In a society full of mixed messages, especially when it comes to weight and eating, parents, kids and healthcare professionals alike can feel the pressure of maintaining and promoting physical health. What seems like a simple concept, eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise, becomes increasingly more complicated with new food trends, the influence of social media and varying recommendations regarding health and nutrition. So, how can you help your child when it comes to weight and develop a positive relationship with food?
It can be a bit of a balancing act but one thing we know is that, dieting is not the answer – especially for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines in 2016 stating that dieting not only doesn’t work, but that it can be a risk factor for both obesity and eating disorders in children and adolescents. Comments or teasing about weight can also increase the risk of being overweight or developing an eating disorder.
That is why the recent release by Weight Watchers of a weight loss app, Kurbo by WW, targeted at children between the ages of 8-17 is particularly concerning. The app uses food tracking – categorizing food as green, yellow or red – and includes before and after “success stories”, complete with images of children before and after using the app.
These food tracking practices can encourage feelings of guilt and shame around foods, and we know that associating guilt with foods can make those foods harder to resist and lead to overeating. In addition, having before and after images presents an unrealistic measure of success, and promotes thinness as the ideal body type – when we know health can come at any size.
In general, there is not a lot of scientific evidence that dieting works for long term weight loss for people of any age. The approach for children and adolescents should focus on overall health, wellness, and long term healthy lifestyle behaviors including balanced eating and physical activity. Here are some tips that can help children develop a positive relationship with food that focus on overall health and wellness:
1. Steer clear of talking about diets, weight or weight loss in the home, including your own.
2. Eat together as a family as much as possible.
3. Go on walks and try other physical activities together as a family.
4. Do things that promote positive body image such as: appreciating all that your body does for you; help your child see themselves as a whole person and not just a number, be a critical viewer of media and social media, remind kids that people come in all shapes and sizes and make a list of positive things about yourself.
5. Talk to kids about how they feel about themselves and food.
In addition to these tips, it is important to develop a relationship with a pediatrician and have your child receive regular well child visits. That way any major changes in health can be monitored and addressed appropriately.
If you are concerned that your child may be struggling with an eating disorder, Melrose Center can help. Visit melroseheals.com or call 952-993-6200 to learn more.
Heather Gallivan, PsyD, LP, Clinical Director of Melrose Center