Q: My teenage daughter is trying to diet because all of her friends are on diets. I’m worried she’s developing an unhealthy attitude about her body, as well as food, and I don’t want her to starve herself. How can I discuss my worry with her and get her to think more positively about her body?
A: Your relationship with your daughter will affect your approach. When you have a good opportunity, try mentioning to your daughter that you’ve noticed several of her friends are dieting. Ask her what she thinks or how she feels about it and give her time to answer. If she mentions feeling bad about her body, try asking how long she’s been feeling that way or if she can tell you about when it started. Pay attention, be interested in her responses, and stay neutral. If your daughter feels like you’re judging her or her friends, her defensiveness could lead to an argument, or she’ll simply be done talking.
Depending on the situation, some of the following ideas may be applicable:
- If your family meals or eating habits really could use a makeover, approach it as an entire family without singling out your daughter.
- Work on body image together with your daughter, keeping each other accountable regarding negative body image statements.
- Write a note for your daughter sharing what you’re feeling. Be positive in the words you choose and let her read it on her own time.
- Affirm your daughter’s strengths and her beauty. Be specific so she knows you’re sincere.
- Avoid putting value on food. It isn’t good or bad; it’s just food. And she’s not good or bad based on what she eats.
- Finally, what is YOUR attitude toward food and your body? Don’t underestimate the influence you have on your daughter. Think about how your answers to the following questions affect your daughter’s self-image, as well as your own:
- Do you think and speak positively about your body?
- Are you critical of other women’s appearance or of what/how much they eat?
- When you receive a compliment regarding something appearance-related, do you disagree, and then start pointing out other things you don’t like about yourself?
- Do you make negative comments about a body feature you share with your daughter? You may realize that this is a great time to work on your self-image as well.
Deb Fuller is a mental health therapist with Real Life Counseling in Omaha.