Navigating the complex terrain of youth sports while promoting positive body image and mental wellness!

Joining me is Zoë Bisbing, a psychotherapist specializing in body image and eating disorders and the creator of Body-Positive Home.

In this episode, we emphasize the importance of creating secure attachments from the start, laying a foundation of resilience that can withstand diet-culture and societal pressures. And we delve into the challenges faced by children in aesthetic sports, discussing the delicate balance between encouraging our child’s passion while weighing the potential risks to their physical and mental well-being.

Tune in as we explore the intersection of resilience, body positivity, and parenting, and discover practical ways to cultivate a nurturing environment where all bodies are valued and celebrated!

Zoë (00:00):

And then there’s also really attuning to your kid and noticing, is it safe for my kid to keep doing this? I want parents to be asking that question because then down the line, especially as things get more and more rigorous and competitive, there are going to be some kids that it is in their best interest safety wise to counsel them away from those activities. We can’t, as a family, allow a child to engage in dieting behaviors or let’s say disordered eating behaviors in pursuit of their specialized sport.

Dr. Sarah (00:37):

Today we’re talking about fostering a positive body image and a healthy mind body attitude, especially with kids who are participating in sports that have a high focus on the body activities like dance, gymnastics, wrestling, and many more that we’ll get into in this episode. Joining me for this conversation is Zoë Bisbing. She’s a psychotherapist who specializes in body image and eating disorders. She’s the creator of Body-Positive Home and she’s a mom of three. In our conversation, Zoë emphasizes the importance of creating secure attachments from the start laying a foundation of resilience that can withstand diet, culture, and societal pressures. She unpacks this important distinction between body image and body positivity, shedding really interesting light on the nuanced interplay between these actually different concepts that show up in our culture. And importantly, she discusses the delicate balance between supporting an athletic passion and the potential risks to the physical and mental wellbeing of young athletes, and always highlighting the importance of helping our children and ourselves make informed decisions when it comes to participating in these sports.


Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.


Hi, welcome to the show. We have Zoë Bisbing on. Thank you so much for being here. I’m really excited about this conversation that we are planning to have today.

Zoë (02:39):

Thank you for having me.

Dr. Sarah (02:42):

So you and I kind of know each other from the world of psychology and therapy in New York, but this is the first time we’re having a real conversation about this stuff. Can you let people know a little bit about the work that you do, your particular kind of focus, and then we could jump into talking about all kinds of fun stuff?

Zoë (03:02):

Sure. Well, that’s right. So we know each other as sort of what colleagues in the mental health space in New York City, and I guess by day I am a therapist. I specialize in eating disorders across the lifespan. I have a sort of subspecialty in children and adolescents and families with respect to disordered eating and eating disorders. But the practice I direct and my own practice, we work with people into their older years as well because eating disorders and disordered eating does not discriminate on the basis of age or really anything. I’m also a mom of three, and so my work as an eating disorder professional combined with my evolution as a parent really drives my work, which is sort of like my heart is in prevention and early intervention and really advocacy around helping parents and helping professionals and everybody understand what we actually can do on the front end to improve the air quality, improve the environmental protective factors for our young people so that hopefully as I always say, one day I’ll put myself out of business and there will be no more disordered eating and eating disorders to treat, which is a pipe dream.


But I think the sentiment is there. I know how hard it is to even be a therapist working with families who have a very entrenched 14-year-old dealing with an eating disorder. I know how hard it is to treat a 40-year-old who’s been struggling with disordered eating for 20, 30 years. And again, we can’t always prevent, but I am sort of obsessed with thinking about creative ways that we can really bring prevention and sort of body image resilience practices to life. And I find that in doing so, there’s this unintended consequence of healing for us that happens along the way. So my whole approach to advocacy really is around family-based body image resilience and repair work. And then of course going full circle. I am a therapist by day.

Dr. Sarah (05:25):

It’s so funny. I literally am like, I am you and you are me. Everything you’re saying, I relate to so much this idea of yes, I am by day. I never described it that way, but I might steal that from you. Yes, by day I’m a therapist. I work with families who have, and I used to work with adults actually how I ended up doing what sort of preventative work that I do, which is more about family systems and family dynamics and attachment relationships, but same thing like sub and eating disorders. It’s like I used to work with adults with chronic trauma history and attachment trauma in their early childhood. And when I had my son, my first two kids, I started to really study and just as a parent more about the psychology of parenting and the psychology of the parent-child relationship. And I had done my dissertation on attachment.


