As a parent, you may wonder how to help your child or teen with their weight. On one hand, you worry that if you say nothing, you could miss a chance to help your child with their health. On the other hand, you risk shaming your child or possibly causing a pattern of disordered eating. What it the answer? Here are 5 common myths about how to help your kids lose weight and what to do instead.
Myth #1: Talking to your child about their weight will help them lose weight.
Simply put, don’t make comments about your child’s weight. Here’s why. Although well intentioned, comments about a child’s weight can lead to unhealthy dieting behaviors or eating disorders. It can add to a chronic dissatisfaction within your child or teen with their body. Parent’s comments are even linked to an increased risk of obesity. Encouraged dieting can lead to a higher risk of lower self-esteem and depression.
What to do? Focus your conversation on healthy eating habits, rather than body and weight. Talk less and do more. In other words, provide healthy snacks and meals at home, model healthy behaviors around nourishing your body and set an example by being physically active. Sit down to enjoy healthy family dinners together. When your children are young, little conversation is needed. Instead, simply take action in rebalancing meals and provide healthy foods at home. With an older child who is overweight, wait for your teen to bring it up to you and support them by asking them how you can help. Overall, focus on lifestyle shifts and eating patterns, rather than weight. Make healthy eating a family affair.
Myth #2: Children who are overweight should be put on a diet.
Here is the reality….Unless medically directed, the goal is to slow or stop weigh gain through a lifestyle shift, not a diet, so that your child can grow into his or her ideal weight. This is the beauty of being a child.
Myth #3: Children who are overweight are genetically predisposed, so there is nothing you can do about it.
Although genetics can influence weight, it is only a small part of a larger equation, mainly affected by environment. Kids can and do maintain a healthy weight when nourished in a healthy and balanced way with whole, fresh foods and less processed and packaged foods.
Myth #4: My child has no hunger on/off switch and is always hungry.
Although this may be true when eating a diet high in starches, grains and sugar, this patterned way of eating can shift when decreasing processed grains and sugar and instead balancing meals with more protein, vegetables and healthy fats. For example, rather than a dinner plate consisting of a plate of pasta, provide 1 quarter of the plate pasta, a quarter of the plate protein and half the plate with vegetables (cooked and/or raw).
Myth #5: Eating is a healthy way to self soothe.
Emotional eating is turning to food for comfort, to relieve stress or to reward. It comes on suddenly, often with specific cravings, often leads to mindless eating and may leave behind feelings of guilt or shame. Does your child or teen turn to food when sad, stressed, out of boredom or when procrastinating before starting after school homework? The key is to help your child learn the difference between eating because they are physically hungry rather than for emotional reasons or out of habit. Help your child learn to recognize this difference. If they are not physically hungry, encourage him or her to talk about their feelings or find an activity other than eating when not physically hungry.
Unless induced by a medication that makes it challenging to lose weight, every child and teen can live at a healthy weight. The key is to provide a supportive environment with whole foods and balanced meals and seek help when needed to support the process.