I’m annoyed and I’ll tell you why.
I just recently found out about the 5:2 diet. Haven’t heard about it? Well, in a nutshell it suggests that you allocate two days as fast days and only eat ¼ of your recommended calorie intake on those days and then eat ‘normally’ (including any junk/high fat foods you want) for the other five days.
I won’t go into the science behind why this idea is so ludicrous and will never be sustainable, because where my real frustration lies is about the message that this diet and other fad diets send to our children. You wouldn’t know it from all the media attention on Childhood Obesity, but Eating Disorders in young people is scarily on the rise; 1 in 10 young people have an eating disorder and eating disorders represent the third most common chronic illness for young females.
After working specifically with Eating Disordered patients for some time I found myself more aware of the media, the health ‘experts’, the covers of magazines lining the supermarkets, the creators of fad diets and brilliant new weight loss techniques, and I began to understand how these young women get sucked into this awful disease. It is suffocating! Even the most body-proud woman would find it difficult not to fall victim to these crazes and find the 5:2 diet and all of its promises enticing. But how can we expect our children to be satisfied with the way they look and the person that they are if we are always on the lookout for a new quick-fix weight loss craze for ourselves?
Here are some tips on how to manage the topics of weight/shape/food in your home.
• Don’t focus heavily on weight/shape/food. ‘Wow did you see how much weight he put on?’, ‘How great does she look after she lost her pregnancy weight?’ or ‘Are you having another serving of mashed potato?’ are not helpful conversation topics. Talk about your day, about your achievements and your struggles. Ask your children about their interests, their friends, their school work. Don’t make food and weight your dinner-table talk.
• Model body appreciation and being healthy and happy to your children. Don’t talk about how your tummy sticks out over your jeans or how skinny you look in your wedding pictures. Talk about how great it felt to get out in the sun when you took the dog for a walk today or how proud you are of your daughter trying so hard in her Netball competition. This will encourage healthy behavior without making healthy inextricably linked to skinny.
• Avoidance doesn’t work either. Avoiding the topic of food or cooking or weight is also unhelpful because it creates a taboo that your child will immediately be pulled to. The trick is to be balanced. Don’t be afraid to show your child how tasty a green salad can be, but similarly enjoy cookies and chocolate with them. The Eating Disordered patients I saw who had the most difficulty with recovery were those that had rules around eating; ‘ice-cream is bad’ or ‘no carbs after dinner’. Find a balance with your family and don’t impose food and eating rules.
Loving your child and the person that they are is not enough, you need to show them how to love themselves and their body by setting an example first with yourself. So please, stop talking about dieting.
Stefanie Schwartz is a Child & Adolescent Clinical Psychologist & founder of GroupWorx Psychology. GroupWorx offers bulk billed group therapy programs for children and young people in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and FREE online child psychology advice. Visit www.groupworx.com.au for more information