With the New Year officially here, I'm just waiting for the food police to be out in full force. Whether this be restrictive diet fads or celebrities endorsing the do's and don'ts of dieting; I'm not here for it.
"Can you give me a healthy eating plan for my child"
In my job this is up there with the most common requests. In simple no; that's actually not what my role as a paediatric dietitian is about.
Instead I provide evidence based nutrition information and support to help you raise intuitive eaters. One thing I am not, is the food police. Having been called out many times about my own eating, "Dietitians aren't supposed to eat that"; I am not here to judge what you or your little one eat. If you are experiencing comments about your own or your little ones eating remember; comments like this have everything to do with diet culture and nothing to do with actual health or knowledge. You can enjoy "bad" foods and still lead a healthy life.
Why would I even think about a diet for my child?
Well you shouldn't! However, in paediatrics healthy usually means = plotting within "normal" centiles. And if they cant plot within these centiles, we certainly don't want them plotting further up *insert eye roll. With the news and Government pushing the dangers of this "childhood obesity epidemic", we are warned of the consequences being "overweight" has on children; diabetes, high blood pressure, low self-esteem and increased likelihood of being bullied.
Within a school environment, children are measured not only on their academic abilities but also there BMI (Body Mass Index). But what is a healthy weight for a child?! There is no clear definition. WHO growth charts are commonly misunderstood and information is often miscommunicated. The higher the centile is often (wrongly) seen as a reflection of parenting skills and "bad" parenting. With some of these parents potentially facing social work interventions. No wonder some parents are so stressed and worried about their child's weight!
Unfortunately with all this pressure and no formal help on how to approach this; well-intentioned parents can cause harm to their children. A study by Wansink et al, 2017 showed that women whose parents had commented on their bodies when they were younger were more dissatisfied with their bodies as adults (regardless of BMI).
The best diet is no diet at all - it's a lifestyle that includes a variety of foods everyday, favourite foods, mindful eating practices and moving our bodies in ways we enjoy. Eliminating foods; especially for children is not the answer.
Your body needs fuel to function; and your little one is no different.
Lets start with basic science. It tells us that food=fuel. Food provides the body with fuel, energy and nourishment. Now I'm not saying that all food provides the same nourishment, but that doesn't mean we should form strict rules to avoid these foods. Life isn't perfect and we don't need to be either. When foods are labelled as "good" or "bad", "healthy" or "unhealthy" we are feeding into this diet culture mentality which has the potential to lead to disordered eating habits (Yoon et al, 2020).
So how should I talk to my child about weight?
So how do you talk to your child about weight? Simply, you don't! Weight does not define or predict health. BMI is actually a terrible indicator of health. Factors such as nutrition, development and play all have a more significant role. So instead of this try to model intuitive eating behaviours, enjoy physical activity and promote positive body image within yourself! Encourage children to eat to their own fullness and hunger cues, choose foods they enjoy, choose play they enjoy and involve your children in food preparation to get them excited and interested in foods.
If your child is struggling with their body image, try to explore this with them while helping them to be more compassionate and accepting of their body - always seek professional help when necessary.
Most importantly; you should never make your child or any child feel as though their self-worth is dependent on the numbers on the scale.
Check out my blog on how to talk to your child about food.
If you are struggling with any of the above please get in touch.
Yoon, C., Mason, S. M., Hooper, L., Eisenberg, M. E., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2020). Disordered Eating Behaviors and 15-year Trajectories in Body Mass Index: Findings From Project Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults (EAT). The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 66(2), p181–188.
Wansink B, Latimer LA, Pope L. (2017). "Don't eat so much:" how parent comments relate to female weight satisfaction. Eat Weight Disord. 22(3): p475-481