Dieting isn’t at all good for adolescents. In fact, it can have the opposite effect and cause more weight gain, increase binge eating and lead to eating disorders, according to the latest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Published in the journal Pediatrics, the guidelines aim to prevent obesity and eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia, in teenagers.
Through analyzing previous studies, the researchers found that five behaviors were linked with obesity and eating disorders. Check if you see these red flags in your tween or teen:
1. Dieting Defined by the AAP as “caloric restriction with the goal of weight loss,” one study shows that adolescents who diet were two times more likely to become overweight and one and a half times more likely to binge eat. Another study involving students 14 to 15 years old found that teens who skipped meals were 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder compared to those who didn’t diet.
2. Infrequent family meals Data shows that when kids eat with their parents, they consumed more fruits, vegetables, grains, and calcium- and fiber-rich foods. Intake of soda was lessened, too. One study also shows that eating with the family lessened the chances of binge eating, purge eating (forcefully removing food in the body through vomiting, taking laxatives or excessive exercising), and frequent dieting in preadolescents and adolescents.
3. Parents’ comments about weight Comments on a child’s weight made by the parents, even when its intentions were good, can be hurtful to the child, says the AAP. “Several studies have found that parental weight talk, whether it involves encouraging their children to diet or talking about their own dieting, is linked to overweight and [eating disorders].”
4. Teasing from family and friends Teasing a child about his weight can increase the chances of him becoming overweight; when girls were teased by family members and peers, the risk doubled. In addition, one study involving young teenagers found that hurtful comments from family and significant others were linked with unhealthy weight-control behaviors in both boys and girls. 5. Body dissatisfaction “Approximately half of teenage girls and one-quarter of teenage boys are dissatisfied with their bodies,” says the AAP. Being unhappy with one’s body increased the likelihood of dieting, binge eating and lessened engagement in physical activities. On the other hand, those who were happy with their bodies reported encouragement from family and peers to be fit and eat healthy. They were also less likely to worry about weight.
So what’s a parent’s role in all of this? According to the AAP, in order to prevent obesity and eating disorders in adolescents, “the focus should be on a healthy lifestyle rather than on weight.” From the five behaviors mentioned above, they came up with concrete ways on how to lead teens away from weight-related problems.
1. Don’t focus on weight. “Discourage dieting, skipping of meals, or the use of diet pills,” says the AAP. Instead, promote and encourage healthy eating and engaging in physical activity. Why not buy bikes for the whole family or schedule family jogs around the neighborhood to make exercising a family bonding experience?
2. Promote a positive body image, says the AAP. Beauty isn’t only seen in a person’s physical appearance, and your child should know that. Avoid body-shaming yourself, your child, or other people.
3. Make eating together as a family a daily habit. As previously mentioned, family meals promote healthy eating. Aside from being able to monitor if she's eating right, you model healthy eating, too, when you pile your plate with fruits and vegetables.
4. Talk to your child about bullying and teasing. You may not be aware that your child is being picked on at school because of his weight. As previously mentioned, teasing increases his chances of binge eating and developing eating disorders. The sooner you know this is happening, the better.