All parents worry about their kids. We all want what’s best for our kiddies, we want them to be happy, healthy and to do well in school.
A lot of parents worry about their childs’
size. And with the “obesity epidemic”
being a “major health concern” and we’re told that 6 out of 10 New Zealanders are over weight or obese and around 36% of NZ kiddies are over weight or obese.
We’re all taught that being fat is “bad” and if you are too fat you can get type two diabetes or increase your risk of heart disease (etc, etc).
So naturally, we hear this and we worry.
Well, I’m here to tell you not to. If your child is growing predictably, hasn’t lost or gained any weight in a short period of time and has no medical condition* that could effect their weight, then you can sit back and relax.
*if you ever have any concerns about your child’s health or weight, see your GP. If your child is healthy and you are concerned about their eating behaviours see a Registered Nutritionist or Dietitian that specialises in feeding, the non diet approach and/or Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility.
Every child (and every adult, too!) are different sizes and shapes. This is normal and mostly about our genetic make up. Kids often resemble their parents. I’m 5 foot tall and petite, my girls will be lucky to reach 5 foot 3! My friend is 6 foot, with a large frame, her children are big built, just like she is. Size and shape is mostly about genetics! Small people have small children, big people have big children. What’s important is that our kids grow in a way that is predictable for them.
So, whether too fat or too thin, accept your child’s body shape and size for what it is. I know first hand how hard this is, my daughter is very thin, partly due to genetics and partly due to medical reasons. Once we sorted the medical stuff I had to let my fears and worries about my child’s weight go, so she could return to eating intuitively (without me peering over her watching how much she was eating and encouraging her to shove more food in when she really didn’t want to!). So I get it! It’s really hard!
BUT any pressure on kids to be any weight or shape that they are not, any calorie counting, calorie restriction or dieting in any form WILL lead to trouble.
A quote from a 2018 published study that followed over 500 people from 1998 to 2015:
“Experiencing parent encouragement to diet as an adolescent was significantly associated with a higher risk of overweight or obesity, dieting, binge eating, engaging in unhealthy weight control behaviors, and lower body satisfaction 15 years later as a parent. Additionally, intergenerational transmission of encouragement to diet occurred and resulted in parents being more likely to report other weight-focused communication in the home environment.
“Exposure to parent encouragement to diet as an adolescent had long-term harmful associations with weight-related and emotional health outcomes in parenthood and was transmitted to the next generation. It may be important for health care providers to educate parents about the potential harmful and long-lasting consequences of engaging in encouragement to diet with their children.”
In short, encouraging your kids to diet, or exposing them to diets, calorie restriction or any weight loss activities or goals is incredibly harmful to children and teens. It leads to INCREASED weight in our kids, poor relationships with food and with their body and they are likely to pass those behaviours onto THEIR kids!! It does generations of damage!
So dieting doesn’t work, watching how much your kid is eating and calorie restricting them or only giving them low calorie foods definitely doesn’t work!
So what does work?!
Infants and kids have innate hunger and satiety senses. They know EXACTLY how much they need to eat. It’s super important that we don’t over ride their hunger queues by what we think they should be eating. So encourage them to eat to appetite, listen to their tummies and eat when hungry, stop when satisfied. Older kids and teens may have had these innate skills over-rided, so teaching them to listen to their body and understand what signals they are getting and what those signals mean, is imperative.
This is where the Division of responsibility is really important, if we follow this our kids will learn and we will reinforce their innate hunger cues and they will grow as we expect them to. As you probably know, kids tend to get chubby, then have a growth spurt and get skinny, then chub up again, then grow. They have times when they barely eat anything and times when they eat us out of house and home and you just cant fill them up! That is totally normal eating and we need to allow our kids to do that. If we over-ride our kids hunger signals by encouraging them to “eat one more mouthful” or “eat all your dinner or you won’t get dessert”, then that is going to teach them to stop listening to their tummies and to over eat, which will lead to kids being over weight or bigger than is normal for them.
The division of responsibility is: It’s our job, as parents, to provide the types of foods we want our family to eat, at the times we want them to be fed. It’s our kiddies responsibility to choose what they eat, out of what is offered, and how much. What we want is our kiddies to be able to listen to their “tummies” to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied. This means we need to trust their body to know how much food they need.
And remember there is more to health then a number on the scale, our physical, biochemical, emotional, spiritual and psychological health all matter just as much!
If you are worried about your childs’ weight, would like help with fussy eating or challenging behaviours’ with food and meals, get in touch! I offer 1 on 1 consults and will give you personalised strategies and advice to help you and your kiddies on your food journey.
If you want to read more of that study, click the link:
Jerica M. Berge, Megan R. Winkler, Nicole Larson, Jonathan Miller, Ann F. Haynos, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer