Diet cul­ture trickles down to kids

Sarah Landry dropped 100 pounds and be­came ob­ses­sive about food. When she saw the ef­fect it was hav­ing on her chil­dren, she changed her mes­sage

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - JEN KIRSCH

With a new year comes new trends. But when it comes to diet cul­ture, a quick scan of the glossy mag­a­zines at gro­cery store check­outs shows how much we prize the dra­matic weight loss story.

But just what ef­fect does all this diet talk have on chil­dren? Sarah Landry — known as @the­birdspa­paya to her over 814K In­sta­gram fol­low­ers — has been vo­cal in her ef­forts to change how we talk about and dis­play the di­ver­sity of the hu­man body.

Landry, who lives out­side of Toronto, went through a trans­for­ma­tion sev­eral years ago, los­ing about 110 pounds in the span of a few years, ul­ti­mately drop­ping to an un­healthy weight for her — 114 pounds — and a size zero.

It wasn’t un­til she reached her “goal weight” that she re­al­ized she wasn’t happy, nor was she healthy. Peo­ple were still con­grat­u­lat­ing her, even af­ter she lost more weight be­cause of stress and life cir­cum­stances.

“I be­gan to re­al­ize how many red flags there were to­ward diet cul­ture and dis­or­dered eat­ing,” said Landry. “It was un­healthy ... It was al­most im­pos­si­ble to main­tain (my weight) with how lit­tle I could eat and how much I had to ex­er­cise to stay that weight.”

She was ob­ses­sively calo­rie count­ing, weigh­ing her­self mul­ti­ple times a day, and ex­er­cis­ing out of guilt and fear around food and weight gain.

The mother of three wanted to set a bet­ter ex­am­ple for her chil­dren, espe­cially her two daugh­ters, Jemma, 11, and Maya, 13.

“It both­ered me when my daugh­ter Jemma was speak­ing about me and said to me some­thing like, ‘Peo­ple love you for your weight loss,’ ” said Landry.

And yet, her trans­for­ma­tion story and her pow­er­ful posts on In­sta­gram about ac­cept­ing her body landed her ded­i­cated fol­low­ers, mag­a­zine cov­ers and me­dia at­ten­tion.

As she strug­gled with where the weight loss ended and she be­gan, she wor­ried about what ef­fect this be­hav­iour was hav­ing on her kids.

“I can’t con­trol TV and how in­clu­sive it is but I can con­trol the words that come out of my mouth and the con­ver­sa­tions we have at home, and it starts with how I talk about my­self and what I’m proud of,” Landry said.

Af­ter Jemma com­mented about the praise her mom re­ceives, Landry made im­me­di­ate changes, start­ing in their home.

“There’s no diet cul­ture talk al­lowed at home. We’ve got­ten rid of scales in the house. I don’t want there to be this defin­ing mo­ment for them that they have a num­ber. I want to con­tinue to have a re­di­rect­ion of con­ver­sa­tion and a change in the ways we talk about our bod­ies and our­selves,” said Landry.

Kyla Fox, clin­i­cal ther­a­pist and an eat­ing dis­or­der spe­cial­ist, tells the Star that kids are sponges to their sur­round­ings and are acutely at­tuned to their care­givers and their en­vi­ron­ment.

“The ways you feel about food and your body will be a mir­ror for your chil­dren. More of the work is on care­givers to heal them­selves and their ide­olo­gies around food and their body in or­der to in­flu­ence a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship for their chil­dren,” says Fox. “If you don’t be­lieve in the mes­sages you’re hop­ing to in­still like, ‘Ev­ery­thing in mod­er­a­tion,’ ‘Beauty from the in­side out,’ ‘Love the skin you’re in,’ nei­ther will your kids.”

Fox, who has two daugh­ters, strug­gled with an eat­ing dis­or­der when she was younger and no­ticed care gaps and fun­da­men­tal flaws in the treat­ment and re­cov­ery ap­proach, which is why she de­vel­oped The Kyla Fox Cen­tre, a clin­i­cal and holis­tic eat­ing dis­or­der cen­tre in Toronto.

