How Do I Respond to My Child Who Wants to Go On a Diet?
The phrase, “child obesity epidemic” has sent parents and caregivers in a tailspin, evoking a sense of fear when it comes to our children’s health and how they eat. Dangerously, health has been mistakenly associated with how much our children weigh and the size of their bodies.
Children (and parents) are bombarded with overwhelming messages about how to control food and weight, as though our bodies cannot be trusted.
Sadly, these mainstream messages are backfiring, with the number of children who are struggling with low self esteem, poor body image, and eating disorders increasing.
Research has found that dieting is beginning during childhood, even before the onset of puberty. Studies have also found that children as young as age seven have reported weight concerns, dieting, and body dissatisfaction, with approximately 40 percent of elementary school-aged girls reporting that they have tried to diet to lose weight.
Thankfully, parents can play an important and powerful role in helping their children develop a more positive relationship with food and their bodies and refine their mindset when it comes to dieting.
Dieting does not need to take up the mental space of any child or adolescent (or adult for that matter). Here are some suggestions to help you navigate a situation where you child might express the desire to go on a diet:
Sometimes, your child may not openly express any intent or desire to diet and lose weight, but you might observe behaviors that may indicate otherwise. Red flags to pay attention to may include:
- Skipping meals
- Avoiding eating with the rest of the family
- Frequently body checking
- Use of diet aides or excessive use of stimulants, such as caffeine
- Disturbances in mood, sleeping or appetite
- Low self esteem or negative self-talk around their bodies
Hearing your child discuss dieting or observing dangerous eating behaviors can bring out the mama bear in any mother. It can be scary to see your child resort to dieting, especially if you yourself have had a turbulent dieting history or chaotic relationship with food and your own body.
Understand that there are likely underlying reasons that are influencing dieting thoughts and behaviors in your child. Keep calm, ask open ended questions, and be prepared to listen. It is important to validate their feelings while observing what might be challenging in their lives that is influencing a desire to diet.
Be a Place of Safety
Children are facing unprecedented challenges in our culture today, especially with the pressures of a mainstream media that promotes dieting and weight loss. Help your child know that they can always turn to you as a confidant and place of safety.
This place of trust comes with relationship building and by keeping communication channels open between yourself and your child.
Be a Voice of Reason
In a world that will always tell your child they are not good enough or that their appearance/body is not worthy of acceptance, they will need a steady voice of reason and wisdom.
Educate your child about some of the dangers associated with dieting in practical ways they might understand, and remind them of their inherent value and self worth outside of looks and weight.
Be a Role Model
Every week, I work with mothers who can recall their earliest diet from a young, innocent age. They speak about food like an enemy, as they can’t remember the last time eating felt safe. Those young girls grow up, and they become women who continue to chronically diet, have a chaotic relationship with food, struggle with body image, or even battle eating disorders.
Mamas, if we don’t put a stop to the cycle, dieting can become a generational problem, passing on problematic eating behaviors to our children.
If you find yourself on the dieting bandwagon or unable to nurture a peaceful relationship with food for yourself, be sure to connect to the help and support you need. Our children often look to us for their understanding of health, and we can instill a positive outlook on food and eating.
It’s also important to give yourself grace and understand that you are not at fault or to blame for any dieting behaviors in your own child. Be empowered in your capacity to be a positive role model of strength for your child.
Remember that weight is not a reflection of health, and true wellness involves many factors in addition to balanced eating, including daily activity, adequate rest, stress management, healthy relationships, and peaceful eating habits (for both a mama and her children).
If you are concerned about your child’s habits or needing support for yourself, connect with me today! I would love to hear your story and learn if I can help you on your journey.