The Habit That’s as Toxic to Children as Smoking

December 9, 2016

Smoking in a car with children is something most people know is dangerous, unhealthy, and illegal in many places. It’s also usually avoidable. The outcomes of smoking and second hand smoke are well-studied. There is no more evidence needed for me to ensure my children are in smoke-free homes and vehicles. This is my *personal* decision with how I’m raising my children.

When children live in homes where body shaming, disordered eating behaviours, weight talk, and negative self talk are common it’s like being trapped in a smoky room. They cannot escape the unhealthy behaviours of the adults around them. The outcomes of people who have negative body image and disordered eating tendencies (like chronic dieters) are well-studied. There is no more evidence needed for me to ensure my children are raised in a body image positive, fat neutral, healthy habit-driven home. This is my *personal* decision with how I’m raising my children.

When Friends and Family Do It

With the holidays approaching I know we are going to be out of our little smoke-free, body positive bubble. And that’s ok – life is not a bubble. As my co-founder Annie reminds me, our job is to “prepare our kids for the road, not prepare the road for our kids.” We have family members our children look up to who smoke. I don’t judge or police these family members, I love them dearly. They are well aware they have an addiction that isn’t healthy and the last thing they need is my nagging or judgement.

However, that doesn’t mean I ignore the behaviour. I have set boundaries, and these family members know not to smoke in a house or vehicle with our children. I have also talked to my children about smoking – what it is, what it does to our bodies, and why people do it. Being exposed to someone smoking isn’t what harms my child. It’s constant exposure, not being able to escape it, having the behaviour glorified or normalized, and not having an adult ally to help them process it.

Another unhealthy behaviour adults commonly role model to children is negative self talk, disordered eating behaviours, diet talk, weight talk, fat shaming, and commenting on how everyone eats. As we move closer to the holidays I’m thinking about how I’m going to handle these conversations and set boundaries with friends and family members for my children. I have compassion for these loved ones, as I used to be trapped in that mindset myself. The difference between body, food, and fat talk and an addiction like smoking is most people who do it don’t even realize how harmful it is (to themselves and everyone around them) or they would be trying to stop. There are actual studies that look at if disordered eating and negative body image talk are “contagious” and guess what – they are.

And I won’t just sit there while my kids are trapped in a “smoky” room.

Practice Setting Boundaries

Here are a few phrases I’ve been practicing:

“Hey, I understand that you’re struggling with your eating behaviours right now. Could we save this conversation for when little ears aren’t around?”

“Can we change the subject until after the kids are in bed?”

“This conversation isn’t appropriate to have in front of the kids. Can we discuss it later?”

“My child can eat what he/she wants to eat, eyes on your own plate please.”

I, personally, am happy to discuss weight and body image with people. Getting people to work on their body image and stop the dieting cycle is my thing. ūüėČ You may not be comfortable¬†taking on that conversation and that’s ok. You need to set boundaries for YOU too. “Can we change the subject?” FULL STOP is also an excellent response. It’s important to find your own voice in these statements. Make them your own so you feel comfortable and confident when speaking!

Keep Having the Hard Conversations

I cannot control what is going to come out of other adult’s mouths in front of my kids. Nor do I think their soul will be destroyed by being exposed to a couple fat shaming comments. Like with smoking, it’s the constant exposure, not being able to escape it, having the behaviour glorified and normalized (weight loss, no matter the way it was achieved, is as glorified as gold medal wins in the Olympics!), and not having an adult ally to help them process it is what is going to harm our children.

So in addition to setting boundaries with friends and family about body image and disordered eating talk this Christmas, I will also help my children process what they see and hear from people they look up to: how others talk about themselves, how they fat shame, why they’re always talking about weight and food.

I want to add that I’m far from perfect. Last spring I was having a bad body image day. I was riding in a vehicle with my sister and her daughters and let slip that I wasn’t feeling great about my body. My sister gave me the side-eye and was about to say something when her five-year-old piped up from the backseat, “why are we talking about our bodies?” Um, YES GIRL! Being who I am, I was SO HAPPY to have¬†this person in my life who will shake me awake, who feels comfortable setting boundaries with me, and who is such a freaking awesome Mom that her own daughters will set their own boundaries. Let’s EMBRACE when other’s call us on our toxic thoughts and words. We can all be better together! <3

We Have to Stop Ignoring the Research

I refuse to pretend that society’s relationship with bodies and food isn’t a huge public health issue. Here is what the research is showing us:

  • Approximately half of women engage in disordered eating and risky dieting practices including one-third of women reporting purging.
  • Seventy-five percent of women report their weight interferes with their happiness.
  • In a study of five-year-old girls, a significant proportion of girls associated a diet with food restriction, weight-loss and thinness. (Ask yourself: why do they know this?)
  • Thirty-seven percent of girls in grade nine and 40% in grade ten perceived themselves as too fat.¬†(Ask yourself: why do they think¬†this?)
  • More than 1/2 of girls and 1/3 of boys engage in unhealthy weight control behaviours. For example, fasting, vomiting, laxatives, skipping meals, or smoking to control appetite. (Ask yourself: why do they do this?)

This is why we’re here. It’s selfish, really. Annie, Lauren and I¬†know that the way we parent our children isn’t enough: we need all parents on board to save our children from the predatory nature of the diet industry. ¬†So¬†Healthy Habits Happy Moms¬†is going to be here, working at a high level to spread this message on the interwebs and at a grassroots level supporting and encouraging 16,000 Moms in our (free) private Facebook group. It’s time to open people’s eyes to what body and food obsessions and extremes are doing to children, families, and communities.

We’re hoping you’ll join us. Because we all need out of the smoky room.