Should kids be on a diet?
This week’s Everyday Health video with fitness expert Jillian Michaels really got me thinking. She discusses Vogue magazine’s April edition article about a mom who put her 7-year-old daughter on a restrictive diet and derided her about what she ate and how she looked. Jillian sought the opinion of psychologist Dr. Susan Bartell in this very enlightening and responsible discussion of childhood obesity issues.
I especially appreciate the discussion about judgement. Obesity isn’t a character flaw and no one should be ridiculed because of how they look. Body image issues start young – surprisingly young. My twin daughters have vastly different body types and metabolisms. One could eat anything she wants, the other really does have to be careful. One has more “meat on her bones” while the other struggles to gain enough muscle to open a pickle jar. This sets up opportunity for unhealthy comparisons. One of the most important things we can do as parents is to show our kids love for the people they are regardless of the package they are in.
So, should you put your kid on a diet? As I’ve written in the past, I don’t really believe in diets as most people think about them. Plans that include starvation, “nevers”, magic foods, or prepackaged food are doomed to fail in the long run because they don’t function in the real world. The best bet is create an environment where the kids can learn healthy habits and not have to make choices they aren’t mature enough to grasp.
For example, every food choice at home (and at school) should be a healthy choice. We are still working on this one, especially at school. If a kid is given the choice between an apple and a pop-tart – the pop-tart wins. Focusing on what is really food (the apple) and what isn’t (the pop-tart) can help a child understand what is the healthy choice, but it is still difficult to make that choice. As an adult I still struggle with the same choices. There are certain things, like Girl Scout Cookies, that are difficult for me to resist. An open box will call to me from the cupboard, “Eat me!” I can’t have those things in the house on a regular basis. We discovered whipped butter in a tub is something my daughter can’t resist. She will sneak scoops out with her finger. That is something we simply can’t have in the refrigerator. It is too tempting and it is unfair to think she should have more willpower than me! Filling the fridge with tasty and healthy foods (real foods – not junk) seems to be a key.
The other piece of the equation is physical activity. My 5th grade Girl Scout troop is completing their Bronze Award and as part of it they were asked to observe the world around them and find a problem they could fix. One of the things they observed was a lack of activity during recess. The girls especially were more likely to sit and talk with their friends rather than engage in a game or other physical activity. The troop decided to make this their project because they recognized physical activity is important for your health as well as being essential to learning. After some observation of activity levels, and a survey, they made a plan. First they brought in balls, bats, and other equipment to entice kids to play. Then they created “Funtabulously Fit Fridays.” Each Friday the girls plan a group activity, such as wacky track and field or capture the flag, with a goal of having 100% of the kids active during recess. It has been interesting to see more kids engaged and it may be something that changes the school culture for the better.
Teaching healthy habits to our kids, and maintaining them for ourselves, is a journey. There will be missteps and it is important to avoid deriding your kid (or yourself) for stepping off the path. Just get back on and keep heading in the right direction!
Be kind to yourself, and your kids!
Eliz Greene works busy people to improve heart health, so they can work well, feel better, and stress less.
She is a heart attack survivor and the author of the Busy Woman’s Guide to a Healthy Heart as well as 3 other books on wellness. She writes one of the top 50 health and wellness blogs and is a sought-after heart health, stress management, & wellness speaker.
If you are planning a women’s wellness program, workplace wellness program or programs for healthcare professionals check out EmbraceYourHeart.com to see if Eliz would be a good fit with your organization.