I don’t care what anyone else says: if your child is overweight, do NOT put your kid on a diet. Not now. Not ever.
(disclaimer: I’m guessing there might be some cases when a diet is the only and urgent answer to an issue, but I’m putting myself out there by saying I believe those times are probably a lot less than you might imagine.)
And by ‘kid’ – not only do I mean the important child in your life. I’m also talking about your pre-teen. Your teenager. Your grown up kid. And, dare I say it, your own wonderful self.
Diets don’t work.
Well. Ok. Yes, they help you lose weight, often quite quickly. And if you need to lose weight, quickly, and the longer term benefits of being happy and healthy aren’t quite as important to you, then go for it. Go on a diet. And then go on another one a bit later on. And then another after that. Etc.
But what I’m begging you to do. And yes, I’m on my knees, proper begging right now.
Do NOT put your kid on a diet. Not now. Not ever. No matter how much your child is overweight. No matter how much they are struggling with eating too much, or craving rubbish, or being ‘too big for their bones’. A diet will not help them.
(nor will telling them they need to lose weight. Or politely telling them that they are greedy. Or commenting on their size – none of these things help in any way. They don’t help with self confidence. They don’t help with body image. They don’t help your child develop a love of sport or moving their body. And all of these things: confidence, pride in their body and a willingness to move around are key to long term health and happiness, so please don’t dent those precious things at such an early age)
My experience of working with young children who need to lose weight is zero. I have none. I’ve never been asked to help a child lose weight. Nor have I had to deal with the issue with my own kids. I’m not talking from personal experience because as a child I was painfully skinny and had to deal with emotional issues that came from being picked on for being ‘too thin’ – luckily those issues are long since gone!)
So I’m not an expert on child weight loss. I can’t claim to be a guru. I’m not your ‘childhood weight loss coach’.
My experience comes from working with adults who want to lose weight. Who are finally ready to jump off the yo-yo dieting train, and have realised that another miracle diet isn’t going to cure them. People who’ve done more diets (and often very successfully – for a time, at least) than you can possibly imagine, and who often started dieting right back when they were teens. Some of them were put on diets by well meaning mothers and doctors as children, and their weight has been up and down, up and down for pretty much their entire life.
Life has been one long (and painful, and often sad) never ending cycle of dieting, and giving up, dieting and then slowly creeping weight gain. Followed by another diet. Which plays havoc with both your metabolism and general health, but it also squanders your mental health and self confidence. It also screws up your ability to enjoy food – all of which is a huge shame.
Pretty much every single person I’ve worked with to help with weight loss has had to deal with frustration at being a ‘failure’, unwelcome opinions from thin family member at being so ‘weak-willed’, and often feel like they don’t really deserve to be happy because they can’t even manage their own weight.
As a nutritionist, I do my best to help. I can give solid advice around eating – quite often it’s quite a surprise to people when they hear what will help them – and help around lifestyle too (for example, stress and sleep are a lot more important for weight management than you would ever realise) and I can even help people feel much more positive and capable with my ever-present optimism and belief in the wonderful nature of each and every person.
One of the things that is really hard, to the point of being impossible because I haven’t yet figured out how to time-travel, is to undo the damage of being put on a diet as a child. The damage to self esteem. The damage to attitudes to eating and their bodies (how on earth is it ever going to be helpful for a child to feel that food is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and that eating too much makes them a terrible person?) The damage to their long term health.
Now, I’m sure there are plenty of people who were put on a diet as a kid, and are now a healthy and stable weight. But I’ve never met any of them, not in a my work as a Nutritional Therapist. The people I’ve met who were put on a diet as a child seem to be almost always in a ‘battle’ – a battle with their weight, a battle with relatives disprovingly looking at them each time they celebrate a birthday with a cake – A CAKE! – a battle with their self belief, a battle with the idea of exercise being fun, a battle to force their very own bodies to be something that they just can’t be. A battle which permits no winners.
And a diet can be nothing but a battle. No matter how old you are when you start your first diet.
So save the battles. Do something which works instead. Get better sleep. Look after your gut bacteria. Learn to love your body. Learn to love moving your body (not just through exercise). Discover foods that make you feel good, rather than just hide the bad feelings. Learn to love the taste of water. All these things are applicable to children. To all children. Not just the heavy ones.
Don’t worry. I’m not deluded. I know that for many children, there is far more to weight gain than just eating food. Health issues which almost guarantee putting on weight. Or the cost of eating well.Or trauma or issues with family. The list is endless. Which is why the list for ‘ways to lose weight’ for children shouldn’t be: 1. go on a diet; 2. run round a field.
Making someone feel bad about their body, about their weight, will not help them. It won’t help them now. It won’t help them later. It won’t help them as adults. Whatever the reason for weight gain, especially as a child, ‘going on a diet’ is never going to be the answer.
So please. As my final plead to you, if your child is overweight, do not put your kid on a diet. Even though I’m not a ‘childhood weight loss coach’, I know that a diet is not the answer.
I’m just a Nutritional Therapist who loves chocolate and who loves helping people feel better. About food. About themselves.
And as a Nutritionist Therapist who loves chocolate, I might be the right person for you. Maybe I can help you, or your child, with their eating. Who knows?
What I do know is that I can guarantee that I won’t be focusing on cutting calories and making you feel bad for the foods you love, or for the body you have.
If the thought of working together seems like a good idea, do get in touch.