The F word

My gut reaction when my 3 year old used the F word was one of horror. I couldn’t believe my ears, but I guess this sort of thing is inevitable when they start going to nursery school.

“I was playing mummies and babies with x and y in the home corner, and x was making lunch, and we couldn’t have too much or it would make us FAT!”

My first response: my Mummy Poker Face. In my head I was tearing my hair out shouting “nooooooooo!”.  Second response: a light and breezy 1 minute chat about food making you strong.

My second reason for the horror was the thought that the teacher may assume that, as a dietitian, I was teaching my children this nonsense. Following 12 years as a dietitian, I have seen hundreds of people (children and adults) for advice on obesity. Issues around food commonly appear to come from childhood experiences, a parent’s relationship with food and how they relate this to their children. During my time as a paediatric dietitian in the NHS, one particular little girl sticks in my mind. She was about 5 years old and referred to me as she was overweight. The first thing she did when she came in to the clinic room, was to show me her Barbie. She asked if she would ever look like her. I told her nobody looks like Barbie.

Of course, every parent wants their child to eat well, have a diet of good nutritious foods, and be healthy in the long term. We come in all shapes and sizes, skinny does not necessarily mean healthy. Feeding yourself and your child wholesome food, not using food as an emotional crutch, and not feeling GUILTY about nourishing yourself are all crucial in achieving a balanced state of mind. But how do we convey this to our children, particularly our daughters? Is it appropriate to use the F word?  Here is what I have learnt from my time practising as a paediatric dietitian, and as a mum to 3 children:

  • Do not discuss your weight or ‘going on a diet’ within earshot of your children.  Do not discuss any body part that you dislike. Keep any food, body and weight insecurities to yourself.
  • Do not discuss their weight, shape or size in a negative way, even if you are trying to turn it in to a positive eg. “it’s ok if you’re chunky/have baby fat”.
  • Don’t ban any food. It’s ok to have crisps, chocolate, cake etc. as an occasional addition to a regular intake of the ‘healthier’ foods
  • Do not discuss calories, and burning off with exercise. This leads to negative associations between the two. Food should be enjoyed. And exercise should be enjoyed, not a chore or a punishment to ‘work off’ a ‘bad’ food choice.

What should you say?

  • Food provides nutrition to make our bodies strong, fit and healthy
  • Some foods have much more vitamins and minerals than others, it is important that we eat lots of these to give our bodies energy and to keep us well.
  • Bread, potatoes, rice, pasta give us lots of energy for running around, climbing, bouncing, having fun!
  • Veggies and fruit help us to stop getting sick, give us sparkly eyes, shiny hair, and help cuts and grazes to get better
  • Fat is not ‘bad’, some fat is important for our bodies to use the vitamins properly and to help our brains to work
  • Eating a mixture of food gives all the different things our body needs

Tell your children that our bodies are amazing……… about all the awesome things that they can do if they want to: climb a mountain, run a race, do a cartwheel, touch the sky with their feet on a swing.  Help them to love moving, because that is what we are designed for.  “We’ve got to go for a walk because we’ve eaten to much chocolate” is in no way healthy, helpful or positive.

Teach your child how to love fresh air

Teach your child to love movement and exploring new things

Teach your child how to bake a cake using butter, sugar and flour

Teach your child how to chop and cook veggies.

Tell them they are strong, tell them they look happy, tell them they are GLOWING!


2 thoughts on “The F word

  1. R says:

    Thanks for a fantastic article. Men – fathers, brothers, husbands et al, need to read this article too as they tend to make comments on another’s appearance without thinking. In fact they believe they are being positive!

    • sarahdietitian says:

      Hey R, I absolutely agree, I think for boys/men, it can be very much ‘if you have an issue, here’s what you should do to fix it’, or they just make a joke and see it as harmless banter. I few years ago I had to have words with my husband and his banter towards his teenage sister.

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