Children and Dieting
Brandi Jordan, MS, RD, LDN, IBCLC, RLC
As parents, we all want to help our children make healthy choices. Sometimes parents feel that dieting is a good option for their child. However, dieting has the potential to cause more harm than good in young children and teens. In recent years, more doctors are agreeing that diet culture can be quite harmful and can sometimes lead to disordered eating habits such as restricting intake, binge eating, and excessive exercise. Childhood is a unique time of bodily changes and growth. Due to this fact, many doctors discourage dieting for children.
When Should I Put My Child on a Diet?
There are specific times when a child might be prescribed a diet due to medical reasons. For example, if a child has a food allergy, it’s important to teach them how to avoid these allergens to keep themselves safe. Furthermore, if a child has issues chewing or swallowing, a speech therapist can help coordinate ways to alter their food and/or drink to a safe texture that is easier to consume.
There can be other medical reasons a child would need to be on a specific diet, and in these cases, it is important for the family to work with their pediatrician and registered dietitian for help with medical nutrition therapy tailored specifically to their child’s needs.
How to Establish Healthy Eating Habits
In general, parents should teach their children to trust and listen to their bodies. This helps kids establish healthy eating habits. Here are some tips to help your children make healthy choices.
- Teach your child to listen to their hunger and fullness cues.
- Help them recognize what a full and empty stomach feels like, and use this to identify how hungry they are.
- Teach your child to check in with their body before, during, and after eating to see how their stomach is feeling.
- Make sure your child is getting regular meals with snacks in between meal times—this can help keep their blood sugar under control and help prevent binge eating.
Emotional or distracted eating can sometimes be the reason that we eat. We may be eating due to boredom, distraction, or when we feel a certain emotion. If kids are eating for these reasons, it is important to identify the behavior and teach them about activities they can participate in other than eating.
If a child is eating out of boredom, encouraged them to read a book, talk a walk, or play outside for 5 minutes. If a child is engaging in emotional eating, talking to a trusted adult or friend can help alleviate their distress.
If a child is eating while distracted, it can be helpful to have meals and snacks while sitting down at the table to help them focus on their hunger/fullness cues.
Modeling Good Eating Behaviors
Parents play a key role in demonstrating healthy eating behaviors to their children. There are a number of things that parents can do to set an example and help instill healthy eating habits for their children. As a parent you can:
- Teach them about hunger and fullness cues
- Discuss how they can nourish their bodies throughout the day by eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner with healthy snacks in between.
- Demonstrate eating a variety of foods from different food groups.
- Offer them a variety of foods to try as they grow.
- Avoid negative body image talk (involving yourself, your child, and others)
- Avoid labeling food as “good” or “bad”—food does not display these emotional qualities.
- Avoid passing on the diet culture mentality to your child
- Demonstrate moving your body regularly—go for a walk, have a dance party in the house, or stretch with some light yoga.
Your Pediatric Nutritionist Can Help
At Pediatrics East, we want your child and family to have a healthy relationship with food. No matter what age your child is, our dietitian can help offer the insight you need to help keep them healthy. If you have any questions about your child’s nutrition, give us a call and we can create a personalized nutrition plan that fits your child’s needs.
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