Unkind Minds and strengthen their Kind Minds, I began to see something really exciting. Week after week, these precious little munchkins were bouncing into my office exclaiming that what we were doing was making a difference! One little six-year-old literally skipped into my office and said, “I was totally free this week. I think we broke the spell. It feels so much better to be in reality!” Another child, when I asked her to describe to her mom what she was learning in our sessions said, “Well, I was under the spell 98% last week, and this week I’m only 73% spell.” (Sounds like a budding mathematician to me!) One young boy, during a family session, announced, “I am over it. I’m sick of being so hard on myself. I just want to eat normally from now on. I don’t want to have to be perfect.” One parent told me that his daughter, who had been refusing to wear sleeveless dresses and bathing suits, was swimming again and taking off the oversized jackets that had become her daily cover-ups.

All of these dramatic changes were confirmation to me that there is great hope for children with painful body images. I realized I simply had to write a book to share these ideas and exercises with other children, parents, and counselors. It has been an honor to share all the tips and tools that helped me break my own spell, and I sincerely hope that Mirror, Mirror will help the child you care about break free of theirs.

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Author Interview – Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell

By co-author Andrea Wachter, LMFT

I was recently interviewed by Janice Bremis, founder of the Eating Disorders Resource Services, to discuss my new children’s book, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell. I thought I would post our discussion in the hopes of reaching more kids and families who need help in this area. If you have, know or care about a child who suffers from a painful body image, please pass this along.

Janice: What sparked the idea for this book?

Andrea: I have been specializing in eating disorders and body image for over 25 years.  Throughout that time, I have mostly worked with adults and teens. But over the last few years, I started getting more and more calls from concerned parents, counselors and doctors. I began hearing about young kids with body image problems, some that had even progressed to disordered eating. Imagine a six-year-old child who feels “fat” and will no longer wear a bathing suit or sleeveless shirts. Or a seven-year-old girl who wants six-pack abs and obsessively does sit-ups in the back of the car! A twelve-year old who can barely get dressed for school in the morning because she thinks she’s “too fat,” or an eight-year-old boy who refuses to eat carbs. Who among us even knew what “carbs” or “six-pack abs” were when we were that young? I simply knew I had to do something to try to help these kids.

I reached out to many of my colleagues in the eating disorders field and found that they didn’t work with kids under twelve. Then I tried some of the child therapists I knew and was told that they didn’t treat body image issues and disordered eating. The parents who contacted me were desperate for help and I knew that helping kids sooner rather than later can often prevent a body obsession from escalating into a full-blown eating disorder. So I decided to roll up my sleeves and try to come up with a kid-friendly language to use with these kids. Then I started trying it out with kids and had astounding results. I asked my business partner and co-author, Marsea Marcus, to join me and we started writing this book.

Janice: I notice you use the term “Spell Breakers” throughout your book instead of traditional “Chapters.” Can you say something about that?

Andrea: Most kids (and adults for that matter!) have had a spell cast upon them in this image-obsessed, fitness-crazed culture. We have all been taught that there are “good” and “bad” foods and that we need to “burn calories” and develop a “six-pack” in order to be loveable and special. Most of us adults did not get caught under this spell until our teens or early adulthood. But thanks to social media and the increased obsession with perfection, thinness and fitness, many kids are getting spellbound even sooner. Our book is designed to help kids break the spell. So we use the term “Spell Breakers” instead of “Chapters.” Each Spell Breaker teaches kids (and parents) different ways to challenge the unhealthy beliefs that the culture and media have injected into them.

 Janice: Why the “I Feel Fat” Spell?

Andrea: The diet industry and the media have convinced most of us (kids now included) that eating fat and having fat on our bodies is a crime and should be avoided at all cost.

