Dieting is not a family activity

Dieting is not a family activity.png

Health and Wellness is a billion-dollar industry and people are always looking for ways to be healthier. This includes searching for weight loss cures.

If you type “weight loss” into a google search you can uncover anything from weight watchers, to the Dukan diet, to the very popular ketogenic diet.

The word diet can simply be defined by what we eat.

The word dieting is defined as a restriction of food with the purpose of losing weight.

While any parent should be applauded for wanting to improve their health, they need to consider all that is involved with dieting.

If someone in the family has a food allergy or a condition such as celiac disease, where it is extremely important for their safety to eliminate foods, then the entire family should be educated on this. That is not what this post is addressing. This also does not apply to families that are trying to follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle as the purpose is not necessarily for weight loss.

I have seen several parents impose restrictive diets meant for weight loss on their children as a way of improving the health of the entire family. Recently, these restrictions involve carbohydrates.

Many times, I hear “My child eats way too many carbs and it is not good for them.” It is understandable that many parents want their children to eat less carbohydrates as most come in the form of sweets and ultra-processed food.

Carbohydrates are not all bad.  Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and dairy products have carbohydrates. All these foods contain important nutrients. Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals and beneficial antioxidants and phytochemicals as well as fiber. Whole grains are a great source of B vitamins and fiber. Dairy foods provide important nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, and protein and foods like yogurt have probiotics that are good for gut health. Legumes are a great plant-based source of protein and iron and pack a good amount of fiber. These complex carbohydrates can provide quick energy to fuel a child’s body and brain. Therefore, eliminating most carbs, like in the popular ketogenic diet leaves you with holes in nutrient intake.

Nutrient inadequacy can sometimes be cured with supplements, but it is always better to get nutrients from food.

Additionally, if a parent is considering one of the popular diets for weight loss, they should consider how this will affect the entire family.

Food Restriction can lead to an obsession with the restricted food.

Research does show that when children have highly palatable food (like sweets, cookies, cakes, and candy) restricted that it will not necessarily lead to healthy habits, as when the child is exposed to that food, they may overconsume it. Therefore, it may be better to model balance for your family when it comes to how sweets are included in the diet. For example, allow children to observe you eating a brownie if offered and you are hungry, but not overeating because it is the weekend and you are having a “cheat” day.

Some parents may think that they will go on the diet, but not make their kids follow it.

This approach will not pass the restriction on to children, but when a parent is following a diet and the rest of the family is not, it may still affect the family negatively. A parent may not enjoy cooking the family meal as they will not be able to eat some of the food. This could then lead to separate meals being prepared or a decrease in family meals. Family meals have been shown to improve overall nutrient intake, improve academic performance, and kids who have meals with their families regularly are shown to not be as likely to take part in risky behaviors (like drug use, underage drinking, and early sexual involvement).

Observation of food restriction could trigger eating disorder behaviors in children and teens.

If a child is consistently exposed to a parent that is dieting it may teach them that this is a normal activity and body dissatisfaction is normal. This could trigger eating disorders in some individuals.

So how can a family get healthy together?

·         Decrease intake of simple and refined carbohydrates, like candy, cookies, cakes, and products made with white flour and increase nutrient rich complex carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and dairy products.

·         Exercise as a family. Find a park to walk or explore hiking trails in your neighborhood. Shoot the basketball with your kids or take a family bike ride.

·         Look for family activities that do not involve a screen, like board games or making dinner together.

·         Commit to drinking more water as a family.

If a parent really feels that a restrictive diet is their path to health, then I would recommend that they discuss this with their physician and make sure their least restricted meal of the day is the one they eat with the family.

If a child requires a restrictive diet for a medical condition. For example, the ketogenic diet for seizure control or multiple foods eliminated due to a food allergy, then work with a medical team that includes a registered dietitian to monitor growth and make sure the child is getting all the needed nutrients.

If you have questions about how to best improve your family’s health contact me or look at the services I provide.