I gave up diets for my kids. Here’s why – no match

So it was no surprise that I got upset when I noticed a doctor note on my e-health portal calling me “overweight but alert”.

I chose a sensible diet plan, described as a “lifestyle change,” not a diet. However, I was worried about how it would affect my kids (7, 12 and 15 years old) when they watched me keep track of what I ate, follow rules like “water first, more vegetables” and skip carbs at night.

I could not prevent the dangerous messages of the diet culture from reaching my family, but I did not want to cause additional damage to my behavior. I found a book I would like to read as a teenager, “Do Not Weigh: A Teenager’s Guide to Positive Body Image, Nutrition, and Emotional Wisdom,” co-authored by three teen experts: Adolescent Medicine Doctor Dr. Shelley Aggarwal, Signe Darpinian eating disorder therapist and Wendy Sterling registered dietitian. Although the book is intended for teens, the book resonated with me both individually and as a parent.
In March, this trio collaborated on a practical guide for parents. Growing Positive Adolescents for the Body: A Parent’s Guide to a Life Without Diet, Exercise, and Body Images I changed the narrative in my head and family as I support my teenage son, who is 2-7 years old, to develop a relationship of balanced with food and body.

Here’s what I learned from the authors about the science of raising really healthy children.

Do parents’ eating habits and diet affect the way their children eat?

Yes, say these experts. It is well established that “how a parent eats, how they buy, how they prepare, how they paint and how they present food affects a child’s experience with food and body,” Agarwal said.

Although I am quick to blame my mother for modeling dietary behaviors during my childhood, I realize she’s most likely to adopt the norms of diet culture in her time.

Aggarwal urged parents to reflect on their complex experiences with body image and try to develop a personal well-being practice. “You can only give what you have,” she told me gently.

What’s wrong with working out to lose weight?

“Weight is overestimated as a sign of health,” said Agarwal in our culture, and especially in medicine. Among the misconceptions from the diet culture that parents inadvertently pass on to their children is the word “health” as a “symbol of weakness.”
Experts say you can eliminate diet culture from your diet.  Here's where to start

“Slim does not mean healthy,” said Aggarwal, so we need to move away from using weight to show if someone is healthy, attractive or in shape. Parents need to make it clear to their children that no one deserves to be relied on for their appearance, their weight, and what they eat.

It is critical for parents to understand “the biological, psychosocial and cognitive needs of their changing youth,” Agarwal said. Weight gain and shape change are normal and expected parts of puberty. She noted that fats help the body function, even in the brain 60% consists of adipose tissue.

How can focusing on “healthy” food become a problem for families?

The pressure parents feel to raise “healthy” children of a certain weight can push them to have a strict approach to meals and foods, including rules such as saying “no dessert until dinner” , being obsessed with nutrition information and labeling foods as “good” or “bad”.

These restrictions are often counterproductive, according to sterling. Restricted eating impairs a baby’s innate ability to hear the internal signs of hunger and satiety, and has been shown to be a risk factor for eating and eating disorders.
Strict rules regarding meals and snacks are often counterproductive and lead to disorders such as overeating.
Moreover, parental encouragement for diet in children was a significant predictor of a higher risk of being overweight or obese, diet, overeating, involvement in unhealthy weight control behaviors, and lower satisfaction of body, according to a 2018 study.

Experts recommend checking if your relationship with your teen or your relationship with food or exercise seems to be unclear. Parents generally reported ignoring the signs of an eating disorder because they felt their teen was “trying to eat healthier and do more exercise,” according to Darbinian.

What should parents do to promote well-being?

“Food is much more than just protein, starch, vitamins and minerals, and yet many people have struggled to enjoy food,” Aggarwal said. She encouraged families to remember that food is the “heart of the human experience” and an important source of communication through cultural traditions, holidays and special occasions.

Instead of focusing on your weight, try to eat intuitively and listen to your body's signals about food.
To promote a body-friendly home environment, stop talking about diet, weight and shape and be an evader judging other people’s bodies, Sterling said. Learn about the intuitive diet that has been recommended by nutritionists for decades. For children whose diets seem unbalanced, Stirling suggested teaching them to use a “hunger scale” to determine their hunger level before making food choices.
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Families need to look beyond the outward appearance, towards a broader view of the basic things that allow us to experience well-being, such as mental health, sleep, eating, and moving in ways that are satisfying and enjoyable.

Comments like “I’ll have to run tomorrow to work on this dessert” are related to exercise and eating concerns. Instead, the authors said in their sleep class, parents can “focus on the many practical benefits of exercise, including improving mood, energy, sleep, stress relief, and metabolic ability.”

How can we help teens manage stress, sleep, and social networking?

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Parents can guide teens toward choices that are scientifically proven to be of interest to their well-being. For example, the authors cite studies that demonstrate ways in which adequate and sustained sleep improves athletic and academic performance.

Likewise, the use of technology must be intentional and regulated. Parents need to monitor – and teach children to build awareness – proactively – the time they spend online and the impact of social media on their sleep and self-esteem.

What if a parent or child started from a place that hated their larger body?

If “body positivity” seems unattainable for parents and teens unhappy with their body, Darbinian recommends using the correct goals that have been shown to help us achieve our goals more effectively. To improve your body image, practice reducing body control behaviors, such as looking anxiously in the mirror, taking pictures, or comparing yourself to others.

To improve your body image, avoid constantly looking in mirrors or comparing yourself to others.

Instead of focusing exclusively on trying to reach an ideal weight or size, experts suggest encouraging healthy behaviors that promote overall intuitive self-care.

“We know that if you improve your healthy behaviors and do a good job of sleeping on time, you deal with stress effectively, eat intuitively and learn to move in ways that are comfortable for you, and the result will be yours. normal body weight “, said Darbinian. A therapist can help if there is sadness or frustration to accept where the body ends up naturally.

How do we discuss physical stigma with teens and how do we set boundaries with family members?

The authors include wisdom from the diet culture shared by Virginia Soul Smith, such as how to respond when your teen asks, “Am I healthy?” Or he talks about diet and how to discuss fat phobia.

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The book also provides helpful texts for coping with border situations. I was never able to determine what bothered me about the comments (even positive comments) about my appearance, until the authors gave the perfect answer: “When you comment on my body without my consent, I get angry and listen to you in my mind. I’m checking a body. ”

Giving up diets does not mean I am giving up my family’s health. Instead, I am improving a holistic, non-dietary approach to our food, fitness, and well-being.

Judy Sadowsky is a Connecticut-based writer. She can’t wait to hear the ways her kids will say she failed.

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