by Jess Snyder
“My mother is more attractive than I am.” I remember thinking this a few years back as she and I walked through the mall and a man who was a blend between Johnny Depp and Hugh Jackman walked up to us and asked us for directions. Well, asked my mom for directions. As we walked away, my mother leaned over and whispered, “I think he was trying to talk to you! Why didn’t you say anything?” Mentally I prepared a tantrum, “That man was hitting on YOU! Not ME, the hulking high school Amazon, attempting to navigate solid ground with my size 11.5 feet and catching the breeze like a sailboat with my linebacker shoulders!” To her, I only smiled and shrugged. Of course the problem was not that my mother is an attractive woman; it was that I felt I was not. As the number of obese children in the United States continues to grow, I am worried that there will be large numbers of young people who feel similarly troubled by their physical appearance as I was, not knowing how to, or whether they are able to stop their body dissatisfaction from controlling them, sometimes with horrible consequences.
As a reaction to rising numbers of obese children, many schools are implementing intervention programs. Some healthcare providers, researchers, and parents are concerned that these programs may be actually increasing the rates of body dissatisfaction, dieting, low self-esteem, or weight bias in students or their peers. Registered dietician Julie Feldman agrees. She says, “These programs are not helpful. Measuring kids, especially in public, makes unhealthy kids feel even worse, and they will very likely consume more food to comfort themselves.” Julie focuses on her clients having healthy relationships with their bodies. Health and overall wellness are what is important. She mentions several groups including NFL-sponsored Fuel Up To Play 60, which encourages involvement where student ambassadors help to plan activities and healthy options for their classmates. Evidence suggests that putting emphasis on a young person’s appearance or trying to control their weight could actually promote eating disorders. This puts a quick stop to many well-meaning comments, but also makes providing healthy eating habits a challenge to a parent or guardian. Is it possible to encourage healthy eating in young people and not inspire dissatisfaction with themselves, or even worse, eating disorders?
“Lead by example,” says Julie. “Planning a family physical activity every day, providing healthy snack alternatives, and encouraging children on their overall health (not weight loss) are essential steps for moving your family in a healthier direction.” Julie also stresses nutrition education. She says, “Don’t tell a child they can’t eat a food because it’s ‘bad.’ Explain what the different ingredients are doing, and why they should choose this food or enjoy it in moderation instead.” Julie says that this is critical for when children will be eating on their own and away from parental supervision. “By 8 or 9 years old, children are eating many of their meals away from home. They need nutrition education to help them make good decisions.”
If you do suspect that your child has an unhealthy view of his or her body, or maybe has developed an eating disorder, Julie recommends the next step without hesitation: “See a dietician. For the cost of taking your family to a movie, you can meet with a qualified dietician. This can change performance at school, moodiness, and emotions. Your family’s lives could be changed for the positive.” Some websites even allow you to search for a registered dietician in your area.
Thankfully I no loner feel the need for mental temper tantrums. Not that my mother has gotten any less attractive, but I have come to recognize my own brand of attractiveness. Now I am so grateful for the support I have received that has allowed me to healthily and gracefully shift my dissatisfaction for my figure into an awareness of my health and well-being, not a personal raincloud of frustration. I hope that the young men and women who are working to be comfortable in their bodies receive the support and education that they need in order to make better nutritional choices and focus on their overall wellness, not just the next 5 pounds.
Read other articles by Jess Snyder
Green Machines: How to Turn Fruits and Veggies into Summer Snacks
Jess Snyder joined the Spry Wellness Blog as a contributor in 2012. She is currently working to obtain an undergraduate degree in English and Communications at the University of Michigan.