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Parents: Why You Should Never Put Your Kids on a Diet (and What to do Instead)

I am concerned about my child's health. Should I put them on a diet?

It's a common question: should I put my child on a diet? Perhaps you were just at the pediatrician and they mentioned to be mindful of your child's weight, recent weight gain, or recent increase in BMI z-score. While the pediatrician meant well, this likely increased your worry, concern, and/or anxiety about your child's health and body. Or perhaps you noticed on your own that your child's body size is increasing in a way that makes you feel concerned about their health. Feeling concerned, worried, anxious, confused, overwhelmed, etc. are all completely normal and demonstrate that you love, care, and want the best for your child and their health.

The answer to whether you should put your child on a diet or not is: No. Also, nope. And never. Never put your child on a diet.

Not only does dieting fail at addressing underlying health and behavioral issues, but it can lead to life-long disordered eating and health problems for your child. You don't want that for them!

"Not only does dieting fail at addressing underlying health and behavioral issues related to food, but it can lead to life-long disordered eating and health problems for your child."

Harmful Effects of Dieting on Children

Numerous research studies and clinical observations have demonstrated that consequences of dieting in children are far reaching, and include:

- Slowing of linear growth

- Beginnings of eating disorders and disordered eating

- Increased weight gain (dieting often has the opposite effect of weight loss)

- Decreased self-esteem

- Decreased body acceptance

- Depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide

- Increased risk of poor health behaviors in adulthood

- Increased risk of chronic nutrition-related diseases in adulthood

Alternatives to Dieting for Children

Many parents and caregivers think that they are helping their children by restricting and controlling what foods and beverages their child consumes, but, research suggests the opposites. Restricting and controlling the foods a child can and cannot eat may seem like a logical approach, but it often backfires. Restriction reduces children's control over their own food intake and also makes them fearful of not having access to enough food. Both situations lead them to overeat during meals and snacks, and binge or hide foods that are off-limits to them.

To reduce the risks associated with dieting in children, interventions must ensure nutritional adequacy of the diet, a nonjudgmental approach, behavioral counseling, social-emotional support, and identifying and addressing any underlying feeding issues, such as sensory processing disorder.

The overall goal of nutritional counseling is to promote healthful eating and physical activity habits in childhood so that your child can develop a positive relationship with food and body that carries with them into adulthood. An important step is moving away from weight-related goals to non-weight related goals. Examples of non-weight related goals are: increase fruit and vegetable consumption; increase whole grain intake; consume more healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and olive and canola oil; drink more water; eat balanced meals and snacks; and increase enjoyable daily physical activity like walking and bike riding.

Helping Without Harming

Childhood, including adolescence, is an opportune time to nurture your child's connection to and respect for their body and food. Practicing this yourself can make it easier to pass it down to your children. Numerous research studies indicate that fad diets and short-term or "quick" weight loss diets don't work and often have negative consequences. Health is complex and is influenced by many factors. A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist can help you navigate the complexity and help you set realistic goals you, your child, and your family.

If your child need a medically supervised nutrition intervention (such as to manage or treat food allergies, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure etc.), ask for an approach that is health at every size aligned, like intuitive eating. Intuitive Eating does work in the nutritional management of diseases. Intuitive eating focuses on non-weight health outcomes and teaches a positive mental framework that makes use feel like we have unconditional permission to eat foods that are healthy, safe, and make us feel good!

Contact me with any questions :-) and check out my IG Reel on this topic!


Hi! I’m Beth.

I’m a registered dietitian nutritionist and mom of three. My mission is to help clients find food freedom using the principles of Intuitive Eating so that they can heal their relationship with food and body. Eating and feeding should should be joyful, positive experiences that make us feel good. I work with you in a safe and supportive environment to develop a personalized and realistic plan that works to achieve your unique goals. I am here for you every step of the way. Learn more: Welcome to FTSN! (

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