I was always interested in attachment, but from the retroactive healing of it with adults. And then when I had my kid and I was learning all these ways of being with a baby and I was like, oh, wait a minute, if I just could see certain things I was doing that were like, this kind of reminds me of what I do with my adult patients to sort of heal trauma and attachment is like if I can teach parents about the benefits of developing that secure attachment relationship from the get go, it’s very prophylactic. It’s very beneficial. Does it mean that they will never have to deal with mental health issues in the future? No, there’s too many factors.

Zoë (07:09):

There’s too many factors.

Dr. Sarah (07:12):

But to your point, can we build resilience and then can we also, your point of resilience and repair I think echoes very much the work that I do with family relationships. If we build resilience around attachment ruptures, misattunements, resolving conflict, getting through hard moments, not avoiding conflict, not just completely throwing in the towel, but then also can we repair when we do lose it, we’re going to lose it and we’re going to have going to have ruptures, but if we can repair, then there’s so much strength that comes with that to the system. And I feel like that’s very much what you are talking about in the language of eating disorders and how do you create that resilience around from an early age within the family system, how to create resilience around our relationships to eating our relationships to our body. You said, how do we clean the air? And I’m like, you’re right. So much of it is absorbed by osmosis. It’s not so direct.

Zoë (08:23):

Completely. No, I mean the parallel is uncanny and I think it must be a very intuitive experience for a therapist who becomes a parent, especially if you’ve worked primarily with adults or even teens to then see this little baby and then of course want to do everything you can to protect them. It comes from a place of that too. And I think that with it probably similarly, we’re probably both very obsessed with reverse engineering everything, teach or offer intervention wise in treatment. And I mean that’s sort of where my imagination runs really wild. I’m thinking about interventions that I use for body dysmorphia with adults and teens, and I’ve found very creative ways to reverse engineer, engineer it into playful games that we can play with kids. And so that’s sort of where my mind runs wild. And I think that with body image, and again, like you said, there’s so many factors, but with disordered eating they’re like psycho, there’s psychosocial.


It’s a psychosocial conundrum. There’s so many factors that go into it. And even if we really look at the family system and improve as much as we possibly can, and what I say embrace body positive values and build a body positive home, because I really think that’s the goal, that’s the goal to make sure, you know, did everything you could as a parent and in a family to heal what you could heal and build resilience where you could build resilience. And then essentially we’re sending our kids off into a very toxic complicated world around bodies and diet, culture, et cetera. I do think that it’s still worth it, but we also have to be mindful of it’s the wild west out there and we’re more about building critical thinking skills, et cetera, but really also embodying values that will be protective too.

Dr. Sarah (10:28):

I mean, it’s building the foundation, recognizing that somebody else is going to have a lot of say in building the top floors of that house, and we don’t get to control that, but if we have that solid foundation, that solid ground floor level, if other people pitch into create these upper floors of our child’s sense of self, even if some of that’s not great, not very well put together, other people brought their own kind of crappy tools to the job. I love it that our kid can still kind of have a solid structure to depend on and hard moments where they are faced with maybe a really painful experience around how their body was reflected back to them by somebody, right?

Zoë (11:16):

And quite literally making sure home is a place where no matter what your body looks like, that it’s a good body and that in our home we do believe that all bodies are good bodies. Does that mean that this is not Pollyanna work? This is not about teaching kids a lie, that there isn’t oppression out there and that there aren’t unfair standards, unrealistic standards, et cetera. Can’t you’re saying we can’t prevent them from enduring pain or interacting with people with crappy tools and maybe a lot of work to do on themselves, but we can’t undersell the importance of home being a place that you are accepted all of you, all parts of you, your fat parts, the parts that trigger me because I grew up in diet culture and my parents could never fully accept my body. And that makes it hard for me to accept your developing body, especially as you accrue more fat in this diet culture or anti-fat world. But I’m committed to making home a place where I’m looking at my biases and I’m making sure that that kid knows that no matter what they hear, no matter what they feel, they are affirmed here. That’s where the notion of a body positive home comes into play.

Dr. Sarah (12:32):

Yeah. So you make a distinction too between body image and body positivity.

Zoë (12:38):


Dr. Sarah (12:39):

Can you explain that?

