I cannot stress this one enough. You should never put your child on a diet. The only acceptable diet for your child is eliminating foods that he or she is allergic to or you exclude as a family for cultural or religious reasons.
I hear this from mums in my comunity on daily basics.
Mums have been told to limit their milk feeds because their baby was in a higher percentile.
They have been told to restrict their toddler's food because of their weight.
Mothers who have been told to watch their teen's food intake so they can help them perform better at school and fit into their class?
And moms who are struggling with food and bodies because they themselves have been put on a diet as children.
Our children are supposed to be growing and a weight loss diet directly interferes with their ability to do so.
Diets intended for weight loss are the NUMBER ONE predictor of eating disorders.
There is not one ethical reason why you should put your child on a calorie or food restriction diet. Never. Not even if your physician told you so.
It doesn't stop to amaze me that we are still prescribed diets despite the endless evidence of how harmful they are in a long run.
We are told to lose weight for our surgeries, to improve our blood markers or to "be healthier".
But there is not ONE safe way how to intentionally lose weight and improve our health and sustain this improvement in years to come.
We are trapped in a society where thinness is praised and fatness is seen as something bad, something that shows the fat person as lazy, greedy, uneducated or ignorant to their own self.
I work with women in larger bodies who have been trying to lose weight countless times in the length of their life and mocked by their friends, family, society and physicians for not trying hard enough.
These women are the same who have been most likely put on the first diet by their caregivers to "prevent" obesity and at an early age developed disordered eating, body image problems and live in a constant fear of not being good enough.
These women have tried every single way how to fit in our thinnness praising society. They tried everything to lose weight, yet, every attempt left them with more damaged self-esteem, physical and mental health problems and mistrust of their body and food.
We now know, we have the evidence, proving that weight loss doesn't equal to better health. In fact we know that restrictive diets have negative effect on our nervous system, hormonal system and impact our relatioinship to food, causes binge eating, emotional eating and can lead to developing eating disorders.
The first and foremost important reason for not restricting your child’s food intake is that it directly interferes with their physical development. If you restrict food, you restrict calories and nutrients that are vital to your child and their healthy growth.
Second, a not less important reason is that implying rules onto their eating increates mistrust in their body signals and negatively affects their relationship with food and body. This can lead to disordered eating and body dissatisfaction at an early age and if not addressed can develop into eating disorders and negative body image.
There is not one study supporting that food restriction would have any positive effect on your child’s physical and mental health in a long run. Quite the opposite.
HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT YOUR CHILD'S HEALTHY GROWTH
Help them to be more active - but not as a way of punishing them for the way they look.
Help them do build a positive relationship with food - engage them with food preparations, let them choose ingredients, bring sweets as part of your meals to they become less powerful for them.
What shall you do when your child is gaining too much weight is on the higher percentil or your physician has raised concerns about your child developing obesity?
Focus on your child's wellbeing - what your child eats is only one small part of the factors contributing to your child's health.
Their relationship with food, how they approach food, what's the language they use around it?
Their relationship with their own body - is your child happy in their body?
Do they show any worrying signs of disordered eating such as sneaking food, overeating or picky eating?
Does your child have enough natural movement?
Is your child under stress or pressure at school or at home? Stress plays a big role in your child's eating habits and also impact their health.
LEAD BY EXAPMPLE
Your relationship with food and your body is equally important in the healthy development of your child.
Our wee buttons, even those in teenage years observe. They see and hear everything.
They sense if there is stress around food at home. If you avoid eating certain foods if you always have a different meal than they have. What language do you use around food, also, how do you treat your body and how do you speak to yourself.
Phrases such as:
I ate too much today, I need to workout more and eat less tomorrow.
I don't eat junk food it's bad for you.
I can eat only one cookie because if I eat more I will be fat.
These "innocent" phrases we use every day without a blink of an eye can cause significant damage to our children's development of a healthy relationship with food and their body.
They tell us that being fat is bad, that you must obey certain rules if you are bad and if you eat more than is acceptable, you did something wrong and you must punish yourself. They tell us that hunger is a form of achievement and that movement is a form of punishment.
Where hunger is simply a sign of our body needing more food.
And movement is a great way how to be stronger, flexible and bring joy to your life.
How are you feeling around food?
Do you have rules around food or eating?
Do you use food to praise or to punish?
Are you a dieter?
Have there been any form of dieting in your previous generations?
The best way to help your child is to practice food and body neutrality and help them to become confident around food and their body by allowing them to trust their body and learn by experience.
Help them connect the dots, not to obey rules.
__________________________________________________________________________________ (1) Intuitive Eating Studies overview https://www.intuitiveeating.org/wp-content/uploads/Intuitive-Eating-Studies-9-18-18.pdf
(2) Eneli et al. (2008). The Trust Model: A Different Feeding Paradigm for Managing Childhood Obesity.Obesity.2197-2204.