As a former childhood dieter, here are my Top 5 reason why kids shouldn’t be put on diets.
Intuitive eating When kids are told when, how much, what kinds of foods to eat because of a diet, they start losing their intuitive senses about food and hunger. When we tell a child not to eat anymore despite them being truly hungry, we are telling them to ignore their body. Saying “eat” when they aren’t hungry because it is time to eat is forcing them to ignore their intuitive ability.
Think about a toddler, how easy is it to tell them to eat or not eat? They tend to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full because they are using their innate body wisdom. Dieting crushes that wisdom. To this day, I still have a hard time with knowing when I’m full or to eat only when I am hungry.
Lifelong Ramifications 45% of moms encourage their girls to diet and 58% of overweight or obese kids are teased by their family members. Childhood dieters often suffer consequences as adults that are hard to overcome and become challenges they experience their entire lives. Things such as eating disorders and obesity can follow a person as an adult. When kids are put on diets, they see that they are different than others, they often have to eat different foods, are teased or bullied and often feel as though they are not good enough unless they lose the weight. And, there are many people who lose the weight, but still feel these repercussions because they have become a part of their brain’s programming.
Diets don’t teach healthy eating Lifelong lessons on how to eat healthy are lost when diets are in play. Dieting does not teach kids how to eat healthily, it doesn’t focus on vitamins, nutrients, minerals, etc. What it does is drive kids to follow fad diets, informs them that losing weight is the only goal and begins to alter their perceptions about and around food. It also doesn’t connect the mind and body together the way healthy eating does. When we eat healthy foods, we feel better in our bodies, we can think clearly, we are not as tired, we do not have the peaks and valleys in energy and the list goes on. A dieting child may not make these connections because they are not feeling these positive feelings like they could be.
Destructive relationship with food Kids who are put on diets at a young age often develop an unhealthy relationship with food. They may have episodes of binging, they may restrict food, they may reward themselves with food or they may even use it to punish themselves in some way. Because they started at such an early age, they never had a fully developed relationship before they started dieting, creating many potential problems for these kids. There are some children that do lose the weight, but can swing the opposite way from being an overeater to restricting food to stay thin. Of course there are always exceptions, but if you were a childhood dieter, do you have a positive relationship with food? Most cannot say yes to this question.
Self-esteem and Self-worth As mentioned earlier, 58% of overweight or obese kids are teased by their own family members! What does this do to a child with an already fragile self-esteem? Will this child feel they are loved? Will they brush it off in front of others but internalize the teasing and degrade their self-worth? After all, if your family teases you, what would you expect from people you don’t know? Dieting also signals to a child that they are not okay as they are that something needs to be corrected. Also, if you have more than one child and you treat them differently and allow them different foods, you are potentially sending mixed signals to those. How could that affect a child’s own thoughts about him or herself?
Conclusion As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider. The best way to help your child is to lead by example and SHOW them what healthy eating looks like. Have them go to the grocery store with you, let them pick out some fruits and veggies. If they pick it out, they are more likely to eat it. Have them help you in the kitchen, they will learn an appreciation for food and for nourishing their body.
P.S. Moms…what we daughters see you do, what we hear you say to yourself about yourself, is being registered and learned. It is probably how WE will talk to ourselves later in life and what we see you do, WE will more than likely do ourselves….sometimes without even realizing where we picked it up.