Kids eat right.

Body Image and Young Women

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN
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Young women (and young men, too) can fall into the trap of wanting to look like super-thin models or television personalities. These unrealistic goals can lead to an unhealthy body image and low self-esteem, not to mention disordered eating behaviors. This may involve eating too little, eating too much or following a restricted diet of only "healthy" foods. Some early warning signs of disordered eating are rapid weight loss, overly picky eating and the desire to eat alone.

Parents can be positive body image role models by not making judgments about their own bodies or others'. Resist the urge to comment on physical appearance and praise your children for attributes that have nothing to do with what they look like or their physical abilities.

Since food and body image are closely linked, having a healthy body image may take the help of a registered dietitian nutritionist and a psychologist. The overall goal of any treatment is to accept your body and learn how to balance food and emotions. When used the right way, food is a source of pleasure, nourishment and self-love.

Balanced Diet

A balanced diet is essential to overcoming poor body image issues. Embracing a variety foods with balance is key. A healthy eating plan includes:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Protein foods including meat, fish, tofu, beans and lentils
  • Vegetable oils
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese or fortified plant-based alternatives

There also is room for sweet and salty foods such as chips, chocolate and ice cream. Avoid labeling foods as "good" and "bad," dieting and cutting out food groups.

A vegetarian diet can be a part of a healthy eating plan as long as it includes a variety of foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and fat-free or low-fat dairy or non-dairy substitutes.

Physical Activity

Physical activity helps boost body image and alleviate stress, but when working out becomes obsessive or out of control, it becomes unhealthy. If you feel guilty, depressed or overweight if you miss a work out, it may be time for help.

Young women should get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise such as walking, jogging, biking or dancing most days of the week. In addition, do resistance training at least two days a week. This will help keep your muscles and bones strong. Resistance training includes free weights, wrist and ankle weights and rubber resistance bands. Body weight exercises such as squats and push-ups are great weight-bearing exercises as well.

Gym class and sports are fun and social ways to enjoy the benefits of physical activity without the sole focus being on the workout itself.

Be Social

A healthy social life helps with body image. People who surround themselves with a diverse group of positive, happy and uplifting friends tend to be more confident and accepting of their own unique body and mind. Encouragement and social support go a long way toward a positive self image.

Focus on engaging with people in real life rather than spending hours on social media. Unrealistic body ideals on social media can exacerbate negative body image. Parents may need to monitor the accounts children are following on social media to ensure they are conducive to a positive relationship with food, exercise and body.