Role Modelling for our Children

Most of you know the reason that I got healthy, lost weight and improved my fitness was because I didn’t want my children growing up with a bad role model in me. I didn’t want them to think it was OK to eat junk, and sit in front of the TV. I wanted them to be active and healthy.

Bringing up healthy kids is something I am extremely passionate about.  It really upsets me when I see kids walking to school with a fruit shoot and a packet of crisps for breakfast, or stories in the press like the one a couple of years ago about the boy who had gone deaf and blind due to his poor diet.  There was another news report around the same time, where a boy in Scotland was rushed to hospital, because he had collapsed due to what was termed ‘nutritional failure’.  This severely obese boy, was basically being fed to death. Really, this is just as bad as starving a child, but on the face of it, do the majority of people actually see it that way? I think we should!

A report in The Sunday Post, about the boy, reflected on how people with eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa trigger help and treatment, due to it being seen as a psychological issue (although, we know there are still huge waiting lists for treatments for such disorders). Yet children presenting to GPs with health issues that are a symptom of overeating and poor nutrition, aren’t necessarily given the same priority.

And in my opinion, there is no denying that this is malnutrition.  Whilst most of us see malnutrition as the vision of 80’s news broadcasts and starving children in Africa, ‘malnutrition’ actually means ‘bad nutrition’. It means feeding your body with an imbalanced diet. Whilst it obviously includes being under-nourished and not getting enough energy into your body, it also includes eating a poor diet, which leaves you unwell.



There are so many statistics that show childhood obesity is an increasing problem.  Data that shows children are developing type 2 diabetes, a disease which historically only developed in adults over 40.

A UK Parliament report tells us that in 2006-7 school year 18% of primary school leavers were overweight or obese. In 2019-20 this figure had almost doubled to 35% of all year six pupils.  Where will we be in another 13 years!! 70%? The thought is terrifying!

There are also statistics that show that an overweight or obese child will be more likely to grow up to be an overweight or obese adult.  This is not an imaginary problem, so we have to get in there early, and make sure our kids understand how to fuel their bodies correctly, understand the correlation between calories in and calories out and what happens if we get that balance wrong. And whilst school has a role to play in this, the real onus lies with parent’s and the other caregivers in their lives to model a healthy way to live.

It is vital for the future of the human race, as well as the future of our public services, because these overweight and obese children will likely grow up to be adults that cost the NHS and local authorities money, due to the service and treatments they will undoutedly need to access. In fact, Public Health England estimates that the government spends £6.1 billion pounds a year on overweight and obesity-related illness. Increasing levels of obesity will only mean that this spend will increase too.

Social stigma

Then there is the social and emotional side of growing up as an overweight child. And this, if I am being honest, is what I am really passionate about.  I know the feeling, all too well of being the fat kid. I was regularly teased at primary school by the boys in particular, which led to a feeling of being ugly and unattractive as a teenage girl, never confident enough to ask a boy out, and hiding away in oversized clothes, to cover my tummy and legs.  During my GCSE year I started to cut out meals, pretending I wasn’t hungry.  Of course I lost weight, but I couldn’t keep it up – I was starving, and not only that – my mum was starting to notice.  Luckily common sense took over, before any psychological issues developed and I did start to eat properly again.

Poor self-esteem and low body confidence isn’t uncommon for overweight and obese children and young people.  The National Obesity Observatory released a report in 2011, which highlighted that being overweight as a child has an adverse effect on a young person’s self esteem, self-image and self-concept, and there are also associations with depression in adolescents. In fact, the report goes onto say quite worryingly, that the health-related quality of life for severely obese children, is on a par to children diagnosed with cancer.

A difficult balance

Personally, as with all things parenting, I find it is difficult to strike a good balance around body image. You want your kids to be body confident, whatever their size and shape, and feel comfortable in their skin, we all should feel that way!! But equally you want them to be healthy, and not put their health at risk by being overweight.

When Ruby, my eldest, was weaned and entering toddlerhood, I was paranoid about not feeding her junk food and keeping her a healthy weight.  Terrified in all honesty, that she would turn into the same child I did, and experience what I experienced. Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t tormented day in, day out, but what I felt and experienced as a child was enough to make me want to ensure my daughter didn’t feel the same. And then one night when we were getting her ready for bed, when she was about 7, she said to me, ‘Mum I’m fat!’ It was like someone had stabbed me in the heart.  I felt sick. Because first and foremost she wasn’t, she was a perfectly healthy weight, but like her Dad and me, carried a little bit of weight on her tummy, at times.  This hadn’t come from other children either – it was from herself.  Now whether that came from things she had picked up from me, or from elsewhere I don’t know, but it made me realise we have to be so careful about how we speak about ourselves and others, and what we expose our children to in the media.

So started the conversation about how she was beautiful just the way she was, but it is important to eat a healthy diet, and eat foods in the right portion sizes to ensure that we don’t put too much weight on, because it can be bad for our health.  How we must eat lots of fruit and vegetables, and have junk food as a real treat.

Six years on and I still tell her every day that she is beautiful, and hope and pray that this translates into a positive body image.  She has now hit the dreaded teenage years, and all that brings with it these days, with social media, filters that augment our faces into something unrecognisable, and everybody’s desire to live and display their ‘best life’.  We talk regularly as a family, at the dinner table about where our food comes from, and what it does for our bodies. We have regular discussions about what a healthy choice might be, and how we shouldn’t have too many treats.

