We have long known that diets 'don't work'. That is, a short-term quick-fix attempt to lose weight by dieting is not only not an effective way to lose weight and keep it off (the weight just comes back on after the 'diet' ends) but it also contributes to an unhealthy relationship with food, worsened mood, and lower self esteem. As evidenced by a new study out this week, this is especially the case for teens whose parents nudge them to 'diet'. The study showed these teens have higher weight, more dieting and binge behaviors, lower self esteem and body satisfaction, and higher depression as adults. While most parents are very well meaning in trying to help their kids achieve a healthy weight, 'dieting' is not the answer. Here's what is:
1) Model healthy habits. If you want your kids to be healthy, make a concerted effort to 'be the change you want to see.' That is, get enough sleep, eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, find time to be active, avoid spending too much time on your phone or other 'screens.' Show your kids how you deal with stress in productive ways. What you do is much more powerful than anything you say.
2) Eat family meals. Eating meals together is one of the strongest predictors of child and teen health. Families that eat together have better overall nutrition, stronger relationships, and teens who are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. As often as you can, eat together, ideally home-cooked meals that include some healthy protein, whole grains, and the plate half filled with fruits and vegetables. Show your kids how you enjoy eating a balanced meal, but don't force or prod them to clean their plate or eat their vegetables. This usually is counterproductive and makes mealtimes stressful.
3) Focus on health, not weight. Health and health habits are far more important than any number on a scale. While it is true that increased weight can be associated with some health risks, it isn't always and trying to 'lose weight' is generally not helpful. Help kids focus on health by showing how healthy habits like being active every day or coping with stress by taking deep mindful breaths improves mental and physical health. Avoid remarking on a child's (or your own) weight or body size. Instead pay lots of compliments to both your kids and yourself.
4) Drink water. Model healthy hydration by drinking mostly water and other unsweet drinks like tea or milk, rather than sweet drinks like sodas, juices, sports drinks, or heavily-sweetened coffees. A lot of research suggests this might be one of the most impactful changes for overall health a family can make.
What positive steps have you taken to help your family be healthy, both in mind and body? I would love to hear from you.