Lifestyle

My teen daughter wants to go on a diet — I don’t know what to say

A mom took to an online parenting forum to ask the internet whether or not she should let her teenage daughter go on a diet.

The anonymous mom, 44, said that her 15-year-old, Marie, who plays multiple sports, had “been complaining about her weight” and asked her mom if she could go on an extremely low calorie diet.

“I told her that I don’t think it’s healthy for a girl her age to diet, and that she’s beautiful the way she is,” the mom explained.

“She’s been pouting ever since and has made comments like, ‘You’re just trying to keep me fat like you!’ and has left me wondering if I’m the a–hole.”

A 15-year-old wants to go on an extremely low calorie diet.
A 15-year-old wants to go on an extremely low-calorie diet. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The 15-year-old’s dieting request

The mom explained that their house is stocked with healthy options and plenty of fruit and vegetables, but notes one caveat – her younger siblings are “notoriously picky eaters and have some sensory issues” – so she cooks what the younger two will eat. 

“Marie is angry with me because I’m not allowing her to go low carb and low calorie, and my husband is telling me that I should allow her to do what she wants,” she said, adding that they’d been to see a doctor who had deemed Marie’s weight normal.

“This is how it starts”

Fellow parents took to the comments to share their thoughts. 

“I have a daughter that developed anorexia nervosa, spent a month in the hospital, and two months in a residential facility,” one wrote. “This is how it starts. Wanting to eat healthier or trying to lose weight.”

“Not every diet turns into an eating disorder, but every eating disorder starts off as a diet, and the immediate fixation on calories is a significant red flag in that area,” a second added.

The daughter says her mom is trying to make her "fat like her."
The daughter says her mom is trying to make her “fat like her.” Getty Images

“Sounds like this might be a good opportunity to have an informed and open conversation with your daughter about some of these topics,” a third wrote.

Dieting is disordered eating, according to The Butterfly Foundation

Teenagers are often vulnerable to societal pressures to look a certain way and can often feel insecure and self-conscious about their bodies. Dr Stephanie Damiano, Manager of The Butterfly Foundation’s primary school body image program, told Kidspot, “Butterfly’s latest Body Kind Youth Survey showed that over half (57%) of young people living in Australia aged 12-18 are dissatisfied with how their body looks.”

This widespread dissatisfaction can lead to harmful behaviors such as dieting, which is often seen as a way to improve self-worth.

“It’s based on the idea that if we lose weight, we will look better and be more likable and respected,” Dr Damiano said.“This idea ties our worth to how we look, and we know that’s an unhelpful way for people to see themselves.”

“It’s important for parents and carers (and young people themselves) to understand that dieting is not the answer to young people’s body dissatisfaction and can actually be quite harmful to their mental and physical health,” she emphasized. 

“Dieting is the most common form of disordered eating and one of the biggest risk factors for developing an eating disorder. Research shows that female adolescents who diet are 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder within six months and dieting in young people is associated with other health issues including depression, anxiety, nutritional and metabolic problems, and, contrary to popular belief, an increase in weight.”

Instead of dieting, the Butterfly Foundation advises encouraging young people to see themselves and their worth as more than just their appearance and body size, weight, or shape. As a parent, you can do this by helping your child celebrate who they are as individuals, Dr. Damiano said. 

“What are their strengths, talents, hobbies? But also help them to appreciate their body and all the amazing things it allows them to do every day. 

“It’s also recommended that parents or carers, aim to be compassionate, gentle and non-judgemental to how their young person is feeling and thinking about themselves, and strive