If your goal is to raise kids with high levels of self-esteem, eating competence, body satisfaction and a healthy weight (which is different for everyone) then join the chorus of advocates saying #wakeupweightwatchers and ditch the diet mentality for yourself and your family. We know weight-loss diets don’t work. We also know they can cause serious harm, especially when introduced to kids and teens. Let’s prevent the weight loss industry from profiting off our children’s generation.
So if dieting doesn’t work to help kids maintain a healthy weight, what is a parent to do? These 8 tips are a great place to start.
- Make a commitment to having family meals together as often as you can within your family’s schedule. Having regular sit-down meals as a family has been shown to be a protective factor against a range of health and mental health problems including disordered eating.1,2,3,4
- Introduce and incorporate a variety of foods from different food groups at every meal. This doesn’t assume your kid will actually eat them but it’s important to expose them, even if it’s just on someone else’s plate.
- Teach and model body acceptance (as opposed to body criticism or body comparison). Kids are always listening and watching how the adults around them relate to their own bodies.
- Support your child’s natural ability to regulate hunger and satiety. Promote trust in their ability to self-regulate. We recommend learning more about Ellyn Satter’s Family Feeding Model and the Division of Responsibility in feeding.
“Research has shown that size acceptance and learning to use hunger and fullness cues produces sustainable improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, physical activity, self-esteem, and depression compared to dieting.” 5
- Engage in physical movement as a family with the goal of adventure, fun, coordination and social connection. Try not to frame exercise as punishment, as a way to gain permission to eat or as a means to an end (i.e. weight-loss).
- Incorporate all foods without fear or mixed messages. Food is energy and fuel but it’s also okay for it to be enjoyable too. Don’t forbid specific foods or categories of foods (unless there is an allergy of course). Refrain from using food as a reward at home and in the classroom as this can confuse kids, encourages them to eat in the absence of hunger or may lead to a pattern of rewarding oneself with food.6
- Refrain from labeling foods as “good foods” vs “bad foods”. Connecting foods with negative labels like bad, toxic or junk foods, can send kids a message that food is related to morality. Even young kids may internalize these labels. Ex) I ate a bad food, therefore I must be bad or I should feel badly. This can trigger strong feelings of guilt or shame related to eating as well as increased emotional eating.
- Support healthy sleep habits. Kids who don’t get enough sleep, or have chaotic sleep schedules, show changes in hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. Not getting enough sleep can also impact the way a child’s body metabolizes certain foods.7
While these tips are meant to be a very basic place to start, they might still feel overwhelming since we live in a culture of toxic messages about food and weight. It’s hard to let go of anxiety about our kids’ eating behavior and weight. These can also be difficult to implement if you have your own history of body image struggles, eating disorders or dieting.
If you’re worried that your own relationship with food or weight might be complicating the way you approach these issues with your kids or teens you’re not alone. It can be helpful to get support from a therapist with eating disorder expertise or other non-diet practitioners. At The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt we provide a number of services that can help, including:
- Individual Therapy
- Family Therapy
- Nutritional Counseling with a Registered Dietitian
- Grocery Support Program
- Recovery Skills Group for Pregnant & Parenting Moms
- CBT for Body Image Group
If you’re interested in any of these services, please call (410) 938-5252 for more information.
- Losing weight won’t make you happy
- Are Family Meal Patterns Associated with Overall Diet Quality during the Transition from Early to Middle Adolescence?
- Family meals during adolescence are associated with higher diet quality and healthful meal patterns during young adulthood.
- BENEFITS OF FAMILY DINNERS
- 10 Reasons to Stop Dieting Now
- Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: how to eat, how to raise good eaters, how to cook
- The connection between sleep and growth
Additional Recommended Reading: Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift