Never Put Your Child On A Diet: Here's Why

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

We're bombarded by beauty. Every evening on TV, we see beautiful, thin women and muscular, handsome men doing the very same things we do - only looking better as they do them. In newspaper and TV ads, in the worlds of music and fashion, you, and more importantly, your children, are exposed to unrealistic, even unattainable, standards of beauty.

What Happens When A Child Develops A Negative Body Image?
    The results are:

  • teen-agers having plastic surgery, compliments of mom and dad;

  • teen-agers who develop anorexia or bulimia - two potentially fatal conditions and two conditions that a very difficult to treat;

  • children who feel they're inadequate, out-of-step with their peers and a disappointment to their parents (that's you);
All the above results of an unrealistic standard of physical beauty.

Unrealistic standards of beauty create a negative body image, even in healthy, well-proportioned children, 'tweens and teens. And sadly, many parents buy into this myth of perfect beauty that we see in the media every day. It's difficult, for some, to resist the temptation of wishing for that 'perfect child' we see walking the red carpet at every Hollywood event. However, recognize that you, the parent, are in the best position to instill a positive body image in your child.

How You Can Help

  • If you are worried about your child's weight, it's easy to control calorie intake. After all, you do the shopping, you prepare the meals. A child doesn't have to be "put on a diet" to lose weight. You simply swap lower calorie foods for the hi-cal meals you've been serving - and your child never has to know.

  • Encourage your child to participate in physical activities - dance, all sports, even a family hike in the woods - as a family increase physical activity and again, your child never has to know.

  • Play down the physical beauty seen on TV. Instead, focus on other attributes and traits that people value - things like kindness, intelligence, honesty and so on. (This may be more difficult when talking to a teen-ager who's already carrying around a negative body image, but it's worth a discussion or two - however, it's prudent not to push it.)

  • Never use the words diet, fat or weight loss and never, ever complain about or nag your child about his or her weight. It's harmful to the child's self-image (body image) and it won't motivate the child. However, it will make food a point of contention between the two of you - not a good thing.

  • Support all of your child's efforts by attending recitals, ballgames and other activities in which your child engages. Give your praise freely.

  • Respect your child's feelings. Feelings aren't based on intelligence or maturity, so if your child feels sad about excess weight, don't dismiss those feelings as inappropriate or trivial.
You're the difference between realistic expectations and the unachievable standards of beauty portrayed on TV and in the movies. You can alter your child's diet without saying a word about it. You can increase your child's physical activity and 'mum's the word'. You can encourage your child, support your child and love your child without wishing or pushing for change.

In the end, you'll raise happy, confident, realistic children with the sensible values you've instilled all of their lives.

"Thanks, mom!"