Zoë (12:40):

Yes. I mean these are, I think both body positivity and body image separately are both wildly misunderstood terms and kind of concepts. I try to explain it like this, body positivity is a value system. It lives in your values and it’s a belief and it has nothing to do with feeling good about your body. It’s not about that. Body positivity is about believing that all bodies, all humans with a body deserve to have a positive relationship with that body. They deserve equality, they deserve dignity, respect, equal access to employment. Body positivity is a radical idea and it comes out of the 1960s. It’s a social movement, and by the way, it’s not designed for or by people that look like me. I’m like a straight size cis white lady. It’s not for me necessarily. It centers truly marginalized bodies, the bodies that society really has cast aside and said, that’s ugly, that’s unacceptable, that’s bad.


It centers them and it says everybody, no matter how far away it is from the ideal quote ideal in our society, that person deserves a positive relationship with that body. And that doesn’t even mean that that person is guaranteed to have a positive relationship with their body. It’s very hard for some people to ever get to a place beyond acceptance or neutrality. So again, I want everyone to understand body positivity as it lives in your values and then body image lives in your brain. And so body image has to do with the way you think and feel and then sort of act in response to the thoughts and feelings about your own body. And positive body image is also I think poorly understood positive body image is not necessarily that you love everything about your body all the time. Positive body image to me is that you don’t think a whole lot about your body.


You’re embodied. You live your life. You have the privilege of not having to worry so much about looking at yourself in the mirror or thinking even I got to keep my body this way because I only like it this way. This is shaky body image. And certainly negative body image is maybe more obviously when you have a lot of very negative thoughts and feelings that are persistent about your body. So I think it’s actually possible to be body positive, let’s say in your values and have bad body image because of all the things that contribute to negative body image. I think it’s also possible to have positive body image. You just have a lot of body privilege. You never really thought too much about it and also not be particularly body positive because maybe you don’t care so much about the sort of social justice issues here. And so I think separating these things out is really important and then sort of appreciating how they maybe intersect is important too. But I like to really start there with a foundational understanding that these are two different yet interconnected things.

Dr. Sarah (15:52):

I think that’s a really helpful way of distinguishing that. I have not really, they are very blurry in our culture. They get interchanged constantly. Another thing you were describing that made me think about body image, it almost sounds like yes, body image and body positivity interact with one another, but they’re separate. But the way you describe body image almost feels like there’s continuance even inside of that. It sounds like there’s a spectrum within body image that can be positive valence, negative valence, but even there’s another sort of axis which is secure versus really insecure, stable, embodied, integrated versus fragmented self-conscious, which might not really be about positive or negative, but can be more about how integrated is my sense of my body.

Zoë (16:46):

I think that’s really well said. I mean I actually really thinking about it that way, it’s a little more dimensional, and you’re right because multiple spectrums there, and if you think about it, this is the intersection with body positivity. We don’t live in a particularly body positive world. It’s trying to be, culture is shifting a little bit. It’s trying. But generally speaking, I think selling the idea of body positivity, it’s kind of a joke to a lot of people. What do you mean all bodies are good bodies? What do you mean fat’s? Okay, what are you talking about? And so in a way, it’s such a ridiculous feat or expectation to put on somebody to improve their body image in a world that is so corroded with negative ideas about bodies. So none of us are a vacuum. And so what you’re talking about these, I guess I’m adding maybe a third spectrum, it’s very hard to get past that fragmented place if you’re living in a culture that is essentially reinforcing all the negative. And then of course we have the sort of different levels of culture. You have the broader one and then the family, which is what we can actually work on.

Dr. Sarah (18:03):

So thinking more in terms of the every day, what families are contending with, yes, there are things that we can do inside of our nuclear family system to increase our child’s integrated sense of self and their comfort with their body and the idea that they have a good body. I love that you have a good body, your body is good, but there’s all these spokes outside of the family system. They go to school, they go to dance class, they play a sport, they have sleepovers. There are so many things, and it’s not like we don’t want to avoid those things, but how do we help them, assuming we’re doing the work at home, and we could talk a little bit about how to shore that up if we’re not sure how to do that work at home. But let’s say we’re doing the work at home and we are sending our kids out into these environments. Are there things we could do to help support them to transfer those skills of having that integrated sense of self and good relationship with their body and the bodies of others Out in worlds where I am thinking ballet class, we’re all standing in front of a mirror and it’s very hard to not be in your body or it’s very hard to not get into your head about your body and just be in your body.

