We are living in a diet culture. Look around you, it’s everywhere. The gym in town advertising a beach bod in just six weeks, the Facebook friend you haven’t spoken to in years asking you to try out her supplement to help you lose weight post partum, the countless bottles of low-fat salad dressing in your parents fridge. And now, a weight loss app for your kids.
We were raised by parents in the "low-fat" era where calories were counted and Jenny Craig commercials tossed in our face when we were simply trying to finish that weeks episode of 90210. It was the information our parents were given at that time. Fat was bad, in our food and on our body.
Of course the diet craze didn’t end with our parents generation. It seems instead it has now exploded. I have lost count of the number of fad diets I have known people to be on. Low-fat, low-carb, vegetarian, vegan, protein, Atkins, keto, cleanses, detoxes and the list goes on and on and on... to weight watchers for children.
Luckily, for us as kids, the diets were aimed at our parents. And while the effects of these diets certainly had long term effects on the children of parents who used them, we weren’t the direct target.
I will add a disclaimer here: I fully understand that some of the diets listed above (and some not listed) are practiced for medical and personal (ethical) reasons. That is definitely not what this discussion is targeted at.
So let’s talk about the new app created by a very large diet corporation, The Kurbo app developed by Weight Watchers with a target age of 8-17.
Now when I learned there was a dieting app developed for children I just about spat out my donut. I hate to waste a good donut so you can understand my level of shock here. You can sit on this for a second if you need to let it digest (the info or your snack). A diet app for CHILDREN.
What I think is most interesting of all of that is that restrictive diets for weight loss do not work. That's right, I said it, they don't work. While some may have success with weight loss initially, research shows that most gain back the weight within five years. Many gain more than they lost.
Here's why this is a hard no for me:
Now the premise of the app bothered me so much I had to download it myself. Folks, it’s awful. It runs on the child friendly visual of stop lights. Foods are either green (so called healthy foods), yellow (watch portions) and red (restrict). I added my sons date of birth (he’s 4) and promptly began tracking his food for the day. Whole wheat bread with an egg and butter: yellow, yellow, red. Peanut butter and apple slices: red, green. Crackers, cheese, hummus and raw veggies: red, red, red, green. Applesauce: red. We aren’t even at dinner yet and I’m already seeing red, at risk of feeling like horrible mom who is failing my child. Luckily I know better.
So what can we do to help our children be healthy?
We need to discuss any concerns we have regarding our children’s diet and weight with a physician and/or a registered dietician in a setting controlled to protect the child.
We need to change the way we look at weight and diets ourselves. We need to stop assuming that weight dictates health. We need to stop calling certain foods unhealthy. We need to create our own healthy relationship with food and teach our children through our actions. We need to understand that food is a privilege and is not valued the same by everyone.
We need to eat dinners as a family when possible. We need to expose our children to as many fruits, vegetables and other whole foods as possible without pressure. We need to stop telling our kids to have one more bite. We need to take dessert off the pedestal we put it on. We need to engage our children in the process by teaching them to grow, pick out, or help cook their meals. We need to lead by example and model the kind of eating we want to see in our kids. And we need to go outside more, play more, participate in sport or music or whatever it is your child shows an interest in.
And we need to kick that app to the curb.
*This blog post is an opinion piece and is not intended as medical advice. Please seek advice from your doctor or registered dietician.