For parents who have teens who are struggling with their weight, getting them involved in a diet may seem like a good place to start.
However, according to recent research, teens who are encouraged to diet are more likely to struggle with their weight as adults.
Susan Albers, PsyD, of Cleveland Clinic did not take part in the study, but said the research showed that developing a ‘diet’ mindset during teen years can have lasting effects.
“They followed teenagers who had been encouraged to diet. Fifteen years later, they were more likely to be overweight, to be dieting; binge-eating, and have lower body satisfaction,” she said.
The study looked at 556 teens who had been encouraged to diet. After fifteen years, researchers found that not only were the former teens more likely to struggle with weight and body image, but, now as adults, they were also more likely to encourage their own children to diet.
According to Dr. Albers, dieting can persuade teens to develop a negative relationship with food. Instead, she said it’s more beneficial to practice mindful eating – where the focus is on how we eat, rather than what we eat.
Dr. Albers said it’s also helpful to step away from the numbers and focus on the teen’s overall health. Instead of focusing on weight lost, she recommends focusing on the health that is gained through eating well.
This can help teens become more energized, more focused and will improve their overall health.
Dr. Albers said parents can start by focusing on four skills that all start with the letter ‘S’ – sit down, shut off devices, slow down, and practice stress management.
Dr. Albers said many teens feel pressure from school or an over-scheduled lifestyle. She encourages parents to find ways to help their teens manage stress because this will help steer them away from comfort-eating.
“It’s so important to give teens these skills at this juncture in their life,” she said. “I tell parents to use tools, not rules. Instead of teaching food ‘rules’ like counting calories and setting restrictions, help them to change their habits around the way that they eat.”
For parents who want to help, but aren’t sure where to begin, Dr. Albers said it’s best to enlist the help of a professional.
“Often parents and caregivers are well-intentioned in wanting to help their kids have a better relationship to food, so they turn to dieting because that’s all they know,” she said. “If you’re someone who isn’t sure about what to do, consult a professional, because they can help walk you through the steps of the alternatives to dieting.”
Complete results of the study can be found in Pediatrics.