Live By Example…Not By Diet Culture
Dear example setters,
I’ve learned many lessons in my 23 years of life, and this post is going to cover two of them. In lesson #2 lies the message I hope to teach through the collection of words to follow. In lesson #1 lies the story of how I came to learn lesson #2 (you know…because one thing tends to lead to another).
So…numero uno. If you talk about anything often and passionately enough, people will soon come to realize that no, you’re not exaggerating–you really ARE obsessed with said thing. For me, that thing is peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.
If you’ve been following my content for more than 5 seconds, you’re no stranger to this fact. If you’re new around here, allow me to be the first to welcome you to the PB&J parade–led by none other than Yours Chewly.
Yes, I eat one every single day–and yes, my love and affection for them grows with each bite. It’s the kind of love I think of when parents describe how they feel about their children.
Anywho, I talk about this love often and everywhere. So much so that people have even started tagging me in pictures and Instagram stories of their own sandwich-making escapades (which, of course, makes my day).
One day, I received a message from a friend who works in a local after school program for kids. She posed the question, “Would you be interested in teaching a PB&J-focused nutrition workshop for the kids?” To which I replied, “YES I WOULD LOVE NOTHING MORE.” I felt as if all my life’s work had fatefully led me to this moment.
Flash forward a month later. With lesson #1 under my belt, I sit here writing you this story…with more determination than ever to keep spreading my love for PB&J like I spread the nut butter itself–thickly & often.
But I also have Lesson #2–one that was learned in the process of teaching these two workshops.
To be quite honest with you, apart from my experience working as a cooking instructor at a kid’s camp one summer, I don’t have much experience with kids. To all the teachers of young minds out there, I applaud you for your patience and adaptability.
So…I didn’t really know what to expect heading into this teaching experience–other than the kids were middle-school age (???) & looking to learn about nutrition through PB&J (!!!).
Teaching children about nutrition
What I quickly learned is that kids of this age are information sponges. I found that their answers to my nutrition questions reflected little of their own life experience and much of what I could tell they had heard from their parents, relatives, and social media (I mean…can you blame them? I don’t think I had much life experience at age 11 either).
Nonetheless, they gave me answers–answers that reflected the kinds of thoughts and messages regarding nutrition and body image already imprinted on their young minds. Answers rooted in negativity towards their own bodies and what certain food groups do for them.
“Carbs make you fat!!” “Eating fat gives you extra blubber *pointing to stomach* so you don’t get cold!”
“How come she can eat so much food and look like that while I look like this?!” “Yeah, but I’m fat already!!”
One little girl even mentioned that her doctor told her she needed to lose weight. *Excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor & try to move on with my presentation PRETENDING that’s not one of the most messed up things I’ve ever heard.*
Interestingly enough, the worst part about these comments weren’t the words themselves–it was the fact that the kids offered them in the most normal ways possible. Sometimes, even in a joking tone to make their friends laugh! In their eyes, these kinds of comments were as commonplace and habitual as saying “shame how cold and rainy it is today, huh?”
I could rant on this for hours, but for the sake of your attention span, I’ll get to my bottom line.
This is NOT okay.
Teaching kids and young teens to feel less-than, unworthy, shameful, or self-conscious because of the shape of their body is not okay. Allowing them to speak in self-deprecating ways to get a laugh from their friends is not okay. Telling a child that, at age 11, she needs to lose weight is NOT okay.
From a nutritional perspective, weight loss recommendations at this age are simply not appropriate (their bodies are not yet matured and need adequate energy to support proper and healthy growth). From a human being perspective, body-shaming talk at any age…but especially at this young age…is never appropriate.
What is appropriate? Teaching them to be active in ways that are fun and imaginative. That everyBODY is different–no two people were made to look the same and that’s what makes us all so cool. That it’s fun to explore foods that are different colors and textures. That it’s important to fuel the body with energy in yummy ways. That kindness matters. That words are their most powerful tools.
How to teach kids about nutrition – appropriately!
But how do you start doing this? Well, I don’t have kids, so I can only speak from limited experience. But I do know that there are young minds (and even older minds!) everywhere–always absorbing words and messages from examples that are set around them.
You HAVE to start setting the example yourself. Treat your own body with respect. Talk positively about yourself and your abilities. Eat a variety of colorful foods that you enjoy. Move your body in ways that celebrate, not shame. Kindly and gently speak your truth.
Most of all, express love abundantly, both towards yourself and others through your actions–because, as cliche as it is, these speak louder than your words ever will.
Audit the examples you offer to those around you–especially the young minds around you. Will you be the one who teaches them to be self-conscious and negative towards themselves? OR will you be the one who teaches them to reach for their best self, loving each step (and PB&J) along the way?
The choice is yours!
P.S. I know this is a big topic. If you have thoughts and/or questions, I’d love to hear them. Click here to share your thoughts or drop them in the comment section below!