One of the many challenges parents of teenagers face is ensuring that their child grows up with a healthy body image. Despite the rise of body acceptance and the body positivity movement, diet culture is often prevalent in pop culture and social media – whether it’s the media storm surrounding Kim Kardashian’s super-fast Met Gala slim down or the prevalence of stars doing restrictive detox diets. . Not surprising, then, according to a 2020 study published in JAMA Pediatrics, teenagers today are more concerned about losing weight than previous generations. So what’s a parent to do if their teenager tells them they want to go on a diet?
The official word from experts? Don’t do it encourage your teen to diet – no matter what size.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), no encouragement A teenager losing weight can cause harm. That doesn’t mean parents can’t help their teens feel better about their bodies and themselves if they say they’re struggling to do so. The AAP recommends that pediatricians, as well as parents, should focus on health-promoting behaviors, such as eating a wide variety of nutritious foods and exercising, rather than prescribing weight loss, calorie restriction or a specific set of dietary rules. Encouraging healthy behaviors can combat physical health issues that may arise from a poor diet or lack of exercise but can also prevent a teenager from developing an eating disorder – which diet puts them at risk.
In a 2016 study, diets were one of the most important predictors in determining whether adolescents might develop an eating disorder. Samantha DeCaro, director of clinical outreach and education for the Renfrew Center, a residential treatment center for eating disorders, says that while it’s common for teenagers to try to diet because of pressure from the diet and fitness industries, it is important that parents do. encourage dietary behaviors.
“Working with people with eating disorders in eating disorder recovery, many of them will say that their eating disorder was triggered the day they started dieting,” she tells Yahoo Life. “Dieting is a high-risk behavior, since eating disorders are one of the deadliest psychiatric disorders in the DSM-V, second only to opioid use disorder.”
Outside of eating disorder risks, she says, “teenage bodies are changing rapidly.”
“They need a lot of good nutrition to keep up with extracurriculars and academics to nourish their brains and bodies,” DeCaro explains. “And so dieting can be really harmful to a teenager, especially when the diet is not rooted in some kind of allergy or medical intolerance.”
Registered dietitian Kara Lydon agrees, adding, “Adolescents actually need more nutrients than adults because they gain at least 40 percent of their adult weight and 15 percent of their adult height during the this period. Diets make it almost impossible to get enough nutrition and can delay growth and development.”
Dr. Rachel Goldstein, a pediatric and adolescent specialist at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, tells Yahoo Life, “Any recommendation for a teen to lose weight should be thoughtful with a clear understanding of the goals for weight loss. For example, we know that overweight youth are at risk of developing medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure For some, weight loss can result from changes in their diet and exercise is recommended That said, when the recommendations only focus on achieving a certain weight. , they run the risk of reinforcing many of the potentially harmful messages out there about eating and body image Health care providers should start by understanding teenagers’ relationship with food and their bodies, who nourish their bodies – ideally with input from a dietitian if possible – and to be involved in active eight bodies in a way that is enjoyable and meaningful.”
There’s also evidence that diets don’t work for long-term weight loss—which can lead to a cycle of frustration that only further damages a person’s relationship with their body and food.
“Weight loss diets are especially challenging at any age. Long-term results are rarely good. If a teen wants to lose weight through a diet, the first question should be about her health, not her weight,” the Dr. Nina Shapiro, author Kids’ Ultimate Guide to Being Super Healthy, tells Yahoo Life. “If they are overweight to the point that their doctor has raised health concerns, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, exercise intolerance and sleep apnea, then it becomes a focus on lifestyle and healthy habits, not just diet to lose. weight.”
Lydon says parents can help their children feel better about their bodies and make healthy lifestyle choices. However, the focus must be away from weight loss.
“If it is accessible to them, parents should adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach where no foods are off limits and food is seen as neutral, neither good nor bad,” she says. she “This can help teenagers develop a healthy relationship with food, one where they are encouraged to listen to their own hunger/fullness cues, and notice how they feel eating different foods.”
Lydon says parents can “role model a healthy relationship with food” by eating a wide variety of foods and eating them for nourishment as well as enjoyment and satisfaction.
“Parents can also practice using neutral language around food, avoiding terms like ‘junk,’ ‘good,’ ‘bad,’ ‘clean,’ ‘dirty,’ ‘unhealthy’ and ‘healthy, ” she says.
DeCaro also emphasizes that while many pediatricians will follow guidelines and not prescribe weight loss for health, parents need to be advocates for their teens if their doctors tell them that weight loss is the answer to their health problems. Weight stigma, she says, is still “rampant” in the medical field, despite research saying that we cannot know a person’s health based on their weight.
“I want to encourage parents to find doctors, as well as mental health providers, who work from a size-inclusive lens and are aware of the research that tells us that measuring weight is not very accurate on our health,” says DeCaro. “We’ve been told time and time again that ‘weight gain is bad, fat is bad,’ but the latest research that’s come out is telling us that we can’t predict a person’s health status based on their size alone. Since prescribing weight loss is a high-risk intervention … it is not in the child’s best interest to prescribe a weight loss plan.”
Lauren Smolar, vice president of mission and education at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), tells Yahoo Life that parents “shouldn’t be afraid to advocate” for their children.
“Ask a doctor for further clarification and express concern about the possible consequences of weight loss for your teenager. Are there other approaches to the issue they are treating?” she says. “If you feel your teen’s doctor isn’t recommending the right approach to their medical issues, get a second opinion and share your concerns about how losing weight might affect your mental health teenagers.”
If your teen insists that weight loss is what they need, Smolar says an important first step is to talk to them about their reasons.
“Be curious rather than judgmental about the subject,” she says. “Why does the teenager feel like they want to lose weight? Do they need additional support from a mental health professional and/or struggling with their body image? Recognize and empathize if societal pressures may be playing a role. “
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
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