9 Reasons Why Your Child Doesn’t Need a Diet

Whether you’re worried that your child’s weight might be harming their health or their self-esteem, here’s important information to consider before you decide if weight loss is a good idea for you and your family.

Kids in larger bodies get referred to me for nutrition counseling daily. Most often, it’s at a pediatrician’s recommendation. Always, it is with the frank assumption that I will help parents help their child be “healthier” by teaching them how to lose—or stop gaining—weight.

When a pediatrician tells you that your child’s body weight is a problem, it can ramp up worry to new and extreme heights.

A subtle concern on your part can turn into an intense fear about your child’s future health, which often seeps into mealtimes, physical activity, and even stresses your relationship.

If you’re a person living in a larger body yourself, you might have an additional set of fears. You might know firsthand what it feels like to live in a fat-phobic world. You may be struggling with some of the very same health issues that your pediatrician is warning you that your child is at risk for. When a doctor is talking about scary-sounding potentials such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression, it might feel neglectful, even irresponsible if you don’t try to do whatever you can to bring it down to a number that’s considered ‘healthy” or “normal.”

On the other hand, you might have hesitations about addressing your child’s weight at. Especially if you have experience with trying to lose weight yourself. You might know exactly what it feels like to ride the on-again, off-again diet rollercoaster, which so often causes stress, frustration, and pain.

Should I Put My Child On a Diet?

As a pediatric dietitian, my answer is a firm NO. Even with all of those scary-sounding risk factors in mind.

Dieting—at its best—is an ineffective solution for weight loss. Research shows that 95 to 98 percent of weight-loss diets fail to result in actual loss. And of the small percentage who are successful, that loss is rarely maintained over the long term.

At its worst, dieting is harmful and even dangerous. One in four people who start a diet go on to develop an eating disorder. And I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that of the 75 percent of dieters who are lucky enough to escape the fate of developing a serious ED, a significant number end up with a disordered and dysfunctional relationship food once they stop their actual diet.

Many of my clients, for example, have lingering doubts and conflicts about their eating choices and behaviors even when they’re no longer on a diet, which steals joy and creates stress with each and every meal and snack.

The studies above are done on adults. What about kids?

So glad you asked! Let’s get into the specifics of why we want to avoid putting our child on a diet. The nine research-backed reasons to drop a weight-loss agenda with kids refer both to overt weight loss diets (such as keto or low carb diet, intermittent fasting, etc) as well as the more subtle ways we try to manage calories in and out (such as pushing lots of vegetables, limiting quantities, and warning kids that certain foods are off-limits or unhealthy). If you’re curious about the reasons why so many pediatric dietitians and even The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding putting kids on diets, here are some facts to consider:

9 Super-Compelling Reasons Your Child Doesn’t Need a Diet

  1. Similarly to adults, attempts at weight loss in children more often result in weight gain, worsening the very problem they intend to treat.

  2. Dieting and pursuing weight loss are risk factors for developing disordered eating in children, as well as full-blown eating disorders.

  3. Food restriction—either limiting amounts of foods or limiting access to desirable foods, which a common tactic used to help with weight loss, has negative impacts on eating such as binging, sneaking food, and eating in the absence of hunger.

  4. Food restriction is also linked to a disruption of internal regulation—a child’s natural ability to eat the right amount of food for his her body—and weight gain kids.

  5. Children, particularly younger children, have high nutrient needs for growth and proper development; limiting and restricting food has the potential to cause a decrease in a child’s intake of vital nutrients which can negatively impact their growth and development

  6. Focusing on weight loss promotes unhealthy and disordered eating habits such as skipping meals, choosing foods based on calories instead of specific nutrients or enjoyment, and pursuing extreme and excessive exercise which often cannot be sustained over the long term and can feel like punishment opposed to joyful and empowering.

  7. Recommending weight loss triggers and even reinforces weight stigma, which is associated with increased weight gain, which (again) can worsen the very problem it is intending to treat. Weight stigma has contributes to behaviors such as avoiding taking kids to doctors visits (and avoiding wanting to go on the part of the child), decreases in physical activity (due to feeling self-conscious about body shape and size), binge eating, and a lower quality of life particularly in kids.

  8. Focusing on weight loss and a number on the scale tends to undermine a child’s ability to make positive changes—such as being physically active, eating in a way that is satisfying and enjoyable, eating at regular intervals, etc—that are proven to improve markers of health such blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and self-esteem. For example, kids who are trying to lose weight often use extreme measures such as skipping meals or cutting out entire nutrients (such as carbs), which can be harder on blood sugar than eating regularly.  

  9. When we support our child in an effort to lose weight, we reinforce the idea that they are not acceptable as they are and waste precious time that we could be used to actively boost self-esteem and help them learn to accept themselves and their weight, which is a part of themselves that is unlikely to change—particularly if they pursue dieting or weight loss.