Zoë (19:25):

Yeah, I mean totally. So okay, I want to kind of break it down into a few responses. I think the first one is I’m a realist. I’m a realist when it comes to what any one individual person can do about anything in this world. I am not negative. I consider myself an advocate, maybe even an activist, you could call me. So I believe we can do more than we think, and also we can’t do as much as we want on some level. So I’m a realist and I actually just want everyone to, you’re not a super person, you’re not a superhero. We are going to be sending our kids into the unknown period all the time. You mentioned ballet. There are absolutely extra risks in certain areas including aesthetic sports like ballet or wrestling or ice skating, or especially as when a kid is three, four, it sort of tends to be less risky.


Although I’ve heard crazy things about what gets said and sort of the sort of air quality again of even the four or five-year-old, but certainly as kids get a little bit more. And I was one of those kids, I was a very specialized ballet dancer. I grew up in the nineties. I mean this was far worse I think than now. But then again, who knows? I hear crazy stuff now. I think as parents, our job is actually just to try to understand what the risk is and then make informed decisions and do a lot of cost benefit analysis. And the reality is a kid in a slim body who’s sort of naturally that way, who’s eating is meaning normal, is regular. They’re enjoying all their favorite foods. They eat variety. They eat chips, they eat burgers, they eat salad, maybe fish. There’s a kind of food neutral vibe to this kid’s life.


They eat intuitively. They happen to enjoy the privilege of being in a slim body that fits nicely into the mold of what the dance studio needs or what the ice skating team wants. It’s not that I don’t see risk for this kid, there is risk for that kid, but there’s a unique risk for a kid whose body is actually naturally not going to be that way. Because what we really want to do as parents is notice how do I essentially prevent dieting? How do I prevent my child from engaging in behaviors that will help them fit into the mold of what they need to look like here, but is actually compromising their physical health and their psychological wellbeing as well. So in a way, I don’t want parents to think that they need to be in the studio all the time and listening and making sure there’s a certain amount of release that has to happen.


But I do want parents to understand the unique risk factors that exist in a variety of different spaces. Take some precautions to get a sense of how does this dance studio feel and think about disordered eating and eating disorders. Are you doing anything here to support the body image of these kids? Are you not just want to know? I feel like there’s some of that. And then there’s also really attuning to your kid and sort of noticing is it safe for my kid to keep doing this? I want parents to be asking that question because then down the line, especially as things get more and more rigorous and competitive, there are going to be some kids that it is in their best interest safety wise to counsel them away from those activities. As a matter of safety, we can’t as a family allow a child to engage in dieting behaviors or let’s say disordered eating behaviors in pursuit of their specialized sport. And as a family, we need to have policies around that. So I’m sort of trying to name some of the things we can do, but also appreciating that a lot of what you’re doing is doing that cost benefit analysis and then taking some risks along the way.

Dr. Sarah (23:37):

Right. So dance, wrestling, ice skating, are there gymnastics, I would imagine, are there other sports that fall into this category of aesthetic sports?

Zoë (23:50):

Definitely. I mean, I would say that there’s, so guess wrestling, what did we say? Ice skating, gymnastics, dance, swimming, even swimming is one of them. The sort of team-based sports tend to be a little more protective, but certainly running, there’s a lot of unfortunate guidance that serious runners are given around being slim in order to improve speed. So it’s sort of the aesthetic sports and also the sports that there’s always kind of a theme of the leaner, the better, any sort of sport that’s like that. And again, like I said, the team, there’s lots of benefits to sports too. So I’m kind of trying to name that as well. We are missing some, I’d have to look them up. It’s hard for me to call to recall. Gymnastics, dance, ice skating, wrestling, sometimes horseback riding. That can be one. And there are a few others that I’m forgetting right now. It

Dr. Sarah (25:01):

Seems too though that there’s this, oh, I wonder if tennis is one.

Zoë (25:05):

I mean tennis, it very well may be. I will say anecdotally, I have seen my fair share of tennis, young tennis players both in outpatient and inpatient settings because of the, I think with sports we’re not really going in this direction, but there’s also this, the way in which the identity integration is concerning becoming too identified with myself as an athlete. I think that is another risk factor because if and when it doesn’t work out or you have to move away from it, whether it’s because of a physical injury or a psychological injury, there’s a lot of grief around that for teens or younger kids or older people even who are no longer a dancer. Who am I without this? I mean, that becomes its own sort of, again, risk to consider.

