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Should Young Chubby Children Be Put on a Diet?

Updated on July 1, 2019
Lorra Garrick profile image

Former ACE-certified personal trainer Lorra Garrick has trained men & women for fat loss, muscle building, more strength and more fitness.

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I was inspired to write this helpful article after reading an Instagram post by a very large body positive influencer who has a chubby daughter of about seven.

Her post reports that a follower had DM’d her because her preteen daughter had asked about the Keto diet.

The body positive influencer replied that children should “never knowingly and willingly be put on, or allowed to start a diet.”

  • Does this include kids with obesity and prediabetes?
  • What about children whose weight impairs their mobility or is causing obstructive sleep apnea?

Her post continues: “It breeds fear, and it perpetuates the idea that all our problems can be solved if we lose a bit of weight, which then leads to eating disorders.”

I find this comment to be pretty over the top and overly presumptive. Re-read it. It is over the top.

What is a diet anyways?

Everyone is on a diet, technically. What we eat is a diet. You have a diet. I have a diet. Every human has a diet.

But what about “going on” a diet? This is NOT a precursor to an eating disorder. “Going on” can mean making healthier food choices and abstaining from second helpings of pie and cake.

Nevertheless, in the English vernacular, we all know what “going on a diet” means. This begs the question: Should an overweight child go on a diet?

Yes. The issue isn’t the “going on” part. It’s what kind of diet.

In America, land of the overly plenty and wildly fruitful, it’s very easy for a healthy child to be overweight – even an active one.

If a child, who’s free of disease, is overweight, there’s something amiss. Their physical activity levels need to be increased, and/or their diet – what they typically eat every day – needs to be improved.

According to the body positivity promoter, a chubby child who eats a lot of junk food should be left alone and allowed to eat what she or he wants. And do frequently dole out the seconds on mashed potatoes and gravy, or mac n’ cheese, even though they just ate a complete meal.

How do diets breed fear?

I once read about a survey of grade school children: The question to answer was, “What scares you the most.”

The two top answers were: 1) Being called to the principal’s office, and 2) Parents getting divorced.

Going on a diet certainly didn’t make the list.

Just what are kids fearful of, anyways? Spiders, thunder, a teacher’s stern look, the failure of living up to their parents’ expectations, a bully at school, Dad getting into a plane crash on his next business trip, Grandma’s declining health, school shootings, even. But DIETS? Come on!

According to the bopo influencer, you should let your overweight child eat lots of fast-food every day if they want.
According to the bopo influencer, you should let your overweight child eat lots of fast-food every day if they want.

Diets in Children Leading to Eating Disorders

This is what the bopo influencer believes. If a woman tells her chubby child, “I’m going to put you on a diet,” does this really put the girl at risk for developing anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa?

First off, any diet that a child is put on should:

  • Allow the child to still eat his favorite foods – but in controlled amounts and frequency.
  • Emphasize portion control.
  • Discourage food intake for reasons other than hunger, such as watching TV, playing video games, boredom, being rewarded or to quiet the child (e.g., giving a noisy child in the backseat of your car a candy bar to quiet her).
  • Restrict processed sugary foods (as adults should also, whether they want to lose weight or not).
  • Increase produce intake.

Since I’m not an eating disorders doctor, I’m not going to make statements about the causes of eating disorders. Instead, I’m going to ask questions.

#1. Have you ever read in a psychiatry journal what causes eating disorders?

#2. If so, did any of the causes include putting overweight children on healthful, reasonable diets in the absence of punishments or body shaming?

#3. Did any of the causes pertain to family dynamics such as whether or not the parents made their child feel validated?

#4. Did you notice that anorexia nervosa was strongly associated with perfectionistic parents who demanded high achievement from their kids – that an A- on a book report wasn’t good enough; it had to be an A+? That second place in anything (science fair, sports event) wasn’t good enough, and not placing at all meant getting berated by a parent?

#5. Did you notice that past childhood sexual abuse is disproportionately present in those with bulimia nervosa?

#6. Did you read that the cause of eating disorders is “multi-factorial”?

What the body positive woman is essentially saying is that it’s wrong to limit the amount of junk food your child eats.

It’s also wrong, potentially fear-inducing, to provide more fruits and nuts for snacks, and less ice cream, cookies and cheese puffs.

What would she think about a parent who decides to serve water with her kids’ summertime lunch rather than soda?

How does a snack like this for your chubby child breed fear or lead to eating disorders?
How does a snack like this for your chubby child breed fear or lead to eating disorders?

Think of a New Diet As a Healthier Way to Eat

A child whose parents have decided to bring more healthy food into the house and less processed fare is a child who will be healthier, more energetic, better at sports, less likely to get sick, and less likely to develop unhealthy levels of body fat.

This isn’t about fear. It’s about health and the prevention of obesity. Do not let Instagram influencers -- who make money by posting images and content about their paid sponsor’s product – guilt you into thinking that a good parent lets their kids eat whatever and how much they want, and that a mean parent is one who gives their hungry child an apple as a snack instead of an ice cream bar.

Just like you wouldn’t want your children to smoke, why would you be okay with them being chubby due to excess junk food consumption?

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