What to tell kids, teens about fad diets

Black teenage boy is eating French fries

By JULIANA BAIRD

Texas Children’s Health Plan

Diets are temporary but habits are forever. Patients frequently ask me if a certain diet works and if it’s healthy. To answer the first question – yes. Usually any diet which dramatically restricts in calories will result in weight loss. But to answer the second question – probably not.

Most fad diets that radically lower calories most likely would leave out essential nutrients. Diets usually don’t work long term, because by their very nature, they are not sustainable for a lifetime.

What happens after a diet becomes too hard to maintain? We go back to whatever we were doing, but also now feel we have failed and the weight comes back. This can also trigger eating disorders, not only among teens, but adults as well. It’s only natural to want a quick solution for our problems, whether it is weight, grades, etc.

At school, kids may be exposed to others dieting. Speaking with them about diets early will help them have better relationships with food later. Remind your child weight is only one aspect of health and your focus is helping them prevent diseases, to give them energy, and helping them to grow.

To have sustainable weight loss and improved health outcomes, there are a few key concepts parents can keep in mind when discussing these topics with their children:

  • The choices we repeat the most are going to make the most difference.

Everything from the portion sizes of our meals to how much we exercise (or don’t) plays a role. Having cake at your birthday party isn’t going to make as much of an impact as cutting out the afternoon soda or morning juice over the course of a year.

  • Changes should be made for every person in the household, regardless of weight or health status.

No one benefits from sugary beverages, daily hot chips, or lack of vegetables. We all need environments that help us make healthier eating easier. Pack fresh snacks for kids so it’s easier for them to say no to less healthy options.

  • Start out by picking the easiest thing to change.

Try limiting soda to just when eating out rather than having it at home; going on a walk in the evening before sitting down to do homework; diluting juice with water; or purchasing fewer snack foods. Having an immediate success helps us stay motivated.

Juliana Baird is a dietitian with Texas Children’s Health Plan, The Center for Children and Women.