How Should You Talk To Your Kids About Weight?

You want your children to be kind and non-judgemental of others, while also teaching them about the need to maintain a healthy weight. Estelle Lee faces the dilemma…


by Estelle Lee |
Updated on

As any parent knows, the most important conversations will usually happen about five minutes after your child is meant to be asleep, when you’re at your most ragged and least prepared. And so it was at bedtime recently that my son, aged seven, shared the news that a school friend had recently told him that I was, in a word, fat.

Fat. One powerful word loaded with judgement, anxiety and stigma. So much so that the straight-talking Weight Watchers last month rebranded itself as the more wellness-conscious WW. Fat must not be seen, let alone spoken about. And yet, we’re also told that obesity is slowly killing us and the NHS is in crisis because of it. Nearly 10% of British children in their first year of school are obese, rising to 20% by the time they reach the last year of primary school. So as good parents we anxiously bang on about having your five-a-day and ban sugary cereals.

With such conflicting messages, it’s hard to work out how best to pass on a ‘body neutral’ example to children. So with only seconds to formulate a thoughtful reply to this playground jibe, the silent reactions in my head went from initial outrage – ‘That child is never coming around here again!’ – to a well-worn and familiar self-loathing.

What made it worse was that my little boy, visibly distressed, had taken his time in telling me. I reassured him that kind people don’t make judgements on how others look. That true health doesn’t mean being an elite athlete with minimal body fat. But as I said the words and wiped his tears, I hotly felt his shame. After all, no seven-year-old could judge me as harshly as I already judge myself.

I’m fully aware of the turbulent relationship I have with my body – and I’ve tried hard not to pass this on. My children – I have another son who’s six – have active childhoods, the fridge is full of good food. I buy butter, bacon, eggs and far too much fresh produce each week. We’ve grown our own vegetables and, like any middle-class mum, I like nothing more than sniffing around a local farm shop. I know precisely how to eat. I never refer to ‘treats’ or use the classic, ‘If you eat your greens you can have pudding.’ Instead, I call them ‘snacks’ – it could be a banana or a chocolate biscuit. We have both and nothing is banned.

But still, occasionally, I mindlessly scoff too much chocolate in front of the TV. Wine and going out has been replaced with Netflix and sugar. Most of the time, I’m too tired and busy to properly focus on eating well and doing exercise.

Dr Jo Gee, a psychotherapist at The Priory, is clear that we need to stop shaming ourselves and others while keeping a positive familial dialogue going. ‘We need more discussions about weight and eating healthily that focus on health and exercise and enjoying ourselves, as opposed to what we look like,’ she says. It makes sense but these are often in conflict with the entrenched all-or-nothing diet culture we seem to live in – and the lifestyles of hectic working mums.

We might know more about nutrition in 2018, but behaviourally things haven’t moved on much, for me at least. I’ll go through periods when I note down everything that passes my lips on the MyFitnessPal app, and record the steps I take (or don’t take) on my Apple watch – I’m always focused on the end result. Over the years, I’ve spent vast sums of money on juice diets, fitness plans, expensive gym memberships, personal trainers and having pre-prepared ‘clean’ food delivered to my door. All with varying results. There are scales in our house but they’re rarely used – and if they are, it’s by me. I’ve been everything from a size 8 to where I am now: an annoyingly comfortable size 14.

Follow these Instagram accounts to make your social media a little friendlier on yourself...


Inspirational Instagram Accounts You Should Follow

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Women In Comics

Illustrating inspirational images and depicting women in comic form, this account will brighten up your timeline with some home truths in the form of pretty pictures.

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Adwoa Aboah

This insanely beautiful model founded GURLS TALK, an online community where women from all backgrounds can share their personal experiences in a safe space.

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Alicia Garza

Alicia is an editor and activist who co-created #BlackLivesMatter. Her feed is a mixture of relatable memes, unfiltered selfies and educational posts to keep you woke.

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Amandla Stenberg

You might recognise this actor from The Hunger Games, when she played the character only character we cried endless tears for, Rue. Now, while still acting, she's a full-fledged activist posting about everything gender, feminism and black culture.

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Amani created the fast-growing activism account @MuslimGirl, another one you should definitely follow. She has spoken across the world about Muslim women and posts everything from badass selfies to stats you need to know.

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Amber Amour

Amber created @CreatingConsentCulture which aims to educate people on rape culture and support rape and sexual assault survivors. She's also outspoken about racism and sex work, her feed will be endless many dinner party talking points.