Dr. Sarah (25:57):

And I mean, it’s good I think to think about these risks. And also I think there’s this interesting balance that we have to factor in as parents or as therapists that I kids who are engaging in a sport and they’re finding it to be more and more and more a part of their identity, a part of their excelling. It’s becoming a bigger part of their life. That in and of itself is not unhealthy. And obviously there’s this natural atrophy of kids try lots of things. They may go this level, this level, this level. Then, oh, this other thing over here felt kind of cool too. And some kids kind of have more of a broad sampling of sports, but they never really are going to go to college to play that sport. They’re never go into that sort of a more intensive training elite athlete zone.


I would imagine the kids who kind of peel away from that trajectory of elite athlete have a bit of a protective factor there too, in terms of how much is their identity being kind of consolidated into this one role? And also what are the body and diet and those factors? How are they getting centralized? But then let’s say we’ve peeled away those layers of the onion, those kids are, they’ve fallen off, but my kid is still kind of going, they’re really, really good. They’re becoming, they’re winning a lot of serious achievements. It’s becoming more central to their identity. And I also, my thoughts like, okay, there’s a little bit of is it the sport? Is it the pro athlete? Is it the athleticism and their excellence in that field that’s potentially putting them on a track that involves more risk or is it possibly the achievement perfectionism intensity that actually might be putting them at more risk for eating disordered stuff than the sport? I just wonder about

Zoë (28:15):

That. I mean, I think we are going to get into very murky territory because we’ll never know. And I think there’s an additional component which I’ll just to raise awareness around eating disorder risk. There’s this third, I’ll add a third that it might be, and again, we’ll never know which of the three, and there’s probably many more than the three part of what I really want parents to be aware of with kids that are in these serious sports, these kids, even if they’re not experiencing disordered thinking or body image distress, they’re just super active. Sometimes super active kids are unable to actually keep up dietary with nutrition, with their developmental needs, and they can be biologically, physiologically at risk of disordered eating. So you might have those other things going to, but then low weight actually is a risk factor for disordered eating in and of itself.

Dr. Sarah (29:17):

Later in life or during?

Zoë (29:22):

Throughout. So, you hear a lot about very competitive athletes. I’ve experienced this both professionally and also in moms that write to me on Instagram and tell me about their horror story where they didn’t know that their child was weight suppressed because they had strength. They were excelling in their sport that maybe even their doctor said, well, she’s active, she’s not gotten her period yet, or she only gets her period every now and then. This is now into adolescence. I’m not so concerned. She looks great, she’s healthy, she’s achieving, and all along things get missed. So this kid maybe needed in order to go through puberty, effectively needed to gain 30 pounds in order to actually keep going developmentally, both for their physiological wellbeing, their bone health, all the physiological stuff, and also their mental health. So that’s one of the risks too. This sort of super activity can suppress kids’ weight and also disconnect them from their capacity to eat intuitively.


That’s the sort of other dimension. So oftentimes I recommend as a safety precaution for all of these kids, the ones you’re describing, the ones that are kind of continuing, I always want these families to have a trusted dietician that knows about elite sports and eating disorders to be able to consult with that family to make sure that that family knows what are my kids’ nutritional needs. Because you can’t necessarily trust these kids, not because of disordered eating or thinking, but genuinely they’re cut off sometimes from their capacity to get the right amount of nutrition. So that’s its own thread that, and I think in just it’s like how do we know? How do we know what’s what here?

Dr. Sarah (31:09):

And so it’s like, because we can’t know, all we could do, we were saying is obviously encouraged from that get go of having a body positive home and working on body image resilience, but then understanding when you go into this world, helping them kind of just know they’re going into a space. I almost feel like helping the child be kind of an educated consumer of the sport that they’re playing.

Zoë (31:35):

Yes. A hundred percent.

Dr. Sarah (31:37):

It’s not like don’t do these things, especially if you’re a wonderful ballet dancer. It’s not like we’re saying, don’t do ballet. It’s toxic. You should never do this. We got to take away this thing that you love that gives you confidence, that brings you joy.

Zoë (31:53):

It’s joyful movement. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (31:54):

Yeah, it’s wonderful. And I don’t want to pathologize or stigmatize any of these sports. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. I say that all the time.

Zoë (32:03):

Yeah, I agree.

Dr. Sarah (32:05):

How do we set these kids up for more success? How do we empower parents to ask those kinds of questions, get those nutritionists? I love that idea of if you have an elite athlete, you’re probably investing a lot into their athletic career or their athletic experience. Add a nutritionist.