Most kids who hate their bodies do not have a body problem, they have a thinking problem. They think fat is bad. They think they are unlovable unless they look like the images they see in the media. They think if they changed their bodies they would live happily ever after. Our book helps readers challenge and change their thinking. We teach them that their thinking is making them suffer, not their thighs or their stomachs. Our book also teaches kids that “fat” is not a feeling. It has become commonplace in our culture for people to say, “I feel fat.” This is a cover story for deeper feelings like insecure, unlovable or scared. (Of course we use much more kid-friendly words in the book.) But what “I feel fat” usually means is they are having BIG feelings and they are left with thinking that they are too big. Our book helps readers dig deeper and decode what their true feelings are.

Janice: Is your book meant to be read by kids or adults?

Andrea: It really depends on the reading skill and maturity level of each kid. If a child is old enough to read and understand the book, they can certainly read it on their own. Kids that are on the younger end of the spectrum (six and seven) will likely need an adult to read the book to them or with them. Each Spell Breaker ends with a few thought-provoking questions, so it would be helpful if a parent or counselor discusses the questions with each child, but it’s not mandatory. Young readers can write their answers to the questions, or discuss them with a trusted adult in their lives.

Unlike many children’s books that are designed to be read in one sitting, this book is filled with a lot of really deep concepts and we recommend that readers take their time with it. If a child is in counseling, the counselor can read one Spell Breaker each week. Parents can read the book over the course of several nights or weeks to give their child a chance to absorb and practice each of the Spell Breakers. We have also gotten feedback from parents, telling us that they got as much from the book as their child did!

 Janice: What advice do you have for a parent whose young kid is feeling “fat?”

Andrea: First of all, look at the messages you are sending to your child about body image, food, fitness and feelings. Are you appreciating your body and the various shapes and sizes we are all supposed to be, or are you talking negatively about your own or other people’s bodies? (We call that, “Fat Chat.”) Are you role-modeling non-diet, moderate eating, or do you undereat, overeat, and talk about foods in terms of “good” and “bad”? Are you in touch with your natural hunger and fullness cues and encouraging your child to do the same? Are you exercising moderately and enjoyably, or are you obsessed with calorie and fat burning? Are you teaching your child how to live a balanced life by doing so yourself? Do you have a healthy relationship with emotions (your own and your child’s), or do you tell yourself and your child to stop crying or to quit feeling angry?

If you have a healthy relationship with your own body, you will be in a better position to help your child do the same. You can teach your child that if they feel bad about their body, it usually means they are having big feelings and they are blaming it on their precious body. You can help them learn to “Follow the Clues” as one Spell Breaker teaches and become a “Body Buddy” instead of a “Bully.” We very use kid-friendly language that most children take to right away and seem to recall easily and enjoy practicing. We hope the language in our book will offer kids a refreshing break from all the fat chat, calorie counting and competition that our culture has inflicted on them.

Janice: How do we stop this crazy obsession with thinness?

Andrea: Well, we can’t stop it singlehandedly and unfortunately we cannot stop it quickly. There is a massive hypnotic spell that has been cast upon our culture and although there are more and more health professionals and celebrities speaking out on the importance of body acceptance, we still have a very long way to go. I recently watched a movie where three young girls ordered a school lunch of lasagna and salad. They each then proceeded to eat a few bites of lettuce, simultaneously walk into the bathroom stalls at their school, and make themselves throw up! This insanity is normalized. When kids come into my office, utterly convinced that their bodies are unacceptable, I know I have my work cut out for me. I am fighting the cultural messages. It’s like I’m trying to give them medicine for the flu and then sending them out into a petri dish of flu germs. But I, and all the other people who carry the torch of body peace, acceptance and love, can only do what we can. We can plant seeds, with kids and with parents, because as parents heal, they can make a difference, even if the culture is not yet healed. We can learn to welcome our natural emotions instead of funneling them into the catchall phrase of “feeling fat.” We can learn to normalize the various shapes and sizes of human bodies and challenge the notion of perfection. We can learn to let go of extreme dieting. We can stop laughing at, and telling, fat jokes. And we can stop putting down our own bodies and start appreciating them.

Living in a food-obsessed, thin-possessed, perfectionist culture, breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell is no easy task. But it is possible. With help, awareness and willingness, we can break the spell that has been cast upon us and we can help the children in our lives to live healthily ever after.