The lan­guage we use within the house around food af­fects kids from a young age, she said, so it’s im­por­tant to be mind­ful when talk­ing about healthy di­etary habits.

But how can par­ents change the con­ver­sa­tion to have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on their kids?

“To feel healthy is to learn how to live health­ier. Per­haps the con­ver­sa­tion is more about that. Mom wants to live her best life, feel stronger, hap­pier, safer, share feel­ings more eas­ily, take up more space in the world, go af­ter what mat­ters, lis­ten to her body more, un­der­stand what makes her feel full,” said Fox. “If we lived in a world where there was more open and hon­est com­mu­ni­ca­tion about how to re­ally feel healthy, we would be tap­ping in way deeper to our­selves and to each other.”

While par­ents can mon­i­tor lan­guage at home, they can’t con­trol ex­ter­nal forces that play on a child’s in­se­cu­ri­ties. This in­cludes com­ments by other chil­dren or things they see on so­cial me­dia. Fox says a par­ent should be at­ten­tive to a child’s be­hav­iour and ad­dress is­sues as soon as they are no­ticed. Is your tween read­ing calo­ries on la­bels and se­lect­ing the item with a few less? If so, this is an op­por­tu­nity to have a deeper con­ver­sa­tion to dis­cover the root of why they’re be­hav­ing this way.

“The re­la­tion­ship your child develops with their body is an ar­tic­u­la­tion of the way your child feels about them­selves. And so be­ing emo­tion­ally filled up — emo­tion­ally com­mu­nica­tive, emo­tion­ally able to process, emo­tion­ally val­i­dated, emo­tion­ally sup­ported — means that a child will be less likely to take out their feel­ings on their body through food. Peo­ple who love them­selves don’t hurt them­selves,” said Fox.

“The only way to ac­tively sup­port oth­ers is to not hide be­hind your con­cerns, but ad­dress them. ‘Hey, I no­ticed you’re do­ing these things now that you didn’t do be­fore, are you OK? Why do you think you have started this? Know that I’m here for you and want to be able to talk hon­estly.’ Open­ing up space for a big­ger, safer con­ver­sa­tion is key to bring­ing some­one’s suf­fer­ing/rit­u­als/ pre­oc­cu­pa­tions for­ward,” said Fox. Jemma now has an In­sta­gram ac­count, bear­ing wit­ness to her mom’s pos­i­tive mes­sag­ing and body em­pow­er­ment.

“As par­ents we can get so caught up be­ing dis­tracted by our bod­ies that we for­get how many amaz­ing things are go­ing on around us,” Landry said.

In­stead of ask­ing your part­ner or friends whether an out­fit makes you look fat or ask­ing how many calo­ries are in some­thing, or con­stantly com­plain­ing about hav­ing to lose 10 more pounds — all of which cre­ate a neg­a­tive di­a­logue for chil­dren — share what you love about your­self, she said.

Landry sug­gests “be­ing mind­ful about how we speak about our­selves, and re­mind­ing each other to not com­ment on oth­ers’ bod­ies when it comes up.”

Most im­por­tantly, don’t speak poorly about your­self, she said.

It’s not easy to learn to do but, “when you take that out of the pic­ture, you can con­nect more fully. More com­pletely,” said Landry.

“I’m proud I got to change my own tune and have (my kids) be wit­ness to it,” she said.

“The ways you feel about food and your body will be a mir­ror for your chil­dren. More of the work is on care­givers to heal them­selves and their ide­olo­gies around food and their body ... ”

KYLA FOX

EAT­ING DIS­OR­DER SPE­CIAL­IST

HG PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Sarah Landry has doc­u­mented her weight loss jour­ney on her In­sta­gram @the­birdspa­paya.

PA­TRICK HEMBERY

From left: Landry with her daugh­ters, Maya and Jemma; Kyla Fox, founder of The Kyla Fox Cen­tre; and Fox with daugh­ters Ryan and Au­gusta Hembery.

PAINTED WHITE PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

GOOSE­BERRY STU­DIOS

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