Our 50th podcast episode!
We typically interview experts in a variety of fields. For our 50th podcast episode (click here to listen), we decided to honor the way our podcast started – with the 3 of us chatting about the challenges parents face raising kids in diet-free homes. In our anniversary podcast episode, we talked specifically about 10 truths we wish parents knew about food and bodies. We also decided to share a summary of the information here in a blog post.
1. The dangers of “clean eating” and wellness culture.
Clean eating and wellness culture are conflated with being “healthy”. Yet, “clean eating” and wellness culture leave parents feeling like we have to feed our kids in some perfect “healthy” way. And if we don’t, then we aren’t being good parents. We’re left feeling we need to push fruits and veggies and whole grains (we’re not denying that these are healthy foods) and avoid processed foods. It’s important to remember pressuring kids to eat certain foods and limiting other foods ultimately interferes with a child’s autonomy and ability to regulate their own eating.
2. Kids and teens going vegetarian, vegan, or wanting to “eat healthier” can be a red flag.
Anytime a child or teen wants to cut out foods that’s cause for concern. However, our society praises these choices. And there’s tremendous pressure for kids to be “healthy” and to eat in an environmentally conscious way. If your kid expresses a desire to go vegan, vegetarian, or “eat healthier” it’s a signal to pause and get curious about their motivations. Focus on foods your teen is interested in adding (beans, lentils, nuts, tofu, etc) instead of what they want to eliminate. I wrote a blog post about just this not long ago: 7 Tips for When Your Teen Says They’re Going Vegetarian.
3. The absence of menstruation for teenage girls is NOT normal.
Unfortunately, society has normalized this, especially for female athletes and dancers. If your daughter stops getting her period, it’s a sign they may not be eating enough. Also important to note is that the absence of menstruation has a negative impact on bone health (in both the short and long term), so there’s an increased risk of bone fractures. It’s important to pause, get curious about what might be causing the lack of menstruation; and consult with a pediatrician and dietitian who specialize in eating disorders.
4. Casual comments on weight loss or other people’s bodies are harmful.
Whether it’s praising weight loss, complimenting someone’s body, or making negative comments about your own or others’ bodies, it’s all harmful. Complimenting weight loss sends a message that weight loss is positive. The truth is that 95% of diets fail to result in regained weight and weight cycling is harmful. Comments also leave kids and teens feeling their bodies are supposed to look a certain way. And if it doesn’t or they think it doesn’t, they may feel they need to change their body. Experiment with a rule that you don’t comment on others’ bodies. And if a child or teen has lost weight, it’s always a cause for alarm.
5. Normalizing compensatory behaviors can lead to disordered eating and movement.
If parents and other adults model that you have to exercise to compensate for eating in a certain way or eat less or differently to compensate, we’re modeling disordered behaviors. Our bodies know what to do with the food we eat. Adolescents who live in homes where a parent diets are at increased risk of possibly developing an eating disorder. We’re not criticizing parents! We’re criticizing diet culture.
6. Fitness trackers are generally a bad idea, especially for kids.
Fitness trackers provide external input and messaging for what a child’s body already does naturally – which is to move. If we give kids fitness trackers, we’re sending the message they can’t trust their bodies.
7. It’s OK if your child doesn’t play a sport.
Playing a sport isn’t the only way for kids and teens to be active. As parents, we provide the opportunities to move. Kids then decide if they want to move. You can’t make a child run around outside, but you can tell them you’re all going outside. That child might decide to sit and read outside, or they might decide to run around and play. One way to provide opportunities for movement is to limit screen time. And lastly, everyone needs different amounts of physical activity.
8. Nutrition education is often diet and weight focused, and not developmentally appropriate.
Sad but true! We talk and write about this problem often. The examples are endless, unfortunately; from teaching kids there are “bad” vs “good” foods to weighing kids in PE class. What can parents do? Keep an eye out for homework assignments with negative messages about food and bodies. And remember parents, you can partner with teachers and coaches to address the issues. Send an email and bring your concerns to the teacher’s attention bearing in mind that you both want the best for the students. Check out our free resource “Diet Free Schools and Activities.”
9. Disease and body-related jokes are harmful and shouldn’t be tolerated or encouraged.
Imagine how you’d feel if you were the one being made fun of? If others are making jokes, suggest to your child or teen that they speak up and say they don’t find that funny. Another suggestion is to encourage your children not to laugh in these situations and remove themselves, if possible.
10. “Health” warnings from well-meaning adults (healthcare providers, gym teachers, etc) can send the wrong messages.
An example is, that eating too many sweets can cause diabetes. This simply isn’t true. And the messages leave children confused and worried about foods they probably like.
Do you have follow-up questions?
If you’d like a deeper dive into these 10 tips, listen to our 50th Anniversary podcast episode here.