Food and body serve a number of purposes, including a way to communicate your feelings and beliefs.
Let's look at some of messages you may have learned and just might be communicating to your daughter (and yourself!) through comments and rituals surrounding food and body.
Have you ever complimented someone on their weight loss? By complimenting someone on their appearance without the knowledge of the behaviors causing that weight loss, you may be reinforcing destructive or unhealthy food and body behaviors. If someone is engaging in disordered eating and has lost weight, your compliment may only add fuel the their fire.
By reminiscing about how "good" your daughter looked at a lower weight, or how good she "could" look at a lower weight (apply the word daughter to yourself here, too!!), the message she (you) could be receiving is that she is not enough in the here and now.
These types of comments only reinforce the belief that external appearances trump internal qualities.
Instead, focus on her strengths in the here and now. Avoid appearance based comments and compliments as much as you can. This will help your daughter build her internal self-esteem and sense of self.
---> Can you bring to mind compliments that reinforced the idea that you were better off thinner or smaller?
As a parent you're concerned about your daughter finding her place on the ever changing social ladder. But, be careful about how you communicate how she may, or may not, fit in due to her size. If she receives the message from you that her weight is not acceptable, she could feel looked down upon, judged and unworthy of connection before she has the chance to find her own way.
If you feel a certain way about your daughter appearing overweight, take a step back and focus on her overall health, engagement in activities and happiness. Find out what her relationship to food is like. Does she use food to cope? Does she worry about foods being good or bad? Is she able to listen to what her body wants and needs and respond to it with kindness and comapassion?
If she has a healthy relationship with food, you can be assured that her body is perfectly fine just the way it is.
--->In your own life have you been worried about fitting in due to your own size?
Food as punishment and reward
If you don't finish you plate, you can't have dessert.
If you get an A on your test, we'll go out for ice cream.
These types of comments reinforce the idea that we deserve the good stuff when we're good. And when we're bad, nope! We don't deserve them. This can lead to sneaking foods, self-soothing with food and overindulging in foods that are seen as a reward.
Instead, help your daughter build feel-good rewards outside of food. A movie night, manicure, game night, massage, or any other reward that isn't food related.
---> How do you punish or reward yourself for being "good" or "bad" with food?
Food for feelings
We've all experienced food as love. As babies we rely on our mothers to provide us with food which we equate to love.
Later we nurture and care for our families through the foods we prepare and the meals we share.
When we experience a break-up, many times we turn to that pint of cookie dough to take the place of the love that was lost.
When we feel happy, or sad, we can use food to support or cover up those emotions.
It's imperative to help your daughter experience love and connection outside of food experiences. And, learn how to experience her feelings without turning to food.
---> Do you find yourself numbing with food or managing your emotions through restrictive behaviors?
Food in exchange for love
When we aren't sure how to communicate our needs, it's easy to turn to food to get what we're looking for... often times love and connection. Baking a batch of cookies, bringing home an extra surprise, treating the family to a special night out.
While all of these gestures are well intended, if you're doing them to gain emotional connection, you may be teaching your daughter that to get what she needs, food has to be involved.
Instead, model direct and supportive communication, share your feelings and what you need from your family when you need it.
Using food to support connections after getting your needs met is a-ok, but be sure that it isn't your default and you rely on healthy ways to communicate your needs.
---> Consider how you can communicate your emotional needs with your family in a positive and productive way.
If you suspect your daughter has an issue with food or her body image, it's important to reflect on the messages she has inadvertently been taught, your own experience with those messages and how they may be showing up in your own life. It's never too late to model a healthy and balanced relationship with food and your body.
Before you intervene to support her to find a healthy relationship with food and her body, consider if what you would suggest she do for her body is also what you're willing to do for your body. If you can't follow your own words of wisdom, it may be hard for her to so as well.
The best way to help your daughter learn to treat her body with love and respect is to do the same for yourself.
I want to help you AND your daughter learn to love the skin you're in.
The Body-Love Warriors Group is now enrolling! Learn more and sign your daughter up here.
**There is parental support built into this group! Your daughter isn't the only one who will benefit from being a member. By enrolling you'll receive weekly body-loving tips from me and have access to a monthly mom's support group**
I'm a body image, eating disorder and self-love therapist in Horsham, PA.
I help women and teen girls to make peace with their minds, bodies and food and learning how to see, appreciate and love all that they are.
I specialize in binge eating and helping women learn how to stop dieting and really start living.