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New Year's Diets: Be Careful Who You Talk To

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If you do plan to go on a diet, or change your exercise routine, make it crystal clear to your kids why you're doing it.

girl looking in mirror

Dr. Nina Shapiro: The other day, I was getting ready for an early morning run. My daughter said, in a matter-of-fact way, "You run to get skinny, right?" Huh?????? "No, sweetie, I run to stay healthy. I like it. It's fun. It keeps me strong." Skinny?? My daughter is 6, not 16. My husband and I have never mentioned dieting, nor getting "skinny" by exercising. "All of the skinny mommies exercise," she went on. OK, can't argue that one. We live in Los Angeles. All of the skinny mommies do exercise. But is that how 6-year-olds see it?

On the one hand, we worry about the obesity epidemic in this country, with "super-size" now banned, and sugar-filled orange juice the new contraband. We also live in a country where, in many cities, not just Los Angeles, the body image of teenage girls is increasingly distorted, and these tenuous teenage years begin at 9, not 13. Kids are acutely aware of unspoken messages from adults, and, at younger and younger ages, their interpretations can be quite disturbing. Even if you don't have teenagers, or "tweenagers," casual dinner conversations this time of year about New Year's resolutions to go on a diet, exercise more, or change any health-related lifestyle behavior warrant explanation.

Kids are more sophisticated than we were at their age, but their inferences may still be their own, based on what they see, not on what they understand. If you do plan to go on a diet, or change your exercise routine, make it crystal clear to your kids why you're doing it. Even if it is to lose weight, they need to know, and understand at their level, that you are trying to be healthier and stronger. "Then why are you drinking only water and taking pills, mommy?" If they are asking that question, you are probably on a ridiculous, short-lived diet. Your kids will see your self-deprivation, and may infer that you do not feel worthy of eating like a human being.

Our kids are our most brutal critics, but they are also our best advocates, and sooner than we think, our mirrors. If you're doing something that looks odd to a 4-year-old, it's probably not a good thing for you, and in turn, your child.



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