Zoë (32:23):

Exactly. I always say these kids are already expensive, whether it’s the gear or the hotels or the point shoes or the coaches, whatever, it’s one of the, I don’t even want to call it a hack. It’s one of the things, it’s like due diligence. And let me say something. I have a 4-year-old daughter who loves to dance, and I remember with my own sort of complicated experience in the ballet world saying with friends years ago, I would never let my kid dance. And then when I got to know my little girl, I see the way she intuitively moves and she loves to dance. So I have her in dance class and I picked the Ailey school because I kind of like a post-colonial dance school for her where there’s more diversity, hopefully there’s more body diversity. Hopefully we’re not in white supremacy land, which I feel like also infects a lot of these elite sports.


But to your point, as they get older, the stakes get higher. So I am absolutely not trying to keep your kids out of these joyful ways to move. There’s so many benefits to it too, especially when you discover that you have movement, competence, body confidence, there’s body image protection in this stuff too. So complicated about it all. But I do think that knowing what do I need? Who do I need on my team? I’m not going to hire a dietician. She’s four, I’m not worried about it. But these kids that are dancing every day, working out all the time, we do need extra support around that. And I do think that making sure that especially as kids get more specialized and more competitive about it, making sure they see who are the disruptors in those fields. I think of in dance, there’s sort of two disruptors I think about.


One is Misty Copeland who I think is doing a lot for the ballet world about challenging what a ballerina looks like and she’s calling out a lot of systemic oppression in the ballet world. So making sure our kids who are dancers see her as a role model. And there’s lots of ways to step up and say, I challenge the way things are here when you can have thought provoking conversations with your kids. What do you think about the fact that everybody’s body kind of looks the same here? Making sure you’re showing influencers on social media that are fat ballerinas, making sure you’re showing this is what a dancer can look like too. So again, you want to increase their, it’s almost like you want to offer them cognitive dissonance. You want them to hold that in mind so that they’re not perpetuating the problem, right?


Because someday they’re going to have to retire even if they become professional and who, do you know what I mean? Could they become a dancer that opens a more size inclusive dance studio? This is the way I’m thinking. And I do also think we want to be modeling such strong values at home, not that we’re undermining and saying, oh, your dance studio sucks. That’s not the point. But keeping open, how are the things you’re hearing there different than you’re hearing here? We talk a lot about the importance of all bodies being good bodies. Does it feel that way at your dance studio? I find, and I’m sure you do too, that with when there’s a good connection with your kid, they do tend to come to you with the things they’ve heard that didn’t feel right. And that’s partly I think what we want to try to do.


It’s almost like raise their ability to sort of say, I heard something that didn’t sound right. Or in the same way that if a teacher touches them in a weird way, we want them to come and say, my teacher touched me in a weird way that didn’t feel right. It’s like I heard some stuff that didn’t sound right, and I’ve seen this so many times where there’s a little whistleblower, they come and they just say, I heard this happened. And then from there, a parent who can be more of an advocate can sort of intervene as needed. So it’s not like there’s a prescription and this is how you do it, but it’s more about thinking critically and making sure home is a place that might feel and look very differently than the ballet school. But I think that contrast is important for kids to see too.

Dr. Sarah (36:50):

Yeah. No, I think that’s so helpful. And I don’t want to completely gloss over the home piece because we jumped right over into the not at home part, assuming people were building that safe foundation. But maybe you could talk a little bit before we closed just about maybe a few things parents can be mindful of doing at home to create that safe foundation and that security and that resilience around body image.

Zoë (37:19):

Yeah, I mean there are four principles or thoughts that feel like distill the essence of a body positive home. Some of these are beliefs and I guess invitations for parents to, I think so much of this has to do with understanding our own biases and making sure that we are not just perpetuating food and body shame because that’s what most of us grew up with. So the first thought is all bodies are good bodies and sort of understanding what that means. So that might translate to stopping comments about bodies when the news is on. And you’ve noticed the anchor has lost weight, not saying, oh my gosh, she’s lost so much weight because that sort of perpetuates this idea that matters. So sort of stopping body talk and noticing, am I giving body compliments? Am I kind of behaving in a way that makes it seem like it matters more if you have this body versus this body?


