Every week there seems to be a new fad diet, claiming to be the latest and greatest method to “lose weight, and lose it fast!” Low carb, high fat, no fat, only plant-based foods, Vegan, Keto, Atkins, Whole 30, Paleo – the list is endless and ever-changing.

The trouble is, dieting in any shape or form can be destructive and potentially triggering, and especially for a teenager who may be susceptible to mental illness or an eating disorder. Fad diets come and go because they are simply not sustainable for the long-term, nor are they a realistic way of living.

Most individuals who attempt a fad diet may see some initial weight loss but often regain the lost weight plus additional pounds as well. This can create a vicious cycle that triggers many consequences, including damages to physical and mental health, low self-esteem, and poor body image. Research has found that 95% of diets fail, and most individuals who diet will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years [1]. Teenagers who diet can be at increased risk for other health-compromising behaviors, including substance abuse, unprotected sex, and smoking.

The Appeal of Dieting Among Teenagers

For teenagers who are becoming more autonomous and independent, dieting can have a luring appeal or something to try, simply because it is trendy and socially acceptable. On the surface level, dieting may seem like an innocent attempt to be “healthier”, but in actuality, dieting can progress into disordered eating or be a precursor for an eating disorder [2]. Dieting also gives a false impression that weight is something that can and should be manipulated, but this is a dangerous mindset, especially for a growing teen.

The concern with weight and shape is also very prevalent during the adolescent years, and teenagers are constantly exposed to an unrealistically thin beauty ideal that is portrayed in the mainstream media [3]. While there may be a variety of reasons for a teenager to be drawn into a fad diet, the desire to achieve a thinner body size and body image dissatisfaction, in general, are motivating factors behind the majority of weight loss attempts [4]. Research on adolescent dieting has found that 41% to 66% of teenage girls and 20% to 31% of teenage boys have attempted weight loss at some time in the past [3].

Teenagers are highly influenced by their friends and peers, though research has shown that adolescents’ communication with parents has a stronger impact on their health and well-being [5].

How to Help Your Teen Avoid Fad Diets

While it may seem impossible to be a voice of reason over the external noise your teenager may be exposed to, the good news is that you are more influential than you may realize. There are many different approaches you can take to help educate your teenager about the dangers of fad dieting and encourage better eating behaviors. Here are some practical ways that you can help your teen avoid fad diets and the associated consequences:

  • Keep communication open: It’s important for your teen to feel that they can talk to you, to reinforce the fact that they can always communicate with you about anything. Make consistent and regular time to check in with your teen and ask open-ended questions to prompt conversation. Listen intently and give her uninterrupted time to share with you. This will help build trust and encourage her to speak with you about various things going on in her life.
  • Be aware of red flags: If you are talking regularly with your teen, it’s important to be aware of anything that might seem off, in both conversation and in behavior. If you notice her skipping meals, avoiding social events, or disengaging from activities she previously enjoyed, these things should not be ignored. Gently communicate your concerns and try to get to the root of the problem. Remember – dieting is not about food, there is likely an underlying issue that is triggering her urge to lose weight or diet.
  • Have regular family meals: With overloaded schedules today, family meals have become more and more scarce. Making this a priority for your family ensure that you are having time to connect on a regular basis. This also allows you the opportunity to observe any behaviors in your teen that may warrant more attention. Just like you would schedule other important activities, make family meals part of your regular calendar.
  • Be the example: Teens learn and observe behaviors from their parents and the people they live with. If you teenager observes you or another parent regularly dieting or speaking negatively or your body, this will likely influence her perception of herself as well. If you frequently jump from fad diet to fad diet, feel unhappy in your body, or are actively trying to lose weight, consider how this might impact your teen. Enlist the help of professional support if needed to nurture a more peaceful relationship with food and your body.

Connecting to Help and Support

At The Meadows Ranch, we understand how important the family system is and the necessity for nurturing and supporting relationships. If your teenager is struggling with chronic dieting or an eating disorder, this can be difficult to understand and accept, which may disrupt the overall family dynamic. Know that you are not alone on this journey, and we are here to help your family heal. Recovery from an eating disorder is possible, and families are an integral part of the journey. Connect with us today to find out how we can help.

References:

[1]: Statistics on Weight Discrimination: A Waste of Talent, The Council on Size and Weight Discrimination, Accessed 12 July 2018

[2]: Pathological dieting, precursor to eating disorder, Philadelphia Eating Disorder Examiner, Accessed 12 July 2018

[3]: Dieting in adolescence. (2004). Paediatrics & Child Health, 9(7), 487–491.

[4]: Wertheim, EH, et al. Why do adolescent girls watch their weight? An interview study examining sociocultural pressures to be thin. J Psychosom Res. 1997 Apr;42(4):345-55.

[5]: Tomé, G., de Matos, M. G., Simões, C., Camacho, I., & AlvesDiniz, J. (2012). How Can Peer Group Influence the Behavior of Adolescents: Explanatory Model. Global Journal of Health Science, 4(2), 26–35. http://doi.org/10.5539/gjhs.v4n2p26