If I Shouldn’t Talk About Diet and Weight, What Should I Say?
Avoiding diet and weight talk doesn’t have to be hard. The key is to focus on simple adjustments to create safe, positive conversations around food and body.
Below, you’ll see common phrases and alternative options for talking about food and body. For more swaps like this, download one of our many resources and we’ll email you monthly tips and tricks!
*If you’re worried about a kid in your life and their relationship with food or body, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional. Early intervention is proven to reduce eating disorders and eating disorder severity. Check out these resources for help.
'How many calories are in that?'
'No, thank you.'
Instead of asking for calorie counts, if you don’t want a certain food, just say no. It’s okay to decline food that doesn’t fit with our preferences, we don’t have to get into the reasons why. By declining without explanation, we avoid placing unnecessary labels on food.
'You can have an ice cream treat but only after you finish your carrots.'
'Ice cream comes after dinner.'
While this may seem like a neutral statement that promotes nourishment, it actually positions certain foods as a treat instead of making them a part of a normal, balanced diet. Instead, you can say, “Ice cream comes at the end of the meal, so let’s eat what’s in front of us for now.”
'You shouldn't eat that, it's bad for you.'
'That's not on the menu tonight.'
Sometimes kids want to eat ice cream all day. And, their desire for that isn’t bad! But, it’s important to help guide children when making food choices, so they can feel their best.
If you are struggling with how to help a child maintain a balanced diet because of picky eating, food insecurity, or any other reason, we recommend reaching out to a healthcare provider or a support network. For quick options, check out The Feeding Doctor or The Ellyn Satter Institute.
'If you get all A's on your report card, we'll take you out for pizza!'
'How do you want to celebrate?'
When you set up food as a reward or punishment, it can undermine the healthy habits you want to instill in kids. It can also interfere with their natural ability to regulate their eating and it may teach them to eat when they aren’t hungry or to restrict when they aren’t full. This can lead to emotion-based food choices, self-punishment with food, and more.
Instead, use non-food motivators. Some examples of what to say are, “Great job working hard at school! I’m very proud of you. How do you want to celebrate?” Or, “I’m so proud of your work! Do you want to have a friend come over to celebrate this weekend?”
'I'm definitely going to have to work out if I eat this.'
Exercise can be healthy, but the idea that you can “cancel out” certain foods with exercise is not only ineffective, but it can be a dangerous message to tell kids. Plus, it kills the joy of exercise/movement when we position it as a must-do chore. Instead, focus on finding balance and showing kids they can enjoy all foods, without shame or guilt. If you truly don’t want a certain food, you can say no. Or, you can say, “This food is so delicious. I would love a small serving.”
Note: We are big fans of movement and exercise for kids! By signing the pledge, you’ll get resources for health-based ways to promote movement and exercise. We also have other tips in the cards below!
'You look great! Did you lose weight?'
'You look so happy!'
Commenting specifically on someone’s weight, especially to or around a child can be very harmful. Unintentionally, you may be reinforcing very unhealthy behaviors that caused the weight loss. There are so many wonderful things about people. There’s no need to focus on using weight as an indicator of beauty, health, or anything else. Instead of commenting on how someone looks, comment on their character. You can say, “I love your energy!” or “You look so happy today!”
'I hate the way my stomach looks in this shirt!'
Sometimes the best option is to say nothing. We all have days where we don’t feel like our best selves, and that’s okay! Instead of criticizing yourself, try giving yourself some extra love and self-care.
If your child says this, redirect the conversation away from your child. Try saying, “Ugh, clothing sizes are so inconsistent. I can exchange this for a new option.” Or, “That outfit doesn’t look very comfortable and our bodies are way too awesome to be uncomfortable. Let’s pick out another outfit!
'You look like you’re getting a little heavier. We should get you off that couch and start eating healthier so you can lose a few pounds.'
'Do you want to do an activity tonight?'
If your concern is that the child is too sedentary, do not comment about weight or size. Focus on finding joyful activities that include movement.
If your concern is about your child’s health or weight, raise this concern with your child’s healthcare professional. If you do so, we strongly recommend you talk with the doctor privately, and ask that the doctor not talk with your child about their weight, BMI, or growth chart. Instead, request the conversation be focused on all-around health, not appearance. If your doctor recommends lifestyle changes, it is important that the child is not singled out as the one needing to make changes. Instead, incorporate the changes as part of your entire family’s health.
If the child isn’t yours, say nothing. Even seemingly harmless comments can have a lasting impact on a child’s life.
'Let's exercise so we don't gain weight.'
'Let's get outside and move, it's fun!'
At WithAll, we are huge fans of finding movement and exercise that is joyful. Kids and teens have energy to burn! Sometimes, they can get into a state of inertia, so you may have to nudge them a bit by getting involved yourself and telling them, “We’re doing this now.” A quick Google search will give you tons of ideas to get kids moving.
While exercise and movement are healthy parts of life, connecting exercise with weight loss sends the wrong message to kids. It tells them that the only purpose of exercising is to maintain or lose weight. Instead, help kids develop a love of movement because it helps them nurture their bodies. Say, “Let’s play soccer, it’s so fun to get outside and move!” Or, “Do you want to go on a walk with me? We’ve been stuck inside all day and our bodies would appreciate some time to move around.”