"On a diet, you can't eat." That is what one 5- year-old girl had to say in a study on girls' ideas about dieting. This and other research has shown that daughters are more likely to have ideas about dieting when their mothers diet.
Children pick up on comments about dieting concepts that may seem harmless, such as limiting high-fat foods or eating less. Yet, as girls enter their teen years, having ideas about dieting can lead to problems.
Many things can spark weight concerns for girls and impact their eating habits in potentially unhealthy ways:
- Having mothers concerned about their own weight
- Having mothers who are overly concerned about their daughters' weight and looks
- Natural weight gain and other body changes during puberty
- Peer pressure to look a certain way
- Struggles with self-esteem
- Media images showing the ideal female body as thin
Many teenage girls of average weight think they are overweight and are not satisfied with their bodies. Having extreme weight concerns — and acting on those concerns — can harm girls' social, physical, and emotional growth. Actions such as skipping meals or taking diet pills can lead to poor nutrition and difficulty learning.
For some, extreme efforts to lose weight can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. For others, the pressure to be thin can actually lead to binge eating disorder: overeating that is followed by extreme guilt. What's more, girls are more likely to further risk their health by trying to lose weight in unhealthy ways, such as smoking.
Although not as common, boys are also at risk of developing unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders. Body image becomes an important issue for teenage boys as they struggle with body changes and pay more attention to media images of the "ideal" muscular male.
Help Your Child have a Healthy Body Image
Your children pay attention to what you say and do — even if it doesn't seem like it sometimes. If you are always complaining about your weight or feel pressure to change your body shape, your children may learn that these are important concerns.