Click here to check out Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell by Andrea Wachter and Marsea Marcus.

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A Letter For Your Isolated and Hard to Reach Teen

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT and Steve Legallet, LMFT

As family therapists, we are seeing more and more young people who are suffering from various degrees of depression, anxiety, addictions and social isolation as they try to mask all of the emotions and negative consequences associated with theses self-defeating behaviors. We also see many concerned and baffled parents who struggle with trying to find ways to help their wounded and isolated kids.

If you have a son or daughter who is suffering, addicted, depressed, anxious, isolated, angry and/or shut down, here are some words that you might consider writing or saying to open the door to a new avenue of communication:

Dear Son or Daughter,

We see that you are struggling and suffering. We imagine that there are many thoughts and feelings underneath your anger including confusion, fear, hopelessness, and pain.

We understand that you are going through a very difficult time in your life, and that coping with your emotions can be very challenging. What we want more than anything else is to help you find ways to let people into your life and for you to stop pushing us away. What we want is for all of us to talk more and spend more time together, which may involve talking or being quiet sometimes. We would like to know more about you and your world too. Maybe you could tell us more about your interests, including the computer games you play, the movies you watch, the music you like, the websites you look at. Will you consider this?

Will you consider spending time with us, and the rest of the family? Will you consider having at least a day or two a week where we do something together? Bike, walk, a movie, a game? Will you consider for a moment that your life can improve if we work at this together?

It is important you know that even though you feel bad and even though at times your behavior has been bad, we know that you are not a bad person, and that you have a good heart. Good people can make bad decisions and good people can make mistakes. The question is, do you have what it takes to learn from those mistakes and become a better person for it? Are you willing to learn how to manage your emotions without exploding on others or imploding with self-hate?

We hope you will give yourself a chance to have a good life, which means being willing to change and improve your behavior. It takes maturity and strength to be open and willing to accept help from others. We hope you will choose that.

We know that many times we have reacted to your anger by acting out our own anger in ways that have not been helpful. We know there are so many times when we went on talking when we should have just listened. These are the things that we will continue to work on.

We know that a lot of things have happened, both in the world and in our family that have contributed to your pain. We want to hear about your feelings and really have the opportunity to hear you, to apologize, and to acknowledge your pain.

What we are asking for you to do is to trust in our love for you and the loving intentions behind our efforts to help you. We ask that you trust us by letting down your wall just enough to see the love we have for you. We know it is hard to trust and we all have our work to do, but we hope you will stay open to change. Again, it is a sign of strength, not weakness, to let others help you through the dark times and to help you to see a glimmer of light. We hope you will do this.

Will you consider that things can change and improve, even if you don’t believe it now? Will you consider the possibility that you are lovable and valuable and that your life can have meaning and purpose?

Love,

Mom and Dad (or other caregivers and loved ones)

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When Kids Feel “Fat”

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

As a family counselor, I enjoy working with many different issues, but it seemed only natural that I would specialize in the area that I most suffered. And since my first drugs of choice were cookies and ice cream, I see a lot of people who struggle with food and weight. Over the last few decades, I have mostly seen teenagers and adults, with a small sprinkling of really young children. But in the last year or so I have noticed a tragic new trend. It seems to me that as our social media has become more widespread, my clients have been getting younger and younger. Brace yourself here, folks — I actually have tiny 6-year-old clients who feel “fat!” I see 7-year-old kids who agonize over what to wear in the morning because they “hate the size of their thighs or their arms.” And I work with children who refuse to eat carbs or fats. Who among us even knew what carbs or fats were when we were 6 years old? I think it’s safe to say that our epidemic of eating disorders is spreading to our children.

We are doing something seriously wrong here when 6-, 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds hate their bodies. I think this is something we can probably all agree on, yes? I mean, it’s pretty much accepted that teens struggle with body image. Though why is that supposed to be normal? There are cultures that raise children to appreciate, accept and dare I say, love their bodies! And, unfortunately, I think it’s pretty much accepted here that there are good and bad foods. But there are cultures that eat all foods in moderation and don’t trip on carbs, fats, gluten, dairy, or how many sets or reps to lift.

