When it comes to parents talking to their daughters about their weight, it turns out that the less you say, the better.
New research led by Brian Wansink, PhD, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab, found that daughters with parents who commented on their weight were more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies as an adult.
The study looked at 501 women between 20 and 35 years old who were asked about their weight satisfaction, eating habits and BMI, as well as their recollection of their parents making weight- or eating-related comments about them when they were young.
Women with a healthy BMI were 27 percent less likely to recall their parents talking about their weight and 28 percent less likely to remember parents saying they ate too much, compared to those whose BMI showed they were overweight. The study also found that both overweight and healthy weight women who had memories of their parents commenting on their weight when they were young ended up being less satisfied with the number on the scale as adults. The researchers note that this shows weight related remarks are damaging regardless of whether you’re at a healthy weight or not. The same effect did not hold true when it came to parents talking about their children’s eating habits. The study found that those types of comments weren’t significantly related to weight dissatisfaction in adulthood.
“Commenting on a woman’s weight is never a good idea, even when they are young girls,” Wansink told ScienceDaily. “If you’re worried about your child’s weight, avoid criticizing them or restricting food. Instead, nudge healthy choices and behaviors by giving them freedom to choose for themselves and by making the healthier choices more appealing and convenient.”
Wansink recommends making healthy fruit accessible by keeping them in a bowl on your counter so they’re easy to grab, as well as offering a variety of vegetables with some cheese instead of chips at snack time. It also helps to make the focus about healthy eating rather than weight. A 2013 study found that overweight adolescents whose parents talked to them about healthy eating habits were less likely to diet and engage in unhealthy weight-control behaviors, such as using laxatives and fasting.
Being a healthy role model helps, too. “The most important thing is modeling,” Russell Marx, chief science officer with the National Eating Disorders Association, told Healthline. “The kids will follow more what their parents do, rather than what they say. If you’re modeling good behavior, it’s going to come through.”