Fortunately, Ruby has always managed to maintain a healthy weight, and is now very active, dancing up to 20 hours a week, and I feel she has a good relationship with food. We do have to have conversations at times, about the amount of junk she wants to eat- particularly sweet stuff and how that might impact her teeth and particularly her braces! Both me and my husband have a sweet tooth, so my kids really had no hope with that one!!

But as her Mum it’s my responsibility to say ‘no’ and guide her towards making better choices.  Whilst she thinks I am mean for saying ‘no’ to the pack of donuts, ‘just because’, or the enormous adult size pudding to herself, when we go out for a meal, I know it’s the right thing to do, and after a bit of eye rolling, shouting and stomping she gets over it.

My son Seth on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish. This boy must have hollow legs, because I honestly cannot fill him at times.  It has been a real battle to keep him a healthy weight. He is a big solid boy, and is currently overweight for his height.  He has already experienced some name calling at school, in the last 2-3 years and he’s only 9. The first time he told me that other children were calling him the dreaded ‘F-word’, I was gutted.  That word when it is used to describe a person, is like a punch to the stomach for me – I hate it.  The thought that my handsome boy was being made to feel unhappy by other children because of his size, broke my heart.

So every time this comes up we have the conversation about how we manage our weight and how it isn’t healthy to be too heavy. It would be all too easy to tell him to ignore them, and he was perfect the way he was. But, I had to be honest with him, whilst I didn’t agree with what those children had said, I made sure he understood that even though I think he is the most handsome boy in the world, I help him to keep his weight in a healthy range by restricting the amount of junk he eats.  I explained that when I tell him to have a piece of fruit instead of a packet of crisps or a chocolate biscuit, or to drink water when he complains he is still hungry for the 5th time that hour, that it is because I want him to stay strong, fit and a healthy weight. We regularly step on the scales in front of each other, to keep a check on our weight, in a bid to keep a healthy relationship with the numbers on the scales. And while Seth is definitely heavier than he should be, there is no focus on weight loss for him, but more on stopping those numbers from increasing so that as he grows, he will slim down.

He is yet to find his love of a particular sport, having tried football, where he just stood in the middle of the pitch, chatting, for the entire training session.  He fancied boxing and rugby until he realised he might get hurt, so that was soon discounted.  But there is a mild interest in mountain biking, BMXing and skateboarding , which I am more than relieved about.  And this summer he has started playing cricket. So fingers crossed we are starting to find the ways that he enjoys being active.

Stopping the vicious circle

We often have members attend our groups who bring their children along, and they want to stand on the scales, or even more occasionally, want to go on a diet. There has been a few times when parents have asked for a diet sheet for their teenage daughter. And whilst I think it is good that we normalise weighing ourselves, and not feeling frightened of what the scales say,  acknowledging what it says and dealing with it, I would NEVER EVER give a child a diet sheet.  For children and particularly teenagers, it is 1000% better that they learn while they are young, the concept of calories in and calories out, and how to fuel their body properly. It’s a life skill and once it is learned you know it forever.

To give a teenager a diet sheet, puts them straight into that vicious cycle of dieting, not dieting, losing weight, gaining weight, and for all the misery that the majority of us knows that causes.  Why would we force that onto our children?

That is why it is our responsibility to teach the next generation, in whatever form our interactions are with them, whether you are a parent, auntie, uncle, teacher, friend or neighbour; how to manage their weight in a healthy way, how to get the balance right between enjoying our food, and our lives, but to above all to stay healthy and active.  It is our responsibility to exemplify the life that we want for the next generation.

This week!

Think about how you speak about yourself, your body image and how you describe your foods, in front of the children in your life.  Be mindful of how you might be influencing young minds. This goes beyond what we feed our children, it is how our whole attitude is impressed upon their developing belief systems. Kids are like sponges, they absorb everything around them, without us even realising. How many times has a child in your life repeated something back to you, that you had no idea they were paying any attention to.

Most of all, if you can’t do it for yourself, be the best version of you and be responsible for the next generation, so that they don’t grow up with the experiences that we had and problems that we now have as a result of our past. Let them grow up feeling happy, healthy, content and most of all in control of their lifestyle.

4 replies on “Role Modelling for our Children”

This is such a fab article Rachel ….. we really embrace healthy eating, exercise and self-esteem in school from Nursery upwards, it’s so important…
You are an amazing Mum, absolutely love your approach …. thanks for sharing

Oh that F word – how I hate that too. It brought a tear to my eye. The impact of words, once spoken, cannot be taken back. Perhaps as well as the value of nutrition the power of words needs to be given more focus. Personally I find words as damaging, if not more than physical abuse. I’m 56 and can still recall the names I was called at school, often accompanied by a thump or a trip. The bruises faded but the words didn’t. I will be always remember being a Weeble that wobbles but DOES fall down, Chippan Jo (cos my hair was/is greasy) and a F**-B***h, being picked last every time for team games and the groans that came with that from the team that ended up with the Loser, being whacked on the bum by the games teacher on cross country and told to move faster, I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy…….You’re a brilliant mum Rachel and I applaud you for what you are doing.

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