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    2. Abramovitz BA, Birch LL. Five-Year-Old Girls’ Ideas About Dieting are Predicted by Their Mothers’ Dieting. J Am Diet Assoc. 2000;100(10):1157-1163. doi:10.1016/S0002-8223(00)00339-4

    3. Hayes S, Tantleff-Dunn S. Am I too fat to be a princess? Examining the effects of popular children’s media on young girls’ body image. Br J Dev Psychol. 2010;28(2):413-426. doi:10.1348/026151009X424240

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    5. Lee HJ, Lee SY, Park EC. Do family meals affect childhood overweight or obesity?: nationwide survey 2008–2012. Pediatr Obes. 2016;11(3):161-165. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/ijpo.12035

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    8. Rudnicka AR, Nightingale CM, Donin AS, et al. Sleep Duration and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Pediatrics. 2017;140(3):e20170338. doi:10.1542/peds.2017-0338

    9. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.876185

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    13. Neumark-Sztainer D, Bauer KW, Friend S, Hannan PJ, Story M, Berge JM. Family Weight Talk and Dieting: How Much Do They Matter for Body Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating Behaviors in Adolescent Girls? J Adolesc Health. 2010;47(3):270-276. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.02.001

    14. Bauer KW, Bucchianeri MM, Neumark-Sztainer D. Mother-reported parental weight talk and adolescent girls’ emotional health, weight control attempts, and disordered eating behaviors. J Eat Disord. 2013;1:45. doi:10.1186/2050-2974- 1-45

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So you know you don’t want to put your child on a diet—but now you’re wondering about your next step?

Here’s a free and fast option: Set up a time to talk.

I can give you some general guidance, as well as point you to the exact right resource at NourishHer (I have over 15 and counting)! And please don’t be shy about reaching out for support. There’s no obligation, you’re not the only one who’s struggling, and just like all the other parents I’ve worked with, with a few little mindset tweaks and fine-tuning to mealtimes, you and your kids can start feeling good about feeding and eating in no time!

Ya, but…. isn’t being overweight bad for you?

Surprise! Higher BMIs, larger bodies, and stigmatizing body classifications such as “obese” and “overweight” are not the health disasters we are trained to think they are.

A growing number of health experts and research findings are revealing the fact that body weight is not a direct cause of poor health. Many people are higher BMIs have excellent biomarkers of health and many people at lower BMIs have poor physical and emotional health. Thus, despite what diet culture has trained us to believe, simply identifying a high BMI and deciding we do need to “fix” it is not an effective way to help ourselves or our kids.

What CAN I do if I’m Worried About My Daughter’s Weight?

What we can and do need to support our child is to focus on are the elements of our life that are in our control and are proven to improve our health.

These are our day-to-day habits including how much we move, how we manage stress, whether we’re getting enough sleep, whether we are eating a variety of foods in balanced and nourishing ways, the quality of our relationships, and more.

When parents ask me to help them manage their child’s weight, I recommend we put the number on the scale to the side and that we avoid dieting and weight loss completely.

My recommendation stands for metabolically healthy kids (and parents) as well as those who come to me with bloodwork and risk factors linked with excess body weight such as dyslipidemia and diabetes.

Instead of dieting and weight loss, we focus on the positive habits that support overall physical health and emotional well-being including;

When it comes to improving our kids’ health, there are many changes we can make that have nothing to do with losing weight.

Should I Limit How Much My Child Eats?

Nope! Please don’t, in fact. Research shows that limiting and restricting how much our child eats—and conversely, pressuring them to eat more—has negative impacts on their eating. It can lead to disordered eating, overeating, eating out of turn with our actual hunger, lowered self-esteem, and bad feelings about our body.

For parents who have personally tried to lose weight themselves, the news that we don’t need to start limiting, restricting, denying, rationing, measuring, weighing, or counting the food our child eats often comes as a huge relief.

Knowing that micromanaging portions and eating is futile, even harmful, and that as parents we don’t need to do it is exciting—sometimes life-changing—news! Feeling like you need to be a food cop in order to raise a healthy eater is a role I think that NO MOM wants to take on. Most of us are just doing it because we don’t realize that there’s a better, more positive and more effective way to handle meals and eating.

For many women, my recommendation to avoid putting their child on a diet sounds like common sense.

If you’re curious about the tools and strategies that I use with clients to help them raise kids without dieting, book a free call with me. You can share the specifics of what you or your child is struggling with and I will share some of my best insights into the steps* you can take to get your family in a happier, less stressed, and more peaceful place with food and weight.

*All calls are confidential and include general information only.

Could your life with food and feeding get better with private counseling, a free workshop, a handout or workshop, an audio guide, a referral to a HAES provider? Find out by booking a FREE call now!

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