Should Parents Put Their Kids on a Diet? by Liz Nord

 Source

I am in the April issue of Redbook, discussing if we should put our children on diets. I said, “No”. This is my unedited version. I’d love to hear what you think!

Also, I am contributing to Cassandra Mack’s new book, “Grooming Girls for Greatness: Advice and Wisdom for Parents From Parents, Teachers, and Caregivers,” which will be out late Summer or in the Fall. This is a book to help parents build confidence, character, and coping skills in their daughters. More info to come…

Should Parents Put Their Kids on Diets?

Diets and children are not a good mix. I want my kids to have life-long healthy relationships with food and their bodies. By modeling a healthy lifestyle, we can teach our children to celebrate their bodies, savor food, and be active for life. Dieting, which includes food deprivation, restrictive eating, excessive exercise, and negative body talk, can lead to low self-esteem, negative body image, and serious eating disorders.

I have heard first-hand, from women who dieted as children, who expressed the horrible physical, mental, and social consequences and warped thinking that diets lead to—I even know someone who died from the affects of childhood dieting because it led to her disorder eating, which spiraled out of control. I also know women who have wrecked their metabolism, become obese, become anorexic, suffer from body image issues, or lost teeth from binging that started as “innocent” childhood dieting and food vilification.

Kids have immense societal pressures to look and act a certain way. They hear criticism from each other and hear kids criticizing themselves. That is why it is so important for us parents to be our children’s safe haven where there is no judging, teasing, or expectations to be “perfect”. Kids will go though phases when they will be thin or put on extra weight before growth spurts, or at the onset of puberty. We need to let kids know that they are wonderful exactly the way they are, help build their self-esteem and confidence, and give them the tools they need to thrive.

If my children were “overweight”, I would think about what that really means. I’m bothered by our society’s notion that you have to be a specific size to be healthy or attractive. All kids have different bone structures, their weight is distributed differently, and they have different genetic factors that play a role in the way their body develops. It’s okay to be healthy thin, healthy full-figured, or any place in between. One way is not better that the other. The important thing is to be physically and mentally healthy and help your child to know they are great the way they are.

Having said that, I am aware that childhood obesity  is on the rise and if my child were clinically obese, I would look at seriously changing family habits—eating healthier and being more active. Kids don’t drive themselves to Burger King, they are not in charge of the grocery shopping, young kids are not making the meals, and they probably won’t set limits on themselves for how long they are watching TV and playing video games or how many treats they eat. That is the parents’ responsibility. If positive lifestyle changes are not enough to help a truly clinically obese child become healthy, then a call to their pediatrician may be in order to make sure there is not an underlying metabolic disorder or some other medical condition causing weight gain. However, the child does not need to hear that first conversation with the doctor and should not be made to feel there is something wrong with them or be made to feel self-conscious.

To me, being healthy isn’t about size or weight. Being healthy is about taking care of your body, exercising, feeling centered, eating healthy, laughing, having fun, feeling energetic, learning, living, loving, and divulging in whatever your cravings are in moderation. I truly believe you can be any where on the size or weight chart to achieve health and happiness.

It seems straightforward to me: Set a good example. Give kids a plethora of healthy food options at home and in their lunches always, along with yummy treats in moderation. Teach kids to eat when they are hungry, enjoy a balanced variety of foods, and to be active because it feels good—not because they have to. I encourage parents and children to get off the couch; unplug from games, TV’s, and computers; and get moving—go for a family walk, run, bike, dance, or join a sports team. Go outside and play! I think we should focus on creating a healthy, positive, active lifestyle; not body weight and dieting. Good habits start at home!

What do you think?

Here is a link to the Redbook piece. I would love it if you’d leave a comment there! Maybe they will have me back to write more!

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Heather
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 08:24:31

    This article started out well… body acceptance, healthy not being about weight.. and then it got into just that.. health being about weight. because you can be “full figured” and healthy.. but if you’re “obese” then … well *then* that’s not healthy. So it’s not about weight.. until it is. It’s a hierarchy of weight where you’re still putting certain weights into the unhealthy- you say “obese” but you dot specify what you mean by that. Clinically obese? because clinically obese isn’t very big. You should be encouraging your child to be active and eat nutritiously regardless of size! Thin children shouldn’t be going to burger king either! you basically say that health isn’t about size.. unless you’re fat. Maybe you didn’t mean it that way.. but maybe you did. and either way you may need to rethink your views on health.. do you truly believe in health at every size or just health at a small enough size?