So I think this can come to life with the books you bring into your home, whether it’s for young children that are really celebrating body diversity. Sometimes I think putting up art in your home or making sure that you have access to body diversity so that you’re living those, your home becomes sort of an aid for you there. So I do think that working on this, or even just sitting and reflecting all bodies are goodbyes. Do I believe that if I don’t, how do I create the optics that I do? So I do think that that’s one of them all food is good. Food is the second one, which is really about bringing more food neutrality into the home and thinking twice about talking about my diet. The fourth is really appreciating that health is such a tricky word and making sure that you are noticing ways in which you might be thinking about health as measured by weight and making sure that you’re doing some work around decoupling those things so that you’re modeling for your kids that health can look a lot of different ways.


And that the fourth one is that fat is nothing to fear. So this really ties into all bodies or good bodies. We live in an anti-fat culture and it’s actually really imperative for eating disorder prevention to distill that idea that fat is bad. Fat is actually essential for growth, it’s important for puberty and actually it’s weight stigma that is the bigger problem than actually being fat. And so a lot of people hear that and say, well, I don’t believe that. I don’t agree with that. And we could do a separate episode on that if you want. But the idea here is to make sure you are modeling a belief that all bodies are worthy and that in our family we might think about it differently than you’ll hear out in the culture, but you can know that if you’re working to believe those things. And that’s sort of what I’m trying to help people with. You are doing a little bit of both eating disorder prevention and everyday activism. I do think it helps the culture too.

Dr. Sarah (40:31):

And like you were saying earlier, when we do these kinds of things for our kids, we tend to also heal in inner parts of ourselves. The child inside that didn’t hear that when we were growing up, even if we had a body positive home, whether that was a conscious choice by our parents or it was just happened, weren’t again, we were out in the world. We took in those comments from the ballet teacher or whatever or read all the teen magazines that told us as 12 year olds how to have a 1200 calorie diet and eat nothing. No zero grams of fat. We have our own stuff to heal. And I’m wondering too, obviously if you are able to keep these four pillars in mind, I imagine it can be very healing for ourselves.

Zoë (41:28):

Enormously. I mean I think that’s the sort of magic of it that when you start even relating to feeding your kids with this mentality, a lot comes up around what you got, what you didn’t exactly like what you’re saying. And I’m very moved when I hear from people that follow my Instagram account who don’t have kids, and they’re just like, I am healing my inner child. I don’t even have kids. I don’t even want kids. But this speaks to me and to me that feels almost like more validating than when someone’s saying, this is really helping me relate to my kid or whatever. That’s important of course. But that I think is the essence of the intergenerational healing. And we do we need it.

Dr. Sarah (42:19):

And I could not agree with you more, and I could see also we’re talking about how we might be projecting our own sort of internal toxic relationship to food onto our kids, which obviously in doing this work, we’re counteracting that and potentially even healing it. But just in the athletic world, I think there’s this other part, like a parallel process where there might be times where we’re projecting our own experiences onto our child, not just at home in the food space and the body space, but outside in the athlete space, whether it’s I had this experience as an athlete or I didn’t and I want you to have it and I need you to take over where I felt like I had to leave off and that pressure. And I’m sure there could be body related stuff and also a whole lot of other stuff that gets put onto that. And that might be its own episode too.

Zoë (43:24):

I mean I think I have a lot of compassion for those parents. It is its own episode. But I think the thing that I’ll say is I feel for these parents of kids that are in that spot where there’s a lot of opportunity for ascending and getting accolades, and I feel for these parents because they do need to give their all to support that kid. I remember my own mom just being a consummate dance mom. She bought me all the stuff and took me everywhere I needed to go and got me the teachers. And in a way, it’s very hard to be doing that and also be creating space for all of it to not work out or creating space for essentially saying, we’ve taken this as long, as far as your body will let us, and now we have to listen to your body. It’s very hard to do that because you’re sort of all in and then you have to…

Dr. Sarah (44:28):

Sunk cost fallacy, right? I already invested this much, whether it was financially or emotionally, emotionally, energetically. We are in so deep now we got to ride this wave all the way to the end. And I think that could be a really scary prospect for parents to hear what we’re saying and say like, oh my gosh, maybe there is too much at stake and I don’t want to do this. But that’s really scary because will the whole house come tumbling down mine, my child’s right, if their whole identity is built upon this and we say, you know what? This isn’t healthy anymore. It’s gotten to a place where the cost is outweighing the benefit for you on a lot of levels. How do we pull back?

