For parents who have teenagers struggling with their weight, a recent study in Cleveland, USA showed that encouraging them to diet sent the wrong message and could have long-lasting adverse effects on their relationship with food.
Researchers followed more than five-hundred teens in the US who had been told to diet. After checking back in with them some fifteen years later, the researchers found that the diet group they studied were now more likely to be overweight and have problems with their body image than a control group who were not told to diet.
Experts from many countries now agree that focussing on dieting at a young age can create a dysfunctional relationship with food that can influence a person’s eating behaviours for decades.
Seeing dieting as a negative influence is due in part to the fact that most diets are calorie restrictive and the compulsion to eat and even overeat can feel overwhelming when one is experiencing enforced hunger and lead to yo-yo dieting.
A pattern of behaviour develops for many yo-yo dieters of commitment to the latest fad diet-plan only to give up and regain the weight they lost plus usually more too. This pattern of weight loss and weight loss can hurt self-esteem as people feel like failures when in fact it was the diet that failed them.
So, how does acknowledging that focussing on diets with young people can be counter-productive sit with a recent campaign initiated in some UK schools that intend to send a letter home to parents to alert them that their child is overweight? The idea behind the letters is in response to a record number of under-11s who are already too heavy and who are potentially contributing to a national health crisis.
The ‘fat-shaming’ letters have sparked a debate as to whether sending these notifications to parents are cruel or a necessary evil to prompt parents to act. The discussion also poses the question that if your child is overweight as a parent do you already know this and are in denial or just not sure what to do for the best?
It is not clear from advance information whether the letters advise parents on how to tackle their child’s obesity and whether putting a child on a diet is recommended or not.
Apparently what the letter doesn’t address is the causal link between childhood obesity and food poverty when lower-income families struggle to provide nutritious and satisfying food on a tight budget. The ability to provide nourishing meals if further hampered when the adults in the household are not skilled at home cooking or do not have access to adequate cooking facilities.
A more promising approach that came from the US study of teens reported that instead of focusing on what not to eat it is better to focus on the health and nutrition that comes with eating well. To achieve this will mean teaching children about how to buy, prepare and eat real food versus the drawbacks of eating junk food.
Influencing young people with sound information about proper nutrition is harder to achieve as many of the world’s largest ‘frankenfood’, and soda manufacturers regularly contribute to the funding and the creation of misleading or biased resources for schools and colleges.
The report also recommended teaching young people mindful eating so that kids learn to slow down their eating and focus on their meal times by turning off devices so that consumption doesn’t happen in a zoned out way while occupied doing something else.
“It’s so important to give teens these skills at this juncture in their life, and I talk to parents about tools, not rules. So moving away from food rules but helping them change their habits around the way they eat,” said Susan Albers, at the Cleveland Clinic.
Experts also recommend helping your teenager learn to manage stress by relaxing, reading or going for a walk, as opposed to turning to food. That will help steer them away from comfort-eating and swallowing down their emotions with food which leads to emotional eating.
If you or a member of your family is struggling with weight loss or weight management food may have become a way to manage painful emotions including anxiety and anger. If this sounds familiar, you can book an obligation free call on this page.
If you want to lead a happier more fulfilled life it’s almost impossible when you’re doubting yourself or sabotaging your chances of success. Therapy isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve ‘tried everything’ it could be just what you need. You can book an obligation-free 30-minute discovery call to find out for yourself.