At a gathering in the neighborhood, I told my neighbor her daughter had blossomed. She seemed to change from an awkward preteen to a beautiful young woman overnight. She smiled, thanked me and said her daughter was dieting.
Dieting? Really? Since when did a 13 year old start dieting?
Another neighbor nodded her head in agreement. "Dieting, it’s going to last her whole life."
What? Since when do you need to diet your entire life? Did I miss the memo? When did it become the norm for women to diet?
Yes, I’ve dieted. I’ve avoided complex carbs. I’ve tried Paleo and Keto. I’ve done a juice cleanse. I've avoided dairy. But I didn’t start these ridiculous things until my 20s. At 13, I wasn’t focused on dieting. Through my failed diets, I’ve learned that “dieting” doesn't produce results, having a healthy diet will.
A healthy diet is not dieting.
I have a 6 year old daughter which explains my interest in teenage girls’ behavior. From birth, I have done my best to instill healthy eating habits for my daughter. I don't want her to body shame. I don’t want her to look at other girls with envy. I want her to make the right eating choices because it is healthier, not because she wants to be thin.
So far this seems to be working. My daughter will pick fruit over cake. She wants cucumbers and tomatoes for her school lunch. She loves vegetables and meal prepping with me. Yet she also loves ice cream and homemade cookies.
But will this change? Will the habits that I am working hard to instill in her disappear when she’s a teen? Will she follow the footsteps of the teenage girls who diet? I sincerely hope not.
I watched Tristan Harris from the Social Dilemma on a Joe Rogan podcast recently. On the podcast, he described the business model of Social Media platforms. While I understood that Social Media suggests videos and articles based on your interests, I didn’t fully comprehend the following.
The longer you are engaged in the platform, the more financially successful the platform will be.
While this seems like common sense, I never took the time to think about it. Here’s what alarmed me most from that podcast. Suppose a teenage girl was watching a video on dieting or healthy eating. Suppose now the social platform begins suggesting other videos on dieting. Normal right? Well, let’s take it one step further. The social platform now starts suggesting anorexia videos. The girl watches video after video alarmed by what she is seeing yet watching nonetheless. This type of suggestive implication is responsible for beliefs all across the internet.
You join a mom group on Facebook. You see other recommended groups on organization, home schooling and anti-bullying. What other videos do you think are recommended? Maybe an anti-vaccine group. What does one have to do with the other? Nothing.
Suggestive implication is responsible for beliefs. Extreme beliefs drive views.
Let’s return to our teenage girl. After watching video after video, what will happen to the young impressionable girl?
She may engage in some of the behaviors she’s seen. Or she may turn to other forms of extreme dieting. Either way, her mind has been altered without her even knowing it.
Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do to change the business model of social media. When it comes to our children, the only thing we can do is show them healthy behavior so they don’t feel the need to diet. This means that we must engage in this behavior ourselves.
According to UNC statistics on eating disorders, girls are three times more likely than boys to have a negative body image.
Three times more likely.
Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don't diet. The girl who diets likely has someone within her family or friends that diets. She's learned that behavior from somewhere.
If that's not enough to alarm you, this will.
81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.
Can you believe that? A 10 year old is afraid of being fat. How is it that a 10 year old even thinks about weight? When I was 10, I was too busy playing with friends, riding my bike and binge playing Mario Kart to even think about my weight. Within my group of friends, we didn't notice each other's sizes until well into our teenage years. But times are changing. Children are growing up faster.
While we can't change how fast children grow up, we can change how they think about weight. We need to show our children the value of healthy eating and exercise so they don’t develop bad habits. We need to reward their good behavior with things other than sugary treats and explain the value of eating in moderation. We need to address their comments on being fat or dieting as soon as they make them to avoid negative affects as they age.
My 6 year old daughter looked at the nutritional facts on a snack bag the other day. She commented on the number of calories. I immediately said calories don't matter. It's the nutrients that do. I don't know where she got the idea to look at calories. I don't look at calories. If anything, I look at carbs. I've done my best to not do this in front of her but you'd be surprised what children see. By addressing negative behavior with body image and eating as soon as it occurs, we're more likely to control what our children think about healthy eating.
42% of first, second and third grade girls want to lose weight.
How many times are girls this age weighing themselves? How do they know what their ideal weight is? Where do they get the idea that they should focus on weight loss?
I got rid of my scale years ago. I don't want to focus on a number, or have my children focus on a number. Instead, I want them to develop healthy habits.
I tell my daughter she is beautiful every day. When she does something nice, I tell her how important it is to be beautiful on the inside. I watch meal prep videos with her. I also bake cookies with her. I remind her eating in moderation is key.
She sees me exercise. She sees me eat salads. She also sees me eat cookies. I try my best not to say I’m fat, or that I’ll get fat if I eat dessert, or anything that will lead her to believe she needs to watch her weight. It’s been a challenge but my hope is to show her she doesn’t need to diet.
The only way I can influence her behavior is by changing mine.