I think it’s safe to say that more change is in order when young children are feeling “fat,” or refusing to wear a bathing suit, or eat certain food groups, or think they need to “work out in order to lose the fat on their thighs.” And yes, these are quotation marks here. These are actual statements I have heard from my precious young clients!

So, what can we do about all of this? Well, on my end, I am working on a kid-friendly version of my book so I will keep you posted on that. My co-author and I are knee deep writing a children’s book to help kids who feel fat. The fact that we get to write another book together is a joy. The fact that there is a need for it is a tragedy.

On your end, I hope you will do these things:

Work on appreciating the body you have been given. Consider the miracle of your senses and organs instead of focusing on the parts you dislike (or despise). See your body for all it does for you rather than an object to critique and criticize.

Work on legitimizing all food groups. Certainly different foods have varying nutritional value, but a moderate amount of fats or dessert can enhance your day the same way that a sunset or a song can. We don’t need sunsets or songs to live but they sure make life sweeter and more satisfying!

Stop all “fat chat.” If we want our kids to stop calling themselves “fat,” we need to stop first. How about we all refuse to refer to our bodies or the foods we eat as “good” or “bad”?

Work on both exercising and resting in moderation. Find ways to move that you love and then rest without guilt or shame. If you love running, great, but if you are doing it to justify your food intake or your existence, perhaps you want to try some other kind of movement along with an occasional nap! Ask your body how it wants to move and how it wants to rest rather than asking your mind what it thinks your body should do or, instead, giving up in hopelessness and self-hatred.

Learn to fully feel your emotions until they pass. When you express, rather than repress, your feelings, you will not need excess food or dieting to take the edge off or keep yourself numb. There will be nothing to run from (literally or figuratively).

Find safe people to share your pain with and become a safe person for yourself by using compassionate and kind self-talk.

I know this is all easier typed than done. We live in a food-crazed, image-obsessed, fitness-crazy culture. But we have to start somewhere right? If we can’t do it for the love of ourselves, perhaps we can do it for the love of our children.

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When Gaming Is No Longer a Game

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

In a culture that has created a generation of screen surfers, I find myself treating more and more people who are addicted to video games. It starts out innocently enough; your kid gets a new game. They seem to enjoy their newfound pastime. You love when they seem to be enjoying something, and so everybody’s happy, right? What starts out as an innocent hobby can turn into a destructive habit that becomes extremely hard to break. So when does a fun hobby become an addictive habit?

By definition, an addiction is something that the user has no control over. They also continue the behavior even though there are negative consequences. Someone who has a fun hobby can do it or not do it. They can set out to play something for a half an hour or an hour and then stop without a problem. But when a hobby turns to a habit, stopping is not so simple or easy. Hours upon hours can go by without even an awareness of the time passing. Self-care and basic needs are often ignored. Daily responsibilities are often neglected. This is when gaming is no longer a game.

Is your child using a game control in moderation? Or have you lost control of your gaming child? Here are some tips to help you both if you suspect a gaming addiction is at play:

“Care-fronting” the problem– Confronting anyone about their addiction is likely to trigger defensiveness and denial. It helps to be as non-judgmental and understanding as possible when you speak to your child about their gaming. Let them know what you have been observing in regards to their gaming and the negative impact you have seen it take on their health, their relationships, their responsibilities and their life in general. See if they are willing to admit that there is a problem with their game usage. Explain to them that if they can participate and cooperate in making some healthy changes, it is likely to be a smoother and more successful process. If, however, they are in denial of having a problem or unwilling to make any positive changes, then you will have to take more control. If at any point in the process they want to give input and make suggestions that are healthy and reasonable, then by all means have them be part of the negotiating process.

Set clear limits and consequences– Create a moderate structure of time per day or week that they will be able to game. Decide ahead of time what these limits and consequences (if not kept) will be. For example, one client agreed with her son that, after homework is completed and family dinner is finished, he can play a game for one hour. If he stops after an hour without a fight, he can do the same thing the next day. If, however, it becomes a power struggle, then he loses the privilege to play the following day.

