Diet Culture and Kids.


Cassandra Stuchbery, Dietitan.

How ‘dieting’ might be affecting your kids.

The phrase ‘diet culture’ has been gaining a lot of interest in the past few years. It’s used to describe any words, phrases, products or activities that encourage eating according to strict rules. Here are some signs that you might be a part of ‘diet culture’:

  • You use words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ to describe foods (apart from milk that’s gone bad for example)
  • You follow a set of rules when you eat eg. Not eating after 8pm, not eating bread, only having low fat foods
  • You are avoiding a certain food group to try to lose weight eg. Keto, paleo, vegan
  • The way you eat tends to get in the way of your social life or family life (maybe you’re cooking separate dinners, can’t eat out etc.)

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it teaches us to ignore our internal body signals. At the end of the day even the smartest people in the world can’t know what your body needs better than you (the person walking around in it!). Kids have an amazing innate sense of hunger and fullness which guides them in how much to eat but they learn a lot from watching the people around them.

Here are a few things they might learn from you if you’re on a ‘diet’:

  1. That cutting out food groups is ok – think about the keto diet, for example, would you ever encourage your kids to stop eating fruit? Probably not, but if you are doing it then it can seem normal.
  1. That your body is something to hate (even though they probably look like you) – it’s important to be careful of how you speak about your own body around kids who will probably grow up to look a lot like you.
  1. That looks are more important than health – eating a balanced diet and exercising improves your health no matter what your weight. Strict diets (usually) do the opposite.
  1. That eating food can make them a bad person – If you are ‘so bad’ for eating that piece of chocolate, how might your kids feel when they eat the same food?

What to do instead of a ‘diet’:

  1. Be the example – Serve the same foods for the whole family and if you want to eat less of a food group talk about why. For example: “You need more pasta because you need energy to run at school all day but mummy sits down all day so she doesn’t need as much.”
  1. Make small changes to what the family is eating – Start by including more vegetables on your plate then try swapping from processed grain foods to wholegrains. You could have a go at “meat-free Monday” to include more legumes and start making your own snacks or buying unprocessed options like fruit, nuts or dairy.
  1. Move your body most days – one of the easiest ways to maintain your health!
  1. Try not to let the sugary or salty stuff make you feel guilty – eating these foods in moderation is usually the best choice for the long term health of your family but there’s no reason for you (or your family) to feel guilty about eating food. Think instead about the benefits to your health and energy levels if you focus more on eating unprocessed whole foods.
  1. Honour your own feelings of hunger and fullness (and encourage your family to do the same) – Talk about hunger before meals and fullness after meals. Have a conversation about how different foods make you feel (tired, energised, sick stomach, happy, comfortable)
  1. Most importantly – be careful about the language you use to describe food and your own body. You never know when a quick word or sentence can trigger disordered eating in a young, impressionable mind.




  1. Anderson, L., E. Reilly, K. Schaumberg, S. Dmochowski, D. Anderson. 2016.Contributions of mindful eating, intuitive eating, and restraint to BMI, disordered eating, and meal consumption in college students. Eating and Weight Disorders.21(1):83-90
  2. Andrew R., M. Tiggemann, L. Clark.2016. Predictors and health-related outcomes of positive body image in adolescent girls: A prospective study. Developmental Psychology52(3): 463-474.
  3. Kroon Van Diest, A., and T. Tylka. 2010. The Caregiver Eating Messages Scale: Development and psychometric investigation. Body Image7:317-326.

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