Updated: Aug 20, 2019
Due to the recent announcement from Weight Watchers about their weight loss app directed at kids and teens- 8 YEAR OLDS- I wanted to come out with a solution and help for those that need it.
I recognize that there are kids struggling with obesity, body image, and bullying. I know that parents feel at a loss for what to do to help their kids- and I’m while I’m seeing a large social media standing again this app- I’m also seeing people say that maybe an app would be a helpful option?
I want to strongly strongly persuade you against that option, and also provide you with actionable things you can do to help your kids.
As you may have been reading, there are a lot of disturbing aspects to this app. From the beginning where it asks the child’s 'goals' such as: “Make parents happy" "Feel good in my clothes”
These makes me terribly sad.
First of all- I hope that no parents would put pressure on their own children to lose weight in order to make themselves happy. If that is something you require for your own happiness- you need to seriously re-evaluate your own priorities and seek help for your own self esteem and body image issues.
As for feeling good in clothes- I encourage my clients to always buy clothes that make them feel good and fit them NOW, and I hope we are doing the same for our children and making sure they wear whatever they feel most comfortable in - in whatever size that may be.
The app works by labelling foods as red, yellow, and green. Red are encouraged against, Yellow should be limited, and Green is "go for it!.
Basically the only greens are fruits and vegetables, and even lean meat, and legumes are a "yellow". All foods with fat or any sustenance are Red.
Secondly- the “coaching” aspect of this app is basically my eating disorder voice from back in the day. Here is an excerpt from a dietitian who downloaded the app and entered her daughters food in to see what happened.
Hannah- butter is an unhealthy fat, could you try smooshed applesauce? Hannah, choose light cheese instead of regular cheese Did you know that you can budget your “reds” for a special occasion?
This app is encouraging children to view food as good and bad. The red is harsh and unforgiving and even just looking at one example of an intake a big red 9 REDS makes me want to cringe. It’s automatically putting foods into good/bad categories- and then also encourages kids to budget out reds or save them (which is literally setting them up for binge eating). It's also using exercise as a way to increase points- this is literally how my exercise bulimia started because I learned I could eat more if I burned more calories; and then it was more of a calorie burn to do hours of cardio (Strength Training, HIIT, Yoga are all very low in calories burn). So it's also encouraging kids AWAY from things they may all in love with and producing a disordered relationship with exercise.
This is a diet- no matter how Weight Watchers markets it. 1-4 kids that begin a diet end up with a lifelong eating disorder. I just cannot even fathom the longterm impacts of this app on a child's mental and physical health- but I can tell you that despite the “success stories” of the 10 year old who lost 42lbs, or the 8 year old girl who went down “11 percentile in the BMI Scale”; We don’t know how this is going to affect them growing up or long term. It’s just like any other diet. Once they get bored of it, or get jealous of their friends who don’t have to track their food in an app, they then rebel and now have an unhealthy relationship with food to boot which will make way for binge eating and all or nothing behaviour.
Speaking of which, the BMI scale is absolute bullshit- especially for someone who is still growing in height. Kids can go down on the BMI scale purely by getting taller.
Beyond all of the obvious- we are taking away a kids natural RIGHT to their intuition. We are starting the weight loss talk so early and this will only morph into so many serious eating disorders.
Children are natural born intuitive eaters. When we take away their right to choose, demonize sugar and put foods into “red” categories- we set them up for overeating and binge eating on those foods later in life when they have their own autonomy.
Some parents have been coming to me with questions on what to do about this situation. They have mentioned strained relationships with their daughters, overweight kids, and kids that will only choose “junk food” so what are they to do?
I appreciate that this is a difficult subject but I’m going to tackle this from the perception of if it was my own child. If I had a daughter, who was “overweight” and being bullied and struggling with body image and food- here are the steps I would take.
First of all - take a good hard look at where this label of overweight is coming from. Is this from outside opinions, your own judgements on what is the right “size” for that age, comparison to other children? What are you modelling for your daughter? A healthy, balanced relationship with food and exercise? Are YOU loving your body or always picking it apart in the mirror? I think the parents need to look at their own habits first- your kids are modelling YOU. Are there ACTUALLY any physical issues happening health wise? Are they happy? How are they viewing their bodies?
Kids grow and learn and shift and adapt- and it if it was me I wouldn’t mention weight/food period. She could grow a few inches, find something she loves doing- and the weight will naturally resolve itself quickly. Our bodies only become overweight as a symptom of not tuning in and listening to hunger and fullness.
Secondly - I would model and open the conversation of how her body FEELS. (Not looks).
Does she feel energetic and excited? Does she enjoy partaking in any activities? Maybe you and her could go try some out together and see if she enjoys them. Talk to her about how she feels before moving her body vs. after. We all know how amazing it feels after moving our bodies- get your children to focus on the mental and emotional benefits of exercise.
Third- provide a large variety of options- from fruits and vegetables, to carbs and sugar. Your kids are going to get their hands on it eventually- you might as well set them up for success and developing a balanced and moderation relationship with those foods vs the restrict binge cycle. If you have previously deemed those foods off limits- it may take time to adjust. This is true for adults and kids. But just like when anything is around all the time- it becomes less special. Less interesting- and we don’t feel the need to overeat on it once we move through that phase. Have foods available as much as possible.
Allow them to make their own choices. I know this is scary. But allowing children to recognize their hunger, fullness, and how they FEEL when they eat these foods is so important- and allows them to make the connection to how foods react in their body- which makes “healthier” eating a “want” instead of a “should”.
Encourage checking into hunger and fullness. Allow them to recognize their natural hunger cues. Don’t force them to eat, or finish everything on their plate before dessert. Don’t bribe them with sweeter treats in order to get them to finish whats on their plate (promoting overeating, in order to get dessert). You could talk to them about what hunger and fullness feels like- and how nice it feels to be comfortable and not overly stuffed- but sometimes we get full and that’s okay too! Our bodies will adjust to what we put in them in terms of hunger.
Most importantly- get them to express their emotions. I honestly feel like my eating disorder stemmed from not feeling safe to speak about my sadness, or get emotional- so I found myself sneaking food and avoiding everyone in order to be alone. Food is not the problem here- it’s what they are using the food to cope with.
What is going on in their lives at school? Do they feel free and safe to be vulnerable and expressive with their emotions? Before turning to a dieting app- I would turn to being as open with your kids as possible around what they are feeling. Allow them to feel heard and supported.
If you are worried about your kids only eating sugar and junk food if you make it available- really check in with your own self trust. Do you trust yourself with sugar or are you passing down your own fears around food to your children by keeping it out of the house? I encourage you to allow it, while also getting them to process their emotions, and notice how they FEEL day to day. Making the connection between processed foods and energy levels will allow them to make choices that feel good to them over time.
Encourage them to find things they love doing. If they are involved with sports and activities they truly enjoy- food isn’t the only exciting part of their life.
To summarize- I would ensure I have a variety of foods available and encourage them to pay attention to their hunger, fullness and energy levels.
I would place high importance on ensuring they feel safe expressing their emotions and being vulnerable and feeling safe.
I would work hard to find active things they LOVE that make them feel excited and look forward to, and discuss how they feel after those things- and how good it feels to move our bodies.
Don’t judge their food intake, instead allow yourself to step back and let them learn what feels good or doesn’t.
Check how you are talking about food and your own bodies. Accept compliments. Model the active and healthy behaviours you want to instil in them.
Encourage self love through never discussing their weight and encouraging them to LOVE the skin they are in because we are wonderfully different and growing.
I hope this helps! Stay tuned for a workshop online and in person, coming soon!