Zoë (45:09):

I think that it is, it is because you have to be really prepared to tolerate a lot of grief. And then that line between your grief and their grief, and I was hearing you say that and I thought, oh my gosh, right then a certain kid, how do we know when the kid isn’t just doing it to keep the parent’s dream going? It’s very hard to untangle all that. And I do think it’s just being able to step back. And again, that cost benefit analysis as we’re always doing as parents, but I think it’s a unique brand that we have to do for this type of kid who’s kind of got these maybe athletic gifts and drive. And I think often those are the kids we don’t worry about because they’re thriving and they’re excelling and they got it. But these are the kids that I really worry about their sense of self without it. And also their risk for body image issues and disordered eating.

Dr. Sarah (46:07):

And I’d throw in there their risk for that sort of perfectionism and rigidity and difficulty being kind of pivoting through the world within that identity as a pro athlete of whatever fill in the blank sport and also outside of it. And so your view, your lens is the eating disorder lens. My lens is sort of the more general mental health lens, but I think there’s a lot of potential there for challenge and again, and a gift, and not necessarily that, but it’s like as the parent, how do we separate our own kind of stuff out from being projected onto our child and really be able to zoom out and look at the whole child, their whole landscape, not just the role as the athlete. And that’s hard, but I think that’s really the goal.

Zoë (47:06):

I think so. And making it okay. I think these kids need us to make sure they know that we celebrate rest also. And that also those kids, they tend to inhabit bodies that are very celebrated by the culture. And I think we also need to make it really okay for their bodies to change as they step back. I think that that’s a really hard, puberty is a really hard transition for a lot of parents to watch their little babies who were skinny and scrawny start to chunk up and plump up. And some of those kids are just going to be become chunky plumpy kids or adults. And to me, that’s fine. Some are going to grow out and then up. But I think that the anxiety of watching bodies change is something to pay attention to also. And with athletes, a lot of them have sort of delayed those body changes because of their sport. And so it’s important to make space for that. So that kid might be kind of essentially going through puberty changes at 21, and we need to make sure that we are validating one, that that’s normal, and two, that it’s hard. It’s hard to let your body change. It’s hard to not be athletic anymore in the way that you used to be. It doesn’t mean you still can’t be, but we got to let your body do its thing. So that’s its own dimension. There’s so many conversations here.

Dr. Sarah (48:33):

So many things. So we tried our best to cover least parts of this, but it’s complex. It’s truly complex. So people are hearing this and they want to reach out to you for more support around this or they want to follow your work. How can people connect with you?

Zoë (48:53):

Right now? The best way is to follow me on Instagram @mybodypositivehome, just because that’s really where the most active conversation is happening and where my content creation is, certainly my website, which is bodypositivehome.com, and maybe to get on my mailing list to make sure that you’re up to date on when workshops are happening. I do offer a support group every other week that has been really nice. It’s our bodies, their bodies, community chat. So, so far, the moms that are coming have kids at all different ages, but we’re really exploring this intersection of our stuff and their stuff and our anxiety, feeding them their appetites, watching their bodies change. And it’s a really lovely, I really enjoy that. But I do offer lots of different workshops and I have lots of interesting things coming down the pipeline. So follow me on Instagram and join my mailing list through my website.

Dr. Sarah (49:53):

We’ll put links to all that in the show notes too, so people can find you easily. And oh, I’m going to be paying attention to what’s coming down the pike. You got me excited.

Zoë (50:03):

Yes. It’s just a long haul, like three kids and work and all these things that are supposed to have happened last year, but they’re coming.

Dr. Sarah (50:14):

They’ll come when they come and they’ll be there when they’re there. It’ll be great.

Zoë (50:18):


Dr. Sarah (50:19):

Thank you so much.

Zoë (50:21):

My pleasure. It was great talking.

Dr. Sarah (50:28):

Thanks so much for listening. If you are interested in learning more about Attachment science, check out my free guide, the Four Pillars of Fostering Secure Attachment. In this guide, I teach you how to use the principles of attachment science to help you parent with attunement and trust by focusing on four simple things. You can work towards helping your child form a secure attachment bond, which is a predictor of so many positive aspects of mental health, including self-esteem independence, healthier relationships with others throughout their lifespan, better academic and workplace achievement, and lower reported instances of anxiety and depression, not a small list. So to download this free guide and learn the four pillars of fostering secure attachment, go to dr sarah bren.com/secure. That’s dr sarah bren.com/secure. And until next time, don’t be a stranger.

198. Youth sports and body image: Fostering positive body image and self-esteem in young athletes with Zoë Bisbing