Q: In our society, it’s impossible not to receive incorrect, fat-phobic diet and nutrition messages all day, every day. Our kids hear them at school, read them in magazines, social media, TV and on billboards, and talk about them with friends. What is your advice for parents who want to counter-balance all of the misinformation about diet, nutrition, and body size that their kids encounter?
Alex Raymond: Yes, it always amazes me the volume of messages kids receive about diet culture and fatphobia. But then again, I guess it shouldn’t amaze me since the diet industry is a 60 billion dollar one! The best advice I can give to parents is to truly be a role model for your child. Be sure to accept people of all different shapes and sizes, and more importantly, accepting yourself. Kids hear enough fat-shaming at school and through the media, they definitely need to hear positive messages at home.
Avoid making any sort of comment about your body or other people’s bodies. And avoid labeling food as “good” or “bad.” This can perpetuate a child feeling guilty or shameful after consuming certain foods, which can then perpetuate disordered thinking. It’s important to model to your child that all foods can fit into your diet. You may also want to have a conversation with your child that health comes in all different shapes and sizes and is based on so much more than the number on the scale.
Q: How much do parents and family members need to adjust their eating style, especially if they are dieters, during a child’s eating disorder recovery? What changes do you recommend? How do you help parents make these changes?
Alex Raymond: I strongly encourage parents to avoid dieting, dieting behaviors and purchasing “diet-y” foods while their child is recovering from an eating disorder. It is important parents take an “all foods fit” approach to eating to demonstrate to their child that no food is off limits. I assure you, healthy eating can be achieved by the “non-dieting” approach, and in my opinion, eating without dieting is way healthier than eating on a diet.
One way to set up the home environment for success in terms of recovery would be to purchase less “dieting” foods. I recommend avoiding purchasing foods that say “light,” “fat-free,” “reduced/low sugar,” or other terms along those lines. Of course, this guideline can have variations to it. For example, a bag of almonds might say “low sugar” on it, but that is because almonds are naturally low in sugar. If you have specific questions about what to purchase at the grocery store, I encourage you to reach out to your child’s dietitian. She or he can support you in developing a list. Also, depending on how old your child is, you may want to ask your dietitian if you can have a session just for yourself if it’s okay with your child. I will do this with parents because there are so many questions that come up on how to best support their loved one.
I encourage parents to explore their own relationship with food and how their own thoughts regarding food may be influencing their child. Of course, they do not have to do this alone. In some cases, it might be a good idea for the parent to see a dietitian as well as a therapist.
How do you help parents navigate their own food and weight biases while supporting their child’s recovery?
Alex Raymond: This is such a great question, but it is also a tough one! For many of us, weight biases have been imprinted on us since we were very young and these biases can be extremely difficult to overcome. I find myself spending time educating my clients, as well as their loved ones, about the idea of health at every size and the non-dieting approach to eating. I encourage parents to have an open mind throughout their child’s recovery process and ask permission to send parents resources on health at every size. I find parents are open to exploring ideas and concepts that will support their child’s recovery process. Many times, when I am speaking with my client about his/her meal plan, I invite the parents in as well. This way, mom and dad can ask me questions. I will often meet with them separately if that’s okay with my client.
Q: Many people in recovery – and the people who love them – gain weight during recovery. How do you talk about this with them? How do you help them accept weight gain?
Alex Raymond: Body image and accepting bodily changes is such a difficult part of the recovery process. Something I do often with my client is help them make a list of all the positives of recovery. I ask questions like: What are things are going well that may not have been going well during the eating disorder? What are some new, enjoyable things you’ve tried? How are you feeling now vs. a few months earlier in your recovery? This helps my client to focus their energy on the positives of recovery.
I also encourage my clients to practice compassion and the idea of being kind to yourself. Some of my clients have such negative self-talk, in which that eating disorder can thrive on. I ask my clients to say kind words to themselves.
Lastly, I tell my clients I do not expect them to love their bodies right away. In our society, there is a huge movement for “loving your body.” Don’t get me wrong, I think this is amazing! But, for many clients struggling with an eating disorder, this can be extremely difficult. It okay to start with feeling “neutral” toward your body and accepting it for what it is… a body. Next, I ask my clients to move toward appreciating their body and what it does for them. One activity I enjoy doing with my clients is having them write a thank you note to their bodies.
Alex is a Registered Dietitian at the private practice Courage to Nourish in Howard County and College Park, Maryland. Alex’s goal is to assist her clients in discovering a life-long healthy relationship with food and their bodies. Alex is a proud and passionate anti-diet and Health At Every Size © advocate. Outside of counseling clients, Alex enjoys cooking (especially Italian foods), journaling, hiking and exploring Washington, DC. Website