The New Year's Resolution Every Parent on the Planet Should Make

The jury is in: Diets and body shaming don't work. Think of all the energy and heartache that goes into losing and gaining those same 10 to 15 pounds. Can't we spare our children this fate?
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Written with Jill Castle, MS, RD, pediatric nutrition expert and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.

Dear Parents,

It's likely that you are making health goals this time of year. Maybe you want to exercise more, lose weight or just do a better job of feeding your family. As family and pediatric nutrition experts, there's a goal (or resolution) surrounding your family's health we want you to take seriously.

But first, just a few statistics to help you understand why we're taking the time to write this:

  • A 2012 study in Body Image showed that 3- to 5-year-olds already have negative attitudes about body shape, which is linked to mom's own body image issues. Other research shows that when mom is more concerned about her weight, adolescent girls are more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies and try to lose weight five years later.

  • A recent study out of the UK found that one out of three girls and one out of four of boys are distressed about their weight and shape, which increases the risk they will engage in unhealthy weight control strategies leading to higher chances of being obese by age 15.
  • According to one study, 45 percent of girls reported their moms pushed them to diet and 58 percent reported being teased about their weight by family members. Weight teasing is associated with higher body weights, unhealthy weight control practices and binge eating in girls.
  • Dieting and body dissatisfaction in both children and adults is associated with weight gain over time and decreased quality of life. Early dieting is also a leading risk factor for eating disorders.
  • Body satisfaction and dieting status doesn't get better with age. According to one survey, 70 percent of women over 50 are dissatisfied with their bodies.
  • Moms and dads, dieting, restricting and hoping that weight loss will bring body satisfaction doesn't work. In fact, research indicates it's the other way around. Body satisfaction and avoiding dieting helps adults and children eat better, achieve good health and maintain healthier weights.

    Take a study with over 1,000 normal weight adolescent girls. Those who perceived themselves as overweight gained more weight over eleven years than those who saw themselves as 'just about right.'

    Children of all shapes and sizes can experience body image issues, potentially changing the trajectory of their life. Will it be one spent losing and gaining weight and feeling bad about themselves? Or one of lifelong healthy habits where they feel good about themselves?

    Who can blame children for worrying about the shape of their bodies? Everywhere they turn, there's encouragement to live the thin ideal -- often times in the home. Media images have a strong influence as do you, the parents. But let's be honest, this same "thin ideal" affects you (the adult) too.

    The jury is in: Diets and body shaming don't work. Think of all the energy and heartache that goes into losing and gaining those same 10 to 15 pounds. Can't we spare our children this fate?

    Parents, the change is possible, but it has to start with you. And why not right now, in 2014?

    This is one of the reasons we came together to write Fearless Feeding -- to help parents pass down a healthy relationship with food (and their bodies) to children. While we provide more details and stories in the book, here are some things you can do:

    1. Don't diet or restrict what you eat. Instead, make small changes to have balanced food in your home. Make eating a regular routine in your home and listen to internal cues of hunger and fullness. Forget about demonizing certain foods--all foods can fit if you find the right balance with eating.

    2. If you have hated your body for a long time, start with an appreciation for what it has done for you, such as having children. Try looking at your body in a whole new way. Watch that negative self talk and take good care of your body (i.e., sleep, quality food and compassion).

    3. Focus on health, moving your body, feeling good, and being strong rather than the number on the scale (especially when talking to your child about eating and exercise). If your weight negatively affects your health, see a registered dietitian for guidance and support.

    4. Teach your children to take care and respect their bodies. Let them know that 50 percent of their body weight and shape is determined before birth and people come in all shapes and sizes. No matter the size or shape, all bodies can be healthy and strong!

    5. Talk to your children about media images and how they portray an unrealistic thinness. Look for signs of dieting and help guide children to a healthier way of being, especially by being a positive role model.

    Parents, consider making 2014 the year of the anti-diet -- choosing health over weight. Let's raise children who will one day think it's foreign to make a New Year's resolution to lose weight.

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