As a weighty parent, with more 'body' for my children to love than I would like, I diet and seek support from others to succeed. All too often, in the past, those others could be my children. But by including my kids in my dieting support group, I was nurturing an excess of issues in them which they could find themselves unhealthily feeding upon for years to come.
Despite my love of food, I can honestly say that I do get the desire to diet! As an overweight parent, I long to turn my body back to the time before I had kids - when clothes shopping was not an exercise in shame and body image pain and when the physical challenges of enjoying time with children did not result in being out of breath sooner than it had begun.
I've been riding the merry-go-around - or should that be roller-coaster! - of dieting since just before I got married 16 years ago, and I've yet to find a way to stay off it for a significant period of time. I've been to Slimming World, counted calories, cut out sugar, South Beach-ed it and many, many others. I've seen good, sometimes even significant, weight loss with each of these and I've reached some of my goals. Then I've got busy and stressed again, before stumbling and failing to keep the weight off. Yet the biggest failure of mine has been to let my children know I was dieting!
When your children know you are dieting, you are connecting them to body image shaming issues. One of the biggest challenges for parents today is to help our children accept themselves, especially their body and appearance - but when we model discomfort with our appearance, we increase the chances of them forming similarly unhealthy views of their own bodies.
Most adults tend to diet in short bursts and so offer confusing messages about healthy and balanced eating to their children. And if they do manage to diet long term, going on and on about their food intake in front of their children can be rather like going on and on about practicing times tables... far from inspiring enjoyment, it inspires life-long loathing!
When we do succeed at dieting, by manically shunning certain foods as if they were kryptonite to our bodies, we all too often add even more confusion to our kids' minds by then 'rewarding' ourselves for losing weight by eating the very things we have been avoiding! This models to our children that reward equals food and that eating must always be one extreme or another.
I hear the argument that by including our children in our dieting we are modelling our attempts to better ourselves and, yes, that is true. But this small positive does not outweigh all the negatives. It's like eating 6 donuts and thinking a 10-minute run will burn off the 1500 calories you've just consumed!
This is not going to be a popular sentence but here goes: When it comes to eating, our children are very likely to follow our habits and that includes becoming overweight and joining us on the dieting merry-go-round. You don't want that for them and nor do I, which is why I advise us to drop the 'd-word' hide our diets from our kids.
Here are some tips to successfully be on a diet while being a parent:
- Get yourself an amazing support group that does not include your children ( - and never take your children to a Slimming World/ Weight watchers type weigh in!)
- Eat the same main meal together as a family: healthy food for you is healthy food for the kids. Don't eat weird 'diet food' in front of them and don't join them in eating crap. You'll all be happier and healthier. This way you can model healthy, balanced eating.
- Use snack-time for your weird 'diet food' as your kids will not notice that.
- Celebrate your success - you deserve it! - but not in front of your kids.
- Be active together as a family!
- Reward yourself and your family when you all do things well - but with treats other than food!
- Be kind to yourself and the kids when dieting, as we can easily be moodier parents when cutting the calories.
- Talk about being healthy... dump the diet word!
I honestly wish you all the best in becoming healthier. I hope it makes you happier and able to more fully enjoy your wonderful family. I hope the way we achieve our healthier success means we give the next generation a better shot at being happy in their own skins.
And if you are trying to diet, I weigh in once a week on my FB page - come and see how I am doing and share your story!