Be prepared for big feelings– Of course this is all easier said than done, particularly if your child is young, immature or seriously addicted. You might have to deal with withdrawals that are similar to any drug or substance withdrawal. When we are doing something that has been serving the purpose of avoiding feelings, then big feelings are going to come up when we stop doing that thing. See if you can empathize with how hard it is for them to stop and at the same time remain clear and kind about the limits you have set.

Find the hidden purpose– Have some discussions about what they like about their games. After all, they might not be all bad. You might be able to get some clues about the purpose that the excessiveness is serving. Some kids say it gives them something to do. So, they might need help with other ways to spend their time or deal with boredom and dissatisfaction. Some say they have nobody to hang out with and that their “virtual friends” are all they have. They might need help with social issues, social interacting and taking a look at how they may be doing things to push people away. Some kids say it gives them a break. They might need other ways to get a break where they end up feeling good about themselves and refreshed, rather than spaced out and tired.

Compare and contrast post-game feelings– See if they can agree that there is a different feeling after playing a sport or an instrument than there is after gaming for several hours. Most of my clients report feeling energized and good about themselves after a few hours of a sport they enjoy or playing an instrument or working on a creative project. This is in contrast to feeling zoned out after a few hours of gaming.

Create a list of alternative hobbies, interests and activities– Once you (hopefully) get their buy-in that there are positive reasons to do other things with their time sometimes, see if you can both create a list of ideas. Here are a few to get you started: Learning a new instrument, hiking or biking, playing a new or past sport, watching a movie, reading a good book, working on a puzzle together or playing a board game with you or the rest of the family. (Yes, this too is a game, but it entails real-life, social interaction and I have yet to see someone addicted to Monopoly!)

Help resolve the underlying issues– See if your child is willing to take a look at some of the underlying issues beneath their excessive gaming. (You can also take some guesses if they are not sure.) It might be an attempt to avoid depression, social challenges, low self-worth, family problems, difficulty dealing with emotions, fear and resistance about the future or all of the above. Either on your own, if you feel equipped, or with a professional, see if you can help your child deal with and heal some of these underlying, unresolved issues. See if your child would be willing to address some of the things they might be avoiding, either by talking to you or a professional counselor who understands gaming addiction.

Improve negative self-talk– We all have a soundtrack of internal messages playing in our head. In many cases it sounds like, “I’m not good enough, I’ll never be able to get a job, growing up is too hard, nobody likes me, I’m a loser.” When we play this internal recording and/or check out on games in an attempt to avoid it, it never gets to be challenged or replaced. So see if your child would be willing to talk to you about the way they feel about themselves and the way they speak to themselves. We canretrain our brain, but it takes support from the outside and willingness on the inside to upload new messages. Left to its own devices, our minds will replay what they have been playing, on a repeat loop. And for many kids, this recording is not very kind, hopeful, or helpful. The same brain that got them into this cannot get them out. They need new brains with new ideas to help them change!

Home safe home- Make sure your house is a safe place so that your child doesn’t have additional reasons to want to escape when they get home. Try to have peaceful times when everybody is pleasant and present. And of course, always try to role model healthy and balanced behavior. The most effective way to teach your kids how to be is to be that way yourself!

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Dog Talk

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

As a therapist who loves working with young girls, I see so many who struggle with all of the typical issues that adolescents face: low self- worth, body image issues and friendship insecurities, just to name a few.

I try to be creative and speak in ways they can relate to, and frankly, terms like “self-love” and “self-acceptance” just don’t always seem to cut it. So that’s how I started “dog talk.” When I ask my young clients if they have or love a dog, most of the time, their faces light up. I mean, who doesn’t love a dog? Aside from the occasional person who has been bitten and may prefer cats, I find that it is easy for my clients to relate to dog talk.

