It’s that time of year again — when high-school-aged girls may start thinking about spring sports, prom, and summer vacation. The anticipation of these exciting events may also be accompanied by thoughts about their bodies. In an attempt to change their body shape, many teens may turn to fad diets or unrealistic exercise regimens that aren’t sustainable, and may even be discouraging for a girl’s developing body. At the same time, healthy decisions about food and physical activity are paramount for long-term health, and to develop positive self-esteem and body image.
As parents, we can have a positive influence on the ways our daughters view themselves through our own behaviors, conversations, and choices. We can also empower girls to make good choices for themselves with consistent and positive messages about food, activity, eating, and weight. Here are a few suggestions for healthy bodies, with one simple theme:
5 – 2 – 1 – 0 Every Day.
5 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables
This is not as hard as it sounds. For example: half a banana with a bowl of whole grain cereal for breakfast; a small apple and serving of baby carrots with lunch; a yogurt-and-berry smoothie for an afternoon snack; a green salad topped with cherry tomatoes and corn with dinner.
2 Hours or Fewer of Screen Time
“Watch less and play more” is what I like to say. This doesn’t just include television and video games, but text time and tablets too. The more time we spend with these devices, the less time we spend moving around.
1 Hour or More of Physical Activity
Identify different ways to be active everyday. In addition to sports, outdoor games and play, encourage your daughter to walk with a friend — offer to drive her to a park or a trail if you have to — as an outlet for socializing as well as regular exercise.
0 Sweetened Drinks (More Water and Low-Fat Milk)
Unfortunately for sugary drinks, they just don’t have anything to offer but added calories. Water is vital for life, and the nutrients in milk advocate for muscle, bones, and teeth. It’s no competition.
In addition to helping our daughters develop healthy behaviors and bodies, we can also help them develop healthy thoughts about themselves. Here are a few ways we can encourage our daughters see themselves in a positive light:
Be a Positive Role Model
Pay attention to your own thoughts and behaviors, and the things you say about yourself and your body. Say and practice the same things you would want to hear and see from your daughter.
Turn Negatives into Positives
How we think is how we feel. Encourage your daughter to focus on her skills, strengths and abilities. We’ve all got them! Keep a top ten list.
There is No Ideal Body Shape
Emphasize that healthy bodies come in ALL shapes and sizes, and encourage your daughter to honor her own body shape — whatever it is.
Be a Critical Viewer of Social and Media Messages
Remind your daughter that most of the images portrayed in media and advertising are not real. They’ve been modified, often dramatically, to look as close to perfect as possible. (For just one example, see this powerful 60-second video.)
Encourage Healthy Food Choices and Physical Activity for Enjoyment and Well-Being, Not for the Sole Purpose of Weight Modification.
Taking steps during youth to develop a healthy body and mind sets the stage for positive self-esteem, body image, and behaviors both in the present and in the future.
For more information about raising girls with a positive image, see this excellent PBS web site.
Anne Marie Kuchera, our Kids Plus Nutrition Consultant, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Dietitian.