A number of parents have spoken to me about putting their child on a ‘diet’ because they feel, or have been told, that the child is overweight. Although I know what they are referring to when they ask for a diet, the first thing I usually do is explained to them that a ‘diet’ is simply the foods and beverages a person eats and drinks on a regular basis. Secondly, I explained why putting a child on a diet, where certain foods are restricted and off limits, is not such a good idea.
- Restricting foods means restricting nutrients. When groups of foods are removed from a child’s diet (the foods and beverages they take in), it also means that the nutrients those foods provide are also missing. During childhood it is important that we build a strong foundation so the house, our bodies, can stand strong in the years to come. Ensuring our children eat a wide array of foods supports their optimal growth and health.
- It affects their self-esteem. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) agrees that putting a growing child on a diet stigmatizes them. Imagine being the child that everyone knows can’t have certain foods because my parents think I am fat enough to be on a diet. That does something incredibly negative to the child’s self-esteem. Of course, as a parent, your intention for putting the child on a diet is not because you feel he or she is grossly overweight. You may have done so because you are concerned for his or her future and want to start making changes to the way he eats. The problem is, the child doesn’t have the ability to do all this rationalizing and will automatically think something is wrong with him.
- It can increase binge eating and other eating disorders. What happens when we, as adults, go on diets? We develop will power of steel for 6 week or however long the diet lasts and then once that time is up, we begin to inhale the foods we stopped eating prior to the diet. The same is true for children. We are not teaching them how to make healthy eating choices or why we should avoid/limit some foods. We are teaching them how to form a love/hate relationship with food; these children will grow into adults who have a love/hate relationship with food. So, instead of preaching to your kids about dieting, provide them with skills they can use now and well into the future.
Want to know what you can do for your child? Be sure to read our column next week for helpful tips.