Body Image: How to Talk to Your Kids About Fitness


Karis Murray shares how she confronted cultural messages about body image with sound Christian theology.

I’ve written before about body image and the important role both fathers and mothers play in helping form a healthy body image in their children. We parents have an important responsibility to keep a healthy body image and therefore transfer this image to our kids. Mostly, how we feel about our bodies comes from spiritual and emotional hard work, but there is also a physical element.

Showing our bodies the respect they are due as images of God means taking care of them the way we would care for a home or our car, except that our bodies are far more valuable because they are living, breathing manifestations of God’s infinite creativity and brilliance.

I recently had my annual physical, and one of the items of discussion was my Body Mass Index and Body Fat Percentage, both important indicators for overall health. By both of those measures, I was still within the range of what is considered normal, but only barely. I was inching close to the range that would consider me overweight, and I knew that if I continued with the diet and lack of exercise that was my current lifestyle, the scale would tick up steadily each year. At my stage in life, I have no concern over having a “beach body” or being an Ironwoman, but because I believe that I am worthy of the Temple my body is, I knew I needed to make my health more of a priority.

My doctor helped me set goals that were healthy and realistic and recommended a diet style that would be very healthy and sustainable.
I really appreciated his lack of emphasis on “diet” but instead recommended permanent changes to help me stay healthy for life.

The word “diet” in our culture implies that it is something you start and stop, and we’ve all probably had the experience of losing weight on a “diet”--only to gain it all back when we stopped. This up-and-down roller coaster contributes to poor body image in adults and perpetuates an unhealthy message to our kids.

As I am learning new habits and working to become healthier, it made me think about what I am modeling for my daughters. I want to make sure that the messages I am sending to my kids help improve their self image and prepare them to live a healthy adulthood. Here are three conclusions:

  1. Focus on health not weight loss, dieting or beauty. Although I am weighing myself regularly, and keeping food logs I have explained to my daughters that the reason for this is that documenting my progress right now is helping me learn and providing me with feedback that encourages me to continue with these healthy lifestyle changes. Once I feel more confident that these changes are habitual, I will probably not continue daily weigh-ins and food logging because it puts too much focus on those things and takes time away from relationships.
  2. Focus on God’s design for our bodies. Spend five seconds looking at Google search results for words like “diet” and “exercise,” and the majority of what you will find will promote products and programs that are gimmicky and unhealthy. There are many references to food and eating in scripture, as well as references to physical strength and hard work. God made our bodies to function in miraculous ways. The more we can talk about how amazing God made our bodies, the more we will build our respect and esteem for our own body. Along with learning about how we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” it’s important to talk to our kids about how God designed other parts of His creation for our benefit because of His love for us. When we fuel our bodies primarily with foods that God designed (things like fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains and natural meats and milk) we can see how brilliant God was in His original design. He truly gave us such abundance to help us keep our bodies at peak performance. Recognizing God’s creation helps to derail disordered attitudes about food. It builds excitement in discovering the vast diversity that God has given us and makes us appreciate what we have so much more.
  3. Focus on intrinsic value and eternal significance. So many voices in our culture objectify people and treat overweight people as less valuable than thin people. This message is sometimes subtle, but it is also very powerful! When we confront these messages with sound theology, we see that we are all created in God’s image, that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and that we are all eternal beings. Every soul has equal value and significance to the Heavenly Father because we are His, and there is nothing that we can do to make Him love us more or less than He already does.

Written by Karis Murray 

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