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!