Ask almost any young girl how she would speak to her dog if it were hurt. How would she treat it if it were tired or hungry? “If your dog was whining for food, would you ever in a million years think of depriving it or making it go hungry?” I ask them. “If your dog had a roll on her tummy would you judge or hate her? If another dog snarled at her, would you think your dog was unworthy or unlovable?”

“Of course not,” they respond, horrified to even imagine such a thing. Their answers are no surprise. It is much easier for young girls to access their heart, their compassion and their common sense when it comes to an animal they love, and I find it can frequently be transferred to the way they view themselves.

I often ask girls to conjure the feeling they have inside when they think of their dog. I ask them to notice how loving they feel and then to imagine seeing themselves that way. It might not always take at first, but with some practice, they can access feelings that are usually reserved for their beloved pet.

I also teach my clients about what I refer to as, “dog breed theory.” So many of the young girls I see think they should look or be like someone else. If only they looked like Olivia, or had a body like Rebecca, or played sports like Chloe or were more outgoing like Jasmine. I explain to them that we are all different breeds. Just like there are shy Chihuahuas, tough bulldogs and outgoing labs, we are all supposed to be different from one another. (I know I am generalizing here to make a point. There are tough little Chihuahuas and soft, sweet bulldogs but bear with me if you will!) My point is, we need shy people and we need outgoing people and it all balances out in the end. And we all need different things, being the breeds that we are.

Being a sensitive, hide-under-the-bed breed myself, I always found that I took things much more to heart than my tougher-skinned siblings. (And heaven help the trembling puppies with siblings of the growling variety!) It took me a long time to learn that there are no “good” or “bad” breeds. We all simply need different things. As a youngster (prior to knowing my breed theory!), when someone called me “too sensitive,” I often walked away in shame (dare I say with my tail between my legs!) But as I got older and more accepting of my breed, when someone commented on my sensitivity, I merely agreed and went on with my day.

Helping my clients learn to accept who they are — and who they aren’t — is essential, and it is so liberating for them when they finally do.

I also use dog talk to help young girls navigate the ever-so-painful process of “friend-shifts.” You know, best friends with Julie for four years and now she won’t even speak to her? Grew up and played sports with Madison since second grade and now she’s hanging with a bad crowd? Hard not to take it personally, I know. I think we all know. But when I talk to them about walking their dog and noticing how their pet ignores some dogs, stops to sniff others and might even attack another, this has no bearing on whether any of the dogs are worthy or lovable. We simply have chemistry and connection or we don’t, and it is not personal.

So, lets teach our kids to love themselves as much, or even half as much as they love their dogs. (Cats if they are cat lovers!)

Let’s remind them that we are all supposed to be different. We are all meant to be different breeds.

And let’s help our girls to see friendships as friend-shifts that are ever changing and nothing personal. Easier said than done? You bet. But we can find a way in, to help our girls be kinder to themselves, and what better way than dog talk.

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Fat Chat Is No Light Matter

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

As an eating disorders therapist and woman who spent the majority of my life in the grip of a weight and food obsession, I walk around with my antennae tuned in to whatever might help me understand how we got ourselves into this mess. Obesity is now considered an epidemic. My young bulimic clients tell me, “Vomiting is no big deal.” Every day, people die from anorexia-related complications. And let’s face it, folks: Even many Americans of average weight are preoccupied with food and body image.

Recently in a grocery store check-out line, I stood behind a thirty-something mom and her little girl. The mother was chatting on her cell phone while the daughter was clinging to her mom’s leg with one hand and sucking on the thumb of the other.

The mother’s side of the conversation went like this: “Oh, I was so bad yesterday! I had a whole piece of chocolate cake at the party. I am not eating any carbs today. I feel as big as a house.”

I wanted to hand the daughter my business card right then and there! I refrained, though, since the kid, still in diapers, was a little too young for therapy.

