Many influencers proclaim that “no child should ever be put on a diet.”

Some even call this abuse. They believe children should be allowed to eat whatever and how much they want.

And certainly, there are parents who do just that: Permit their children free range when it comes to food, even if the child is morbidly obese.

In some cases, despite the permissive junk food eating, there are kids who don’t become overweight.

However, this doesn’t mean it’s smart to allow them to eat whatever they please in any quantity.

Even thin kids should still be taught to eat responsibly and healthfully.

After all, a diet of excessive sugary or processed foods can come back to haunt that skinny child years later in adulthood – in the form of coronary artery disease and other afflictions — and quite possibly, later-onset of obesity.

When It’s Wrong to Put an Overweight Child on a Diet

Actually, it’s not wrong, immoral or abusive.

The issue is HOW a parent goes about in trimming down an obese child.

“The idea of just allowing children to eat whatever they want, most parents would disagree with,” says Dr. Stacy Haynes, LPC, a child therapist and clinical director/owner of Little Hands Family Services, which specializes in providing mental health services to families.

“We all have an expectation of health and wellness for our children. Parents can help children who need a diet by joining in with them.

“Parents can talk about having a healthy lifestyle which includes sleep, exercise and diet. 

“Parents should focus on the benefits that the whole family can have when we change our lifestyles; not try a temporary diet. Children will do what we do even when it comes to exercise and diet. 

“I recommend parents to start with small steps like changing sugary snacks and incorporating more fruit. Having a fruit bowl in plain sight increases our chances of eating fruit. 

“Parents are the individuals who BUY the groceries to begin with. We should take responsibility to help our children with weight in a way that does not shame them. 

“We can grow a family garden for example to help with incorporating more vegetables. 

“We can make healthy snacks; cookies with healthy ingredients. Still remembering that all of us like snacks, but learning how to snack is just important  Meal planning together as a family can help families focus on eating better together.”   

Personal Experience of Influencers Who Are Anti-Diet for Children

When influencers preach that kids should not be put on diets to lose weight, they’re probably drawing from personal childhood experiences in which their parents went about it the wrong way.

For instance, an obese body positive influencer may have painful childhood memories of her mother repeatedly insulting her about her weight or telling the mother of a classmate not to allow her daughter to have any cake at the classmate’s birthday party.

Sometimes, parents can be quite verbally abusive, telling their plump young daughter that no man will ever want to marry her because she’s “fat and ugly.”

When she was caught with her hand in the cookie jar, she was harshly punished and/or heard demeaning remarks.

  • But these aren’t examples of a DIET.
  • They are examples of harmful parenting. This would explain why the influencers on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok – who vilify the concept of putting big children on diets – label it as abusive.

It’s not wrong to put an overweight child on a diet. What’s wrong is when parents are psychologically abusive in the process or bully their child about his or her weight.

Doctor Hopping

Another ineffective way to get oversized kids to lose weight is to take them to all sorts of doctors to find out “what’s wrong,” when the root of the problem is the parents keeping the kitchen well-stocked with junk food and creating an environment that drives that child to binge eat.

• Is the child bored?

• Is the child stressed?

• Is she learning to comfort-eat by example?

• Does the TV babysit her?

• Is she given bowls of ice cream to pacify her?

• Is he rewarded with soda and a jumbo bag of chips for keeping still in the car?

• Are physical activity and sports participation strongly encouraged or are they allowed to watch as much TV as they please?

• Do your overweight children own any balls, bats, catching mitts, tennis rackets, skates, jump ropes, etc.?

• Do you take them on bike rides or hikes?

It’s Okay to Put Your Overweight Child on a Diet When…

• You focus on eating healthfully and provide plenty of healthy snacks.

• You limit junk food consumption.

• You discourage overeating. For example, if you’re cooking for three kids and two adults, you make just enough spaghetti and meatballs for three kids and two adults. If there’s apple pie for dessert, each child gets one slice.

Your rule of “no seconds” on cake and pie has been instituted early on; they are used to it; it’s their normal.

• You don’t use food as a reward.

• Your kids participate in age-appropriate preparation of healthy foods.

• You never insult them about their weight.

• Sports are encouraged for the excitement and other benefits such as setting goals, rather than, “You MUST play sports to lose weight!”

• You don’t make excess junk food consumption easy.

• You’re not afraid to say, “This is all you get; excess sugar is not good for the human body.”

If the child is too young to understand this, you’re not afraid to simply say, “No more; that’s all for now.”

• You work out and encourage your children to join you when possible.

Children should not be kept overweight any more than their teeth should be kept decayed.

It’s not a matter of body positivity. It’s a matter of good fitness and health in childhood, and good fitness and health throughout their adulthood.

Dr. Stacy Haynes, LPC, is a the clinical director/owner of Little Hands Family Services, a mental health outpatient practice specializing in the needs of neurodivergent youth. She has authored several books, courses and workshops to help parents while raising their unique children. She is a proud mother of an Eagle Scout and a Mensan.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 



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