As summer comes to an end and kids go back to school, social media is flooded with posts inviting parents to reevaluate their children’s nutrition. It comes as little surprise, therefore, that WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) chose this time to announce a free diet app aimed at kids aged eight through seventeen. Yes, you read that right.
With our pervasive diet culture now affecting children, and with the amount of misinformation out there surrounding their nutrition, it’s more vital than ever to address this issue.
Putting a child on any sort of detox or diet can quickly snowball into a whole host of problems, including a lifetime of yo-yo dieting, negative food associations, poor body confidence, body dissatisfaction, and extreme weight control. Moreover, focusing on a child’s weight or teasing them about it has been shown to lead to a higher body mass index, higher body dissatisfaction, extreme weight control behaviors, and binge-eating disorders.
While the overwhelming majority of parents have their kids’ best interest at heart, if dieting is all you’ve ever believed to be “the healthy thing to do”, it can be difficult to know how to support your children in forming a healthy relationship with food — and their body.
Here are a few pointers that will help you, and your family, reframe your approach to food and body image at home.
Serve as a Role Model
How can you show your child the right way to eat and interact with food? By rejecting dieting in favor of a more intuitive relationship with food while working towards your own body acceptance. Avoid commenting on your own weight or your child’s weight, as well as your eating behaviors, and try nurturing a regular practice of movement based on pleasure instead of “earning” calories or fearing ill health.
Shift Your Paradigm
In your quest for more information on the topic, we recommend looking into Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding. In this paradigm, which has been successfully implemented in the lives of millions of children across the world, parents are solely in charge of what, when, and where to feed their child. The child is then responsible for how much and whether (as frustrating as it may be) they eat what’s provided.
Follow These Mealtime Pointers
Here are a few things to keep in mind about meals and mealtimes:
– Offer three meals and two snacks at regular intervals throughout the day with a variety of foods to choose from.
– Create a pleasant mealtime environment (this means no phones or TV).
– Avoid the idea of “good” and “bad” foods. Remember, all foods fit.
– Remember that feeding children is about reinforcing love, connection, and safety rather than solely ingesting nutrients.
If you’re worried about fluctuations in your child’s weight, growth charts are a good place to start. These have centile lines that show your child’s height and weight compared to other children of the same age and maturity. Persistent drops in centiles on the growth curve over a period of time warrant a visit to the pediatrician or family doctor.
Just one weight or height measurement will not provide the complete picture.
Keep in mind, however, that every child is different. A child on the fourth percentile of the weight curve can be as “normal” as the child on the ninety-sixth percentile of the weight curve. Not only that, but many children have either small dips above or below their centile lines throughout the years.
Furthermore, a child’s weight-gain rate is reduced after two years of age. Just one weight or height measurement will not provide the complete picture. It is important to look at the overall growth trends over the past years to determine whether or not there is a cause for concern. No matter what, it’s important to remain supportive, loving, and understanding of your child’s struggles with weight and food. Children are extremely susceptible to picking up bad behaviors. It’s important that you — as the parent — modify your own habits and behaviors according to the beliefs you want your child to adopt and implement in their current life and future.
Dr. Aarti Javeri, MBBS, MRCP is a general practitioner with a special interest in diabetes, weight management, nutrition, and lifestyle medicine. She completed internal medicine training before obtaining her MRCP and SCE in endocrinology and diabetes from the Royal College of Physicians. Florence Gillet is a feminist eating psychology coach who helps chronic dieters reclaim their freedom of body and mind.