My point is that your children are listening. They are listening when you partake in what I call “fat chat.” They are listening when you say you feel “fat” (which, by the way, is not a feeling). They are listening when you say you were “bad” or “good” or “evil” or “sinned” because of a food you either ate or passed up. They are listening when you say you need to go to the gym to work off your dessert. They are listening when you comment on other people’s bodies or your own. Your children are listening and learning and following suit. And what they often end up thinking is: “I better watch out. I might get fat. Maybe I am fat. If I am, then people are judging me. I better control my eating. Uh-oh, I can’t stop eating. Hunger is bad. Fullness is worse.”

Every year, my clients get younger. I have seen six-year-olds who are already dieting and know about carbs, fats and calories. I worked with a seven-year-old girl who was spitting up her food because she was convinced that calories were bad for her. Last year, I had a nine-year-old client who had to change her school clothes several times each morning till she found something she didn’t feel “fat” in. Most often, though, people don’t get to my door until they have been entrenched in food and weight struggles for many years. While an eating disorder is possible to overcome, the longer it goes on, the harder it is to heal. We need to do prevention at the ground level. We have a choice: We can teach our children to relax, listen to their bodies and love themselves, or we can teach them to be anxious, controlling, and out of touch with their own hunger and fullness.

My message here is not to blame or to shame, but merely to highlight the fact that unless we model a healthy, balanced, and loving relationship with food and our own bodies, children are at risk for developing disordered eating, poor body image, and/or weight problems. Take a look at the messages you are teaching. Learn to enjoy food again. Stay conscious of your body’s hunger and fullness levels and act on them. Get help if you can’t. Treat your body with respect and appreciation. After all, isn’t this what we want our kids to do?

Tips for Helping Your Child with Body Image

• If you find yourself “feeling fat,” explore a little deeper to see if there’s something else going on in your life. Model for your children that “fat” is not a feeling, but rather “feeling fat” can be a distraction from more difficult issues.

• Try not to label food as “good” or “bad.” Some foods are more nutrient dense than others, but morally all food is equal — it’s fuel! Talk with your kids about the nutritional value and variety of different foods, the art of cooking, and the fun and the pleasure of eating.

• Talk to your kids about the difference between emotional and physical hunger and how the two often get mixed up. Physical hunger is a feeling in the belly that the body needs fuel. Teach kids to notice degrees of hunger and fullness as well as how to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Emotional hunger is usually a need to express feelings or have feelings acknowledged. When kids are sad, they might need to cry, talk about it, or draw a picture. When they are mad, they might want to write, draw, punch a pillow, tell you about it with gusto, and have you really hear them.

• Along these same lines, talk about the role of feelings: that they are signposts for living, and not to be “stuffed” or “starved” away. Teach them that just like there are no “good” or “bad” foods, there are no “good” or bad” feelings.

• Do not comment on other people’s bodies. This sets up a comparison mentality that is harmful and hard to give up. Talk about how everyone is beautiful in their own way, and that beauty is an inner quality that can be expressed in outer characteristics such as kindness and enthusiasm.

• Exercise with your kids for the joy of movement, not for how many calories you might burn.

• Look at family photos and talk about where your size and shape came from.

• Watch TV together and discuss the emphasis our culture places on looks, image, and thinness. Help them to notice special qualities in themselves like compassion and humor as well as things that interest them beyond their appearance. Teach them that they are enough just by being who they are — on the inside. (While you’re at it, think about yourself that way, too!)

• Do de-stressing activities together, like: listening to music, walking, spending time in nature, playing games, doing a hobby or craft, or reading and discussing a particular book.

• Help them to foster love for themselves when they look in the mirror. Teach them to “see” themselves with the same love that they feel for other people or animals in their lives.

• Make a list together of all the things that our bodies do for us. Help them to appreciate their various body parts rather than criticize them.

• Talk about what makes a good role model. Ask for an example of a person who seems to be a healthy, balanced eater with a positive body image. Discuss what qualities that person has that demonstrate good health. Ask your child to imagine having those same qualities inside.

• Teach your child that weight fluctuations are normal and healthy and that we all have a natural weight range just like we have a natural eye and hair color. Help them prepare for weight changes, especially girls approaching puberty.

• Role model and practice all of these things along with your child so they can experience you as a healthy eater with loving body image!

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