Why we need to stop diet talk

CW: diets, body image

Wednesday past I had just finished reading Catherine W’s lovely post about loving our bodies when SamB shared a news article on the increase of children dieting in the UK.

The image shows three dishes with salad bowls consisting of various vegetables and seeds. Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Briefly, the article reported that dieting behaviours among young children were up significantly: more than one in four children were dieting in fact. And coincidentally, the spike occurred following the launch of an obesity awareness program for children and youth.

Without a shadow of a blush, the paper also reported that there might be a problem with the messaging since the number of kids within healthy weight ranges were dieting too.

You think?

Kids are surrounded by images of purported perfect bodies. They learn how to manipulate photos and follow influencers. What could possibly go wrong with the messaging from a weight-based health program?

Context is everything. Even if weight-based concerns are motivated by a sincere wish for health, we know singling kids out for attention that is focused on their bodies is bound to go sideways.

There’s lots wrong with the sugar and fat-loaded foods that are marketed to kids. There’s lots to be worried about when it comes to kids gaining extra weight, or younger kids developing type 2 diabetes.

We are also moving less and eating more. There is also more poverty, and the lack of money influences food buying decisions, so poor diets are not necessarily driven by free choice.

I think we should be focusing on encouraging kids to be proud of their accomplishments, especially those that aren’t weight or image-based. Catherine’s post reminded me how often we are told to improve ourselves, as if we aren’t already good enough as we are.

Children learn what they see, and they aren’t seeing people who are happy with who they are, celebrating all the wonderful things our bodies can do. Instead of focusing on the numbers the scale shows, we need to focus on what self care and self love can do.

MarthaFitat55 lives in the east of Canada. She spent a number of years teaching media literacy to children and youth in the pre-internet era.