Diet Talk Could be Harmful to Kids

By Melissa Reid, MS, RDN, Indulge in Nutrition

“Does this make me look fat?” “I have to start a new diet before swimsuit season.” “I need to lose weight.” We have all said these phrases before without considering their potential impact on our kids. Our kids are like sponges, soaking up everything they hear. When children, both boys and girls, hear their parents talking about dieting and negative body image, they are more likely to develop a negative body image that can lead to an eating disorder or disordered eating.

Adolescents who have misperceived body weight are more likely to develop an eating disorder. Eating disorders usually begin between the ages of 13-25, but the age of onset was recently lowered to age 11. Some eating disorders can start as early as seven. Eating disorders begin as disordered eating that commonly manifests through an excessive focus on weight, calories, and/or food type. Disordered eating is an unhealthy relationship with food that results in routine abnormal eating patterns or behaviors. Most people know the detrimental effects of eating disorders cause both mentally and physically, but many people are unaware that disordered eating also negatively impacts mental and physical health.

Our children are being exposed to negative diet talk and negative body images everywhere. While it may be difficult to control their exposure to celebrities, movies, social media, and magazines, we can control what we say in our own homes. So what can we do to stop this trend of disordered eating in our children?

Avoid  Diet Talk

Stop talking about all the diets you should or shouldn’t be doing or what worked or didn’t work. Your child is listening and watching even when you least expect. Maybe they’re overhearing your conversation on the phone or on the playground. Make a point to talk positively about not only your child’s body but also your own. Emphasize health instead of weight.

Encourage  Open Dialogue

Talk to your children about body weight and encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings about body image. When they do share, acknowledge that their feelings are real. Discuss with them that bodies come in every shape and size, and that you love them no matter what size body they have.

Your  child    says, “I’m Fat”

Find out why your child is saying this. Did a coach or instructor tell them they need to lose weight? Did a classmate tease them about being fat? Did a grandma or relative tell them they are chubby? Find out the root cause and immediately address the issue. If your child is a healthy weight, reassure your child and don’t focus on weight.

Kids Shouldn’t Diet 

When children lose weight, it can be detrimental to their health and body image. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, then have the whole family embrace some new healthy habits without singling out the child. If you do have obesity concerns for your child, consult your pediatrician.

Focus  on  Health

Instead of focusing on dieting, focus on healthy habits. Develop habits of eating properly and exercise that lead to a healthy lifestyle instead of fad diets. Focus on a balanced plate with more nutrient-rich foods at meals. Focus on family fitness like playing tag or sports outside. Compliment your child when they choose to play outside instead of play video games.

Need help changing your family’s health habits? Stay positive and seek help if you need it, such as hiring a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Remember that health is more important than weight, and everyone benefits from a positive attitude and healthy eating.

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