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Preventing diet culture from consuming the holidays

Preventing diet culture from consuming the holidays
Posted at 2:40 PM, Nov 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-23 15:40:54-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Teens are constantly exposed to diet culture because of social media.

Katie Hurley, a child and adolescent psychotherapist in Los Angeles, said as we enter the winter holiday season, shame-based diet culture pressure often increases.

Hurley discussed the struggle youth face when they are trying to conform to the standards they see on the internet, in an article on CNN.

In the article, Dr. Hina Talib, an adolescent medicine specialist and associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y., said the internet isn't the only source of the problem.

“As we approach the holidays, diet culture is in the air as much as lights and music, and it’s certainly on social media,” Talib said. “It’s so pervasive that even if it’s not targeted (at) teens, they are absorbing it by scrolling through it or hearing parents talk about it.”

Experts said some trends can trigger food anxiety, obsessive checking of food labels, dangerous calorie restrictions, or other eating disorders.

However, Hurley said parents can make sure diet culture doesn't consume a teen or a family during the holidays.

Model a healthy relationship with food

Take a few moments to reflect on your own eating patterns. Teens tend to emulate what they see, even if they don’t talk about it.

Parents and caregivers can model a healthy relationship with food by enjoying a wide variety of foods and trying new recipes for family meals.

During the holiday season, when many celebrations can involve gatherings around the table, take the opportunity to model shared connections.

“Holidays are a great time to remember that foods nourish us in ways that could never be captured on a nutrition label,” Oona Hanson, a parent coach based in Los Angeles said.

Practice confronting unhealthy body talk

The holiday season is full of opportunities to gather with friends and loved ones to celebrate and make memories, but these moments can be anxiety-producing when nutrition shaming occurs.

One Corpus Christi local, knows that feeling all too well.

"I was a senior in high school. They would say things just about my weight," she said. "Like are you sure you want a third roll, are you sure you want this, are you sure you want more pie? Stuff like that. It would make me feel uncomfortable, because I didn't think there was anything wrong with my body."

When extended families gather for holiday celebrations, it’s common for people to comment on how others look or have changed since the last gathering. While this is usually done with good intentions, it can be awkward or upsetting to tweens and teens.

“For young people going through puberty or body changes, it’s normal to be self-conscious or self-critical. To have someone say, ‘you’ve developed’ isn’t a welcome part of conversations,” cautioned Talib.

Talib suggests practicing comebacks and topic changes ahead of time. Role play responses like, “We don’t talk about bodies,” or “We prefer to focus on all the things we’ve accomplished this year.” And be sure to check in and make space for your tween or teen to share and feelings of hurt and resentment over any such comments at an appropriate time.

Develop digital literacy skills

Open and honest communication is always the gold standard in helping tweens and teens work through the messaging and behaviors they internalize. When families talk about what they see and hear online, on podcasts, on TV, and in print, they normalize the process of engaging in critical thinking — and it can be a really great shared connection between parents and teens.

“Teaching media literacy skills is a helpful way to frame the conversation,” Talib said. “Talk openly about it.”

She suggests asking the following questions when discussing people’s messaging around diet culture:

● Who are they?

● What do you think their angle is?

● What do you think their message is?

● Are they a medical professional or are they trying to sell you something?

● Are they promoting a fitness program or a supplement that they are marketing?

Talking to tweens and teens about this throughout the season — and at any time — brings a taboo topic to the forefront and makes it easier for your kids to share their inner thoughts with you.

Corpus Christi parents are also trying to spread love and body positivity during the holidays that they plan to share with their family.

(CNN contributed to this report)