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People often turn to dieting to try and change their bodies and feel better about themselves. But young people are growing and need the right amount of nutrients to be healthy. When people don’t eat a variety of foods or start missing meals, their physical and mental health can be affected.

What is wrong with dieting?

Diets that promise “quick and easy” weight loss by cutting out certain foods from our diet lack the scientific proof to support their claims and promises. Popular diets like the Paleo Diet and the Ketogenic can be very restrictive which can cause people to miss important nutrients in their diets. Another issue with diets are that they tend to promote lifestyle changes that can be hard to maintain. As a result, the weight loss experienced (if any) will likely not be sustained and enter a pattern of losing weight and gaining it back. This is called “yo-yo dieting” and can be harmful for our bodies.

In teens, dieting can make them feel distracted, tired, cold and dizzy. They may also feel sad and unmotivated to do things, especially school work.

While it is common for young people to feel self-conscious, once this worry results in people restricting how much they eat (disordered eating habits), hating their bodies (negative body image), or always feeling guilty after eating, this behavior can be worrisome. It is important that we support young people to develop positive body images and engage in healthy eating habits.  

Information adapted from York Region Public Health

How can we promote self-esteem and healthy eating habits?

Be a role model!

Children and youth learn through direct lessons in the classroom as well as through observing and imitating the behaviours of role models including parents and teachers (and other school staff). That’s why it is important that everyone in the school be a healthy role model!

Examine your own feelings about your body and be aware of the messages you send about your body and the comments you make about the appearance of others. Comments like “I’ll get fat if I eat that” can send a message to youth that appearance is very important.

Teach about body image and build students’ self-esteem

Body image is how a person sees and feels about their body. When someone is dissatisfied or unhappy with their bodies, they have a negative body image. This is also known as body dissatisfaction. Body dissatisfaction can lead to unhealthy eating practices, which puts them at greater risk for eating disorders. As such, it is important to promote a healthy body image in kids from a young age.

Unfortunately, many external factors can affect a child’s views of their bodies. The media and the images of people shown in the media, for example, can set unrealistic “beauty” standards that can create feelings of negative body image in children.

The following resources and lesson plans promote some strategies to promote positive body image in children, including role modeling, parent’s role, media influences, and size acceptance.

  1. BANA (The Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association) http://www.bana.ca/health-promotion/
    Available to provide workshops related to self-esteem, body image, media influences, size acceptance and more.
  2. Beyond Images: NEDIC https://beyondimages.ca/
    Online lessons for grades 4 through 8 developed by the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC). The lesson plans provide an opportunity to explore key issues in today’s society around body image and self-esteem as well as media messaging, while developing critical thinking skills.

Increase students’ media literacy

Another negative impact of children and youth’s increased access to the media is exposure to food marketing. Food marketing can affect food choices. Children and youth are targeted through many channels including movies, videos games, websites, apps, and social media. The foods that are most heavily marketed are usually nutrient poor and detrimental to the health of children. Media literacy involves the ability to critically examine, analyze, and evaluate advertising and media influences.

Media Smarts (www.mediasmarts.ca)

This website includes classroom lesson plans with work sheets, backgrounders, tip sheets and essays, and multimedia games and quizzes. These resources provide parents and teachers with information and tools so they can help children and teens develop the critical thinking skills they need for interacting with the media they love.” 

Encourage students to value health over appearance

Good health comes from eating a variety of healthy food regularly, being active, and sleeping well. Encourage children and youth to focus on their health rather than how they look. People can be healthy at a range of different body weights. Being thin doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy.     

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Last modified: 
Friday, May 15, 2020 - 3:59pm