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Amber Rose

You may only know Amber Rose as Kanye's ex, but think again. Amber is a sex positivity icon, with her own pocast 'Loveline with Amber Rose' up until 2018 that aimed to promote healthy sexual relationships and self-love. If you can get past the fact she advertised flat tummy tea once (fgs Amber), you'll love her feminism-filled feed.

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Beverly Bond

Author of 'Black Girls Rock', Beverly's posts will have you both inspired and enraged, filled with commentary on everyday injustices.

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Bree Newsome

You may recognise Bree as the activist who took down the confederate flag from a flagpole outside the South Carolina Capitol building. She's continuing her activism with inspiring art you need to see.

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Cameron Russell

An american model who called out the fashion industry for sexual harassment and assault, she started the #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse hashtag. Her instagram is full of inspiring stories and educational videos exposing different injustices within her industry and beyond.

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Iskra Lawrence

If your not already following Iskra, your living under an Instagram rock. The body positive model started her own business, everyBODY with Iskra, to give health and fitness advice beyond just getting super skinny. You need her body posi vibes in your life.

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Another super body positive account to follow, Jessamyn is a yoga teacher regularly posting about the emotional and physical benefits of body positivity and practicing yoga.

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Joanna Thangiah

Shun your timeline of filtered selfies and over exposed holiday destinations. It's time for some feminist, mental health aware art! This account is amazing for cute cartoons that say everything we're already feeling.

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Judy Reyes

You'll probably remember Judy as Carla from Scrubs, or one of the other thousand TV show she's been in throughout her insanely successful career. Unlike most Hollywood actors, her Insta is full of activism and news you need to know.

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Logan Browning

Activist and actor, Logan Browning is the lead of Netflix hit Dear White People. Posting powerful content and links to charities you can donate to so you can turn your online activism into action- she's a force to be reckoned with.

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Nimisha Bhanot

Another artist you need to follow, Nimisha creates amazing prints (which you can buy) critiquing societal perceptions of South Asian women. She's based in Canada, but these prints can brighten up your timeline anywhere.

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Muslim Girl

Muslim Girl, where 'muslim women talk back' is an account ran by Amani. Advocating for issues facing muslim women, both accounts are an inspiration and necessity on your feed.

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There's no time like the present to be educating people on consent. This account does exactly that, and gives you the perfect explanations, comebacks and reminders to throw out at a dinner party if the issue comes up.

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Gone are the days of Disney stars going off the rails, this actor and activist is a beacon of positivity- especially online. Fighting gender and race injustice and beyond, she's one to watch.

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Rupi Kaur

Rupi made headlines in 2015 when she posted pictures of her on Instagram with visible menstrual blood. Her posts were blocked by Instagram, causing backlash against the social media platform. She continues to break boundaries with her writing and poetry.

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This UK based embroidery artist is an up-and-coming star, embroidering feminist slogans onto everything from bras to roses. Bring her insta to life with her slogan t-shirts, or just stare at the pretty pictures, either way she's someone you should follow.

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The Vulva Gallery

Our favourite of all the accounts, the vulva gallery promotes self-love in an area SO often ignored. With two-thirds of women avoiding smear tests, life-saving procedures, because of the look of their vagina, it's time we stopped all of the self-loathing around genitals. Providing a regular reminder that all vaginas are beautiful, if you only follow one account of this list, it should be this one.

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In her upcoming book, Just Eat It, nutritionist Laura Thomas has much to say on this insidious diet culture, the punishing standards women often set themselves and the addictive ideals we pass on to our kids. Yes, there is more emphasis on health now, but she points out it can be hard to honestly separate how much of it is still about how we look. She promotes the idea of mindful, intuitive eating, asking me, ‘Why give your phone so much control over what you put in your mouth?’ Quite. Eating intuitively is an ongoing process that doesn’t label foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but addresses the all-or- nothing behaviour I am frequently guilty of.

At some subconscious level, in the last year I’ve let go of my relentless desire to lose weight, letting myself off the hook and prioritising family life. But I’ve still kept the tiniest pair of white Acne jeans that I bought for my honeymoon 10 years ago as a reminder of where I’d like to be one day.

Regardless of what a silly seven-year-old says, I somehow want to find a middle ground. To teach my sons how to feel good in their own skin, but also tolerance for others and, most importantly, compassion for themselves.

Follow Estelle on Instagram: @mrsestellelee

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