My family recently spent the day at an amusement park. When my son asked for a snack, we found a restaurant that offered a variety of choices and stood in line. The woman in front of us had a son about the same age as mine and struck up a conversation with me. When she found out I was a dietitian, she told me that she had put her son on a gluten-free diet because he is overweight and other “diets” hadn’t seemed to help. I encouraged her to talk with her pediatrician about this and also a registered dietitian to ensure that her son was getting adequate nutrition for proper growth and development. I also shared with her that gluten-free diets aren’t a weight loss cure.
We finally made it to the front of line, ordered our food and sat down to eat. As we were leaving, we noticed that the woman and her son were still waiting for their food. She said they were waiting on “gluten-free French fries” which needed to be prepared in a separate fryer. While I was happy to see the park’s foodservice was able to accommodate special diets, I was struck by the fact that they were waiting on gluten-free French fries while my son had snacked happily on carrots, which are naturally gluten-free. Not that my son doesn’t eat French fries – he certainly does. But I felt bad for this little boy who was hungry and was trying to follow a special diet, perhaps unnecessarily. It’s one thing to have a medical diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but to put your child on a restricted diet without a physician’s recommendation and a registered dietitian’s support can put your child at risk for all sorts of nutrient deficiencies.
Childhood obesity is a complex problem without a simple solution, and it’s challenging enough without adding the roller coaster ride of trying to avoid certain foods or food ingredients without medical advice. As a registered dietitian, it saddens me when clients (and friends) fall prey to myths about certain food ingredients/components leading to weight gain in children. When we focus on limiting specific ingredients, we can forget to encourage the healthy behaviors that really make an impact on a child’s health.
My advice for a better approach would be:
- Strive to be a good role model for your child – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Research suggests that when your kids see you eating a healthful diet, they may more likely to do the same.
- Encourage a wide variety of foods with an emphasis on ‘nutrient-rich’ choices. Opt for introducing new healthful foods to your child’s diet, including a plenty of fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains.
- Discover fun ways to be active as a family so your child learns that exercising can be an enjoyable part of their daily routine. Check out the FoodInsight Energy Balance Guide on how to manage both calories-in and calories-out for a healthy weight.
As a mother of two, I know how desperate a mom might feel when they are trying to do the right thing to help their kids be healthy. That’s why I help them avoid falling prey to some common diet traps and myths, and to seek the advice of a credible health professional.