    Reply

    • Liz
      Apr 06, 2011 @ 08:43:46

      Hi Heather,

      For me it comes down to this… Being healthy isn’t about size or weight. It’s about living a healthy lifestyle. Yes, I was referring to clinically obese. Thank you for pointing that out; I did add that word to my piece just now. I am talking about children who may have an underlying serious medical condition that needs attention—again it’s not about the size. It’s about what’s going on inside their body that may need medical attention—diabetes, metabolic disorder, etc. I don’t think my article went to health = a specific weight. For me, being healthy isn’t about size or weight! Thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify!

      And I said in my final paragraph–It seems straightforward to me: Set a good example. Give kids a plethora of healthy food options at home and in their lunches always, along with yummy treats in moderation. Teach kids to eat when they are hungry, enjoy a balanced variety of foods, and to be active because it feels good—not because they have to. I encourage parents and children to get off the couch; unplug from games, TV’s, and computers; and get moving—go for a family walk, run, bike, dance, or join a sports team. Go outside and play! I think we should focus on creating a healthy, positive, active lifestyle; not body weight and dieting.

      Reply

  2. Elisha
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 09:54:16

    Children will be what we, as parents, empower them to be. Our role is to equip our children to navigate the world of food – and, what we provide in our homes will be the foundation they take through life.

    I agree with you: kids should not be put on diets. NO ONE should be put on a diet. However, if one is raising a child with a weight issue (or one has a weight issue as an adult), it is a sign that something in the daily food intake must be amended. Where a child is overweight, it in not the child that should diet – it is the PARENT that must learn how to offer better choices for the child to prevent the weight issue from worsening.

    We parents must be models of what we hope our children to be and we must use every opportunity to teach about healthy choices (for food, exercise, spiritual walk) – and how unhealthy choices will show themselves through our physical state.

    Reply

  3. Elisha
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 09:58:00

    I should clarify: I don’t mean people shouldn’t be aware of what they eat when I say “don’t diet”. What I do mean is that we should stop thinking of getting healthy as a short-term “diet” fix. It isn’t about “dieting”, it’s about establishing a culture of health in our homes that becomes so second-nature that our habits of health will pass on for generations to come.

    Reply

  4. Jen
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 10:07:24

    I do not like to use the term diet, but I do believe in eating healthy and portion control in some situations. My six year old would eat until you told her no. She is predispositened for obesiety due to genetics. Her grandparent don’t know the meaning of no and healthy eating and she gained 6 pounds short span of 3 weeks. Since being home from 8 months she has only put on 3 pounds. We only have fruits and veggies for snacks in the house. We do let her have sweets about once or twice a week and I do my best to get out to the park a couple times a week. Now my son who has a great metobolism I let eat as much as he is willing to eat, but of course healthy meals. But, I know from expreience not all children are created equal and it is up to the parents to create a meal plan for each of thier children. And with so many healthy choices out there for dining now days there is no reason that just because your going out does that mean consuming thousands of calories. My children don’t have soda to drink at the house so when we go out to eat and the waitress asks them what they will be having the usually beat me and blurt out water before I even have the chance to say anything. What does annoy me is when the waiter says you know the kids meals come with a soda included in the price. If I wanted my children to have a sugary caviety causing drink I would have ordered it for them. You are responsible for teaching your children healthy eating habits now when they are still young and giving them the best start in life.

    Reply

  5. Marci
    Apr 06, 2011 @ 10:13:38

    I do a workshop for kids and parents called Fit vs Fiction that deals with body image and eating disorders and I can tell you that while childhood obesity is an issue right now, putting so much emphasis on SIZE rather than HEALTH is like trying to erase one problem by creating another.

    Of course, obesity is unhealthy..but TOO many parents are stressing out over every piece of food their kids and this stress is filtering down to their kids and creating some pretty stressed out kids!

    I believe in balance and moderation..I don’t believe in a “Good food, Bad food” mentality and think we need to learn how to enjoy and respect food rather than fear it. http://www.fitvsfiction.com

    Reply

  6. ExperimentalMom
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 22:06:43

    My mother, with good intentions, put me on a diet when I was in kindergarten because I was a chubby child. If she hadn’t told me it was a diet and just given me correct portions of healthy food, while encouraging me to play outside more the effect would have been positive. Since she told me I was on I diet I became very aware of my weight and that stayed with me through my teen years. I agree with the post: modeling good habits for children is the best way to go.

    Reply

  7. Liz
    Apr 25, 2011 @ 15:14:14

    Thank you, Experimental Mom. :)

    Reply

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