What do you do when your child asks “Am I fat?” and says she wants to go on a diet. Your child is emotional because she says she looks different than other girls. What are you going to say? How do you react?
As a parent you need to know how to react and what to say. Here are a few things you need to know.
- Dieting is not uncommon among children. Studies have shown that approximately half of all 9-11 year olds were sometimes or very often on a diet.
- Almost half of all American children 6-8 years old want to be thinner
- Diets are often not healthy and can be counterproductive. They can result in disordered eating behaviors such as binge eating, anorexia, or bulimia.
- Parents who encourage their children to diet may actually undermine their own intent. Often children will develop unhealthy dieting that can lead to increased risk of obesity.
- 95% of diets fail and most will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years.
- If your child wants to lose weight, diet is only one aspect affecting weight
- Children are more successful when parents and/or family develop healthier lifestyle choices together.
How parents can respond
One of the first things you can do is tell your child you are glad she came to you with her concerns. Remind your child that you care and want what is best. Talk in a kind, calm manner. It is not beneficial to be angry, frustrated or upset. Many times children will go to adults other than their parents. It may be a teacher, coach or some other adult they feel they can confide in. Be thankful she came to you to talk.
If you do not know where these body image statements are coming from ask some questions about why she feels this way.
Let your child know that people come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. She does not need to worry about being different.
Let your child know that how much a person weighs is not a measure of who they are as a person. Compliment your child’s personality, successes, and accomplishments.
If your child is carrying extra weight, let him know that there are health risks to being overweight. Let him know that losing extra weight can be difficult. Ask your child what he means by going on a diet.
Tell your child that as a family you will focus on eating more healthfully and think about other ways to do things as a family to get healthier.
Ideas for Healthier Families
Increase the number of minutes of being active in a day. Start by committing to at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity. Find ways to exercise together as a family. This could be walking, jogging, or biking together. You can also play fun active games together. Play tag, or kickball in your yard. Find activities you all enjoy.
Limit the amount of screen time each day. Most children spend at least 3 hours each day using some type of electronic device. Teens and adults can spend up to 8-10 hours a day in front of a screen.
Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat. Try to eat some fruits and/or vegetables with each meal.
Reduce the amount of sugar and sweets you eat. Take time to read labels and educate yourself about the dangers of too much sugar. Limit the sweets in your house. Drink water instead of sodas or fruit juices.
Eat together as a family. There are many benefits to eating together as a family. You can teach healthy portion sizes. Meals prepared at home tend to be healthier than dining out. Eating together also helps parents stay connected and communicate better with their children.
Shop together as a family. Take the time to plan meals and take your kids shopping with you. This is a great educational opportunity for them.
Talking with your children about body image can be difficult. Remember to let your children know that you love them and want what is best for them. Educate yourself so you are prepared if this conversation ever arises. There are some very serious health issues that can arise out of disordered eating patterns or concerns about body image. If you need more information on eating disorders the National Eating Disorders Association is a place to start. Many communities also have resources available to help families deal with body image and disordered eating issues. We encourage you to seek help if you need it. You do not have to deal with these issues by yourself.