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Experts Corner

Nutrition / Children's Health

Don't Put Your Child on Your Diet
By Beverly Pressey, MS, RD

Online Coaching for creating healthy eatersJanuary is traditionally the time when many of us decide to make changes. Losing weight is usually among the resolutions most often named. As two thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, this is a great way to start the year. There are almost as many weight loss diets, strategies and gimmicks as there are people using them. These methods range from safe and effective to total cons. Given your temperament, life style, food likes and dislikes, and personality, some eating plans will work for you, others will not. I am not going to go into the pros and cons of all the diet plans and programs available, but I am here to tell you NOT to put your child on any of these diets.

For all children, except those with specific medically diagnosed illnesses, diets are not appropriate. Encouraging lots of physical activity and offering healthy foods (low fat cheese and meats, seafood, beans, fruits, vegetables and whole grains) is all a child needs. Their body will then grow into its appropriate and normal weight.

This should be a family effort, with the whole family being offered and eating the same foods. Never give an overweight child "diet foods" while the rest of the family eats other less healthy choices. This can give a child a variety of messages: "I am not OK as I am," "I am being punished because I am fat," "I will not be loved until I lose weight," "After I lose some weight I can go back to eating those other foods" or other unhelpful and emotionally unhealthy thoughts. Families that enjoy nutritious foods and a physically active life style are healthy families.

Any diet that strictly limits or omits a major food group (carbohydrates, protein, or fat) is unhealthy for a child and you too. Never use diet shakes, meal replacements, weight loss pills or an over abundance of any supplement as weight loss techniques for children, unless under the direction of a doctor, certified or registered nutritionist or other accredited health care provider.

Keep in mind that children's nutritional needs are very different than that of an adult. Children's bodies are still growing. Infants need 40% of their calories from fats. This lowers to about 30% for children and teens. If too little fat is eaten, then protein will be sacrificed, possibly breaking down muscle tissue. Fats are also essential for proper hormone development. Carbohydrate foods in a child's diet provide energy for moving and fuel for the brain. Serious depletion of carbohydrate in the body can lead to a life threatening fluid imbalance. Protein is needed for building all body tissues including muscle. Protein is also necessary for a strong immune system. However too much protein can cause the loss of calcium and potentially damage kidneys.

Children will do best by eating food. Learning to enjoy a variety of healthy and nourishing foods is as important as learning to read, swim or share. As with anything we want our children to learn, we want to establish patterns that will benefit our children now and as adults. Being offered healthful and delicious food choices and encouraging our children to listen to the needs of their bodies prepares a child to naturally make healthy food choices as an adult.

About the Author:
Beverly PresseyBeverly Pressey is a Registered Dietician with Master's degrees in Education and Nutrition. She specializes in working with caregivers of babies and children. Beverly lives in Seattle, Washington. To participate in her online coaching services visit Check out her blog at


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