How to Help Children Build a Healthy Relationship With Food

It’s natural for a parent to want the best for their children’s health. But even with the best of intentions, parents can actually do more harm than good. This is something Oona Hanson experienced when her child was diagnosed with an eating disorder.

She thought she was doing everything she could to promote a healthy relationship with food in her child, only to realize the sneaky ways that diet culture had seeped into their home.

Now, Oona is a passionate eating disorder educator with a Master’s in Educational Psychology. She’s dedicated to helping families foster healthy relationships with food and exercise to prevent eating disorders and promote a healthy relationship with food in children.

Are you doing these things that could be blocking your child from developing a healthy relationship with food?

  • Restricting certain foods like sugar to help keep your child healthy
  • Living under the assumption that thin equals healthy
  • Giving foods labels such as “healthy”, “unhealthy”, “good” , “bad”, “junk”, etc.

On a recent episode of Equipped to Recover on The Recovery Warrior Shows podcast channel, Oona Hanson, shared the truth about these well intended, but misguided strategies used in helping children develop healthy habits, along with the best ways to support children’s relationships with food.

Oona Hanson is a passionate educator with a Master’s in Educational Psychology. She’s dedicated to helping families foster healthy relationships with food and exercise for their children.

Drawing from her own experience as a parent of a child who developed an eating disorder, and her expertise in educational psychology, Oona has developed a unique framework called Parenting Without Diet Culture. Through this framework, she offers valuable resources such as writings, workshops, and private consultations to empower parents in supporting their child’s food and body journey.

Oona’s relatable approach and extensive knowledge make her a trusted resource for parents seeking guidance. By implementing the teachings she shared, parents can prevent disordered eating and promote a healthy relationship with food for their child.

Oona Hanson’s Story

Upon discovering her child’s eating disorder, Oona Hanson found herself in uncharted territory. Her initial belief that she had protected her children from such issues quickly dissolved as she began to uncover the many ways diet culture had subtly influenced her parenting.

She then embarked on a challenging journey to find the right treatment, eventually discovering family-based treatment (FBT) at UC San Diego. This life-changing experience led Oona to dedicate her life to supporting families facing similar challenges.

Through her work with Equip and her private practice, Oona aims to empower parents to challenge diet culture in their homes and create a safe, supportive environment for their children to develop a healthy relationship with food.

She shared some crucial tips for parents who want to promote a healthy relationship with food and exercise for their children. Implementing these learnings can create a positive impact on your child’s well-being and contribute to a healthier family dynamic.

Here are the key steps:

  • Examine personal beliefs about food and bodies
  • Encourage open conversations with your child
  • Seek support from mentors and groups

1. Examine personal beliefs about food and bodies

For parents wanting to support their child’s relationship with food, examining personal beliefs about food and bodies is crucial. This self-awareness encourages a healthy and positive environment for their children to grow and develop.

By recognizing the significant role parents play in facilitating recovery and preventing disordered eating behaviors, families can be more proactive in addressing their own beliefs and prioritizing a balanced approach to food and body image.

Understanding the importance of modeling healthy behaviors and attitudes for children not only strengthens their resilience against diet culture but also sets the foundation for a lifelong, supportive relationship with food.

When parents start to unlearn and challenge diet culture, they’re lowering their risk of disordered eating for their child

Oona Hanson urges parents to work on their own recovery and understanding of intuitive eating and body positivity to prevent disordered eating behaviors from developing in children.

This is essential, as children are more likely to develop a positive relationship with food and their bodies when their home environment is free from negative and restrictive attitudes.

By promoting self-compassion and open communication, parents can help their children build resilience against external pressures and maintain a healthy relationship with food throughout their lives.

2. Encourage open conversations with your child

Supporting a child’s relationship with food is a crucial aspect of preventing disordered eating and promoting recovery. Establishing open and meaningful conversations about their thoughts, feelings, and concerns around food, body image, and exercise contributes to a nurturing, supportive environment.

This nonjudgmental space allows children to feel comfortable discussing their eating habits, seek guidance, and learn from their parents in a healthy and constructive manner.

Encouraging honest and transparent discussion ensures that both parents and children can address misconceptions they may have about food, exercise, and body image, ultimately fostering a positive outlook and relationship with these aspects.

Parents are powerful and we can lower the risk of a child developing an eating disorder

Oona Hanson believes that parents can play a pivotal role in developing healthy and safe relationships with food by championing open conversations with their child. She emphasizes the need for parents to establish a safe space for children to ask questions, validate their experiences, and offer unwavering support throughout their food and body journey.

The exchange of experiences and learnings between parents and children creates a harmonious atmosphere, which paves the way for a stronger, more resilient relationship with food, exercise, and body image.

A connection built on trust, empathy, and understanding can serve as a powerful foundation that empowers both parents and children throughout the journey of eating disorder prevention and recovery.

3. Seek support from mentors and groups

Having a loving and understanding support system can greatly impact the journey towards healing around food. Outside support helps parents better influence a healthy life for their kids. This support can come from fellow parents, other family members, friends, and even mentors and support groups.

Outside support offers people who can empathize with struggles, and non-judgmental guidance and assistance. Providing such a nurturing environment is crucial for helping your child build a positive relationship with food.

Oona Hanson highlights the transformative power of mentors and support groups, recounting that coming together in solidarity and sharing personal experiences often prove more impactful than hearing the same information from professionals like therapists or dieticians.

There is more anti diet parenting support than ever before. There’s lots of places to learn. Dip your toe in, whether it’s a podcast, book, or social media.

Hanson’s expert perspective reinforces that one of the critical elements in successful recovery is the influence of strong and understanding support networks that can help individuals feel validated, less isolated, and more empowered to enact positive changes.

With empathetic, informed and collaborative support, parents working towards helping their kids with food can feel more understood, valued, and encouraged to work through their challenges.

The efforts of families, mentors, and support groups play a pivotal role in both the prevention and healing of disordered eating, fostering a healthier relationship with food in both parents and children.

Setting Kids Up For Success

Family support plays a vital role in eating disorder recovery, and as a parent, understanding its importance will help you create an environment that fosters growth and healing for your child.

Embrace self-compassion, reflect on your beliefs about food and bodies, and maintain open communication with your child to better understand their journey. Additionally, seek guidance from mentors and support groups to further strengthen your ability to set a positive example. With dedication and understanding, you can make a lasting, positive impact on your child’s relationship with food.

Parents don’t cause eating disorders. This advice is no 100% guarantee, but it can greatly help lower the risk

Listen to Oona Hanson’s episode to her more about how you can help your child, and discover the sneaky ways you could be promoting diet culture without realizing it.

Click here to learn more about Equip.

Connect with Oona Hanson and Equip

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