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5 Tips for Promoting a Positive Relationship Between Teens, Food, & Their Bodies

Lindsay Ronga headshotLindsay Ronga, Food & Wellness Coach, guides and empowers women to heal their relationship with food and their body. Lindsay works with those ready to let go of binge, stress and emotional eating through Wellness & Food Freedom individual coaching and through Break the Behaviors group coaching. Learn more here:

Lindsay has an MBA from Harvard Business School, teaches yoga and speaks at wellness events and retreats.  She hosts a free food & body empowerment group each month. Prior to coaching, Lindsay worked many years in private equity and in executive roles in NYC. She’s driven to empower as many people as possible to love their body, love their relationship with food and find lasting wellness. She loves living in Austin with her husband and three kids.

Food and Parenting

Some of my most stressful moments, as a mom of three, are around what my children are consuming in the form of food and media.

I cannot always control what my children see and hear. I can’t control how much my children eat or what they eat. I CAN control my reaction and I CAN control what I say and do in regards to MY food and body.

Some of my stress comes from my upbringing as a child. Meal times were the worst. They were boring and we had to eat all of our food before we got up from the table.

Some of my stress comes from battling an eating disorder for seven years. I am now hyper-aware of diet culture and how commonly diets lead to disordered eating; more than 70 million people worldwide struggle. Unfortunately, parents unknowingly reinforce the diet narrative by talking about their cleanses, losing weight, clean eating or talking negatively about their own body.

Some of my stress comes from the fact that my kids hear body shaming language from friends at school. YIKES.

Tools for Promoting Positive Food and Body Relationships

1) Role model good behavior.

This is our single biggest power as adults. Children and teens see and do what we DO, not what we say.

They see you checking the mirror five times, changing outfits a dozen times. They hear you body shaming or criticizing your looks.

 When you talk about dieting or losing weight, children start to value being “smaller”. They’ll start to equate their weight and looks to their worth. And, if they aren’t in a smaller body, this can lead to confidence and self-esteem struggles.

 What to do: Explore your relationship with food, alcohol and your body. Use language that is empowering not damaging. If you are dieting, understand what’s behind it. Is it to have more energy? Live a long time? Feel better?

What is your relationship with and how do you speak about exercise? It’s not meant to be punishment for what you ate, but rather to move your body because it feels good, gives you energy and a sense of accomplishment. The more you take dedicated time to move and care for your body, the better you’ll feel and others will see it too.  

2) Refrain from commenting on how your children and teens are eating or what they look like.

Can you imagine if, during meal time, you had someone constantly chiming in while you were eating? Slow down, aren’t you going to finish that, don’t waste the food, eat the veggies first, you didn’t eat much, are you full. You get the picture.

We are trying to create a positive relationship with food, not an obsessive or nagging one.

 What to do: Keep mealtime light and fun so that your children look forward to it! Aim for lively conversation, jokes or games, and allow them to join in preparing the meal. Every night during dinner, we say a prayer and I ask my children two questions during mealtime:

What has been the best part of your day so far? What are you most looking forward to? They’ve come to expect this.

Of course, there needs to be some structure around meals and self-care. Find what works for your family. I recommend setting up a time OUTSIDE of mealtime to ask your children what their expectations are at meal time and share your own.

The “rule” with our children is they are welcome to have more of anything (except dessert) on their plate when they’ve finished their meal. They also know that the kitchen closes up after meal and snack time.

If you have a “picky” children or teens who only willingly eat mac & cheese for meals, try offering a small amount of whatever you’re eating by putting it on their plate so they can choose to try it or not, but parents can control exposure to new foods. I share with my children that it takes most people five or six tries of the same food before they start to like it.e)

3) Eat with your children and teens. Role model good self-care.

If we TALK about how important it is to nourish our body, but our kids don’t see us doing it, then why should they?

I can’t count how many times my kids have seen me scarf down a bowl of cereal while standing at the counter. I rush in an effort to get back to caring for my children and all the other items on the to-do list. In doing this, however, I’m sending a clear message that I am not on my priority list. Not only should parents be ON this list, but they should be #1 on that list.

What to do: Lead by example; let them see you practice intuitive and conscious eating. Let your children and teens see you have more pasta when you’re hungry! Let them see you eat your greens AND eat a treat from time to time. Let them see you take time to enjoy your food or taking care of yourself by slowing down.

Don’t sneak treats! Binges are often caused by restricting some part of our diet or cutting out an entire food category. Show them you are human and it’s okay to give into occasional cravings. 

4) Change the way you talk about food.

two girls eating a snackDo you ever use language around food implying there is good and bad food? Saying “healthy food versus unhealthy food” can be just as problematic.

When we give children food with the connotation that it’s unhealthy or bad, children and teens can quickly come to associate themselves with being unhealthy or bad when eating that food. They start to feel guilty or even worse, shameful.

What to do: Shift your language around food. Talk about it from the context of making your body feel good or making your soul feel good. Or BOTH!

I tell my children that there are two kinds of food. There are foods that nourish us, give us energy and make us feel good. And there are also foods we eat because they taste good and make our soul smile. Both are important!

I tell my children we want to eat a variety of foods. Too much of any one food won’t make us feel good.

5) Stop rewarding children and teens for “doing a good job” or cleaning their plate.

This habit is hard to break! Rewarding your kids for eating can feel so natural. For years I would say, “I’m happy to give a treat to whoever does a good job on dinner!”

What to do: Don’t reward your child with a treat for eating. This goes against intuitive eating as children aren’t focused on their hunger, but rather a dessert. Instead, try serving their meal with a treat. The children get it regardless of how they perform.


Be easy on yourself and find what works for your family. Children are constantly growing – physically and emotionally – their food needs will be different from yours.

Finally, explore and heal your relationship with food and your body. If you find yourself bingeing, eating in times of stress or have negative thoughts about your body or weight, then reach out for a free Food & Wellness consultation or download this free guide to jumpstart your food and body healing.

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