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A Guide for Parents: How to Prevent Food Policing and Weight Shaming

As parents, we play a crucial role in shaping our children's relationship with food and their bodies. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned parents inadvertently engage in food policing and weight shaming, which can have harmful effects on their children's mental and physical well-being. In this guide, we will explore the impact of food policing and weight shaming, and provide practical strategies for parents to promote a healthy relationship with food and body image in their children.

Understanding the Impact of Food Policing and Weight Shaming

Food policing occurs when parents monitor, restrict, or comment on their children's food choices. This can include using language that labels certain foods as "good" or "bad," restricting portion sizes, or imposing strict dietary rules. Weight shaming involves making negative comments about a child's body, weight, or appearance. Both of these behaviors can have profound psychological and emotional effects on children, leading to shame, guilt, and disordered eating behaviors.

The Harmful Effects of Food Policing and Weight Shaming

  1. Negative body image: When children are repeatedly told that certain foods are "bad" or that their bodies are not "good enough," it can lead to a negative body image and low self-esteem.
  2. Disordered eating behaviors: Food policing can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, including feelings of guilt or shame around eating, and increased risk of developing disordered eating behaviors such as binge eating or restrictive eating.
  3. Decreased self-worth: Weight shaming can cause children to feel unworthy or unlovable because of their bodies, leading to poor self-esteem and negative self-talk.
  4. Impact on mental health: Both food policing and weight shaming can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues in children.

Promoting a Healthy Relationship with Food and Body Image

As parents, it's important to create a supportive and nurturing environment that promotes a healthy relationship with food and body image. Here are some practical strategies to help prevent food policing and weight shaming:

1. Model Healthy Behaviors

Children learn by example, so it's important for parents to model healthy behaviors around food and body image. This includes demonstrating a balanced approach to eating, showing appreciation for a variety of foods, and practicing positive self-talk about your own body.

2. Foster a Positive Food Environment

Create a positive food environment at home by offering a variety of nutritious foods without labeling them as "good" or "bad." Encourage children to listen to their hunger and fullness cues, and involve them in meal planning and preparation to empower them to make their own food choices.

3. Focus on Health, Not Weight

Shift the focus from weight to overall health and well-being. Instead of commenting on your child's weight or appearance, emphasize the importance of nourishing their bodies with a variety of foods, getting enough sleep, and engaging in physical activity for the joy of movement rather than weight control.

4. Practice Mindful Eating

Encourage mindful eating by helping children tune into their body's hunger and fullness signals. Teach them to savor and enjoy their food without judgment, and to eat for nourishment and satisfaction rather than restriction or guilt.

5. Avoid Negative Body Talk

Be mindful of the language you use when talking about your own body or the bodies of others. Avoid making negative comments about your own weight or appearance, and refrain from criticizing the bodies of others in front of your children.

6. Validate Emotions

Acknowledge and validate your child's emotions without using food as a source of comfort or punishment. Encourage open communication about feelings and provide alternative ways to cope with emotions that don't involve food.

7. Encourage Physical Activity for Fun

Emphasize the enjoyment of physical activity rather than its potential for weight loss. Encourage your children to find activities they love and to move their bodies in ways that bring them joy and fulfillment.

8. Seek Professional Help if Needed

If you notice signs of disordered eating behaviors or negative body image in your child, seek the guidance of a mental health professional who specializes in treating eating disorders and body image issues.


As parents, our words and actions have a profound impact on our children's relationship with food and body image. By promoting a positive and nurturing environment that fosters a healthy relationship with food and body image, we can help our children develop a positive sense of self-worth and well-being. By being mindful of our own attitudes and behaviors around food and body image, we can create a supportive environment that empowers our children to make confident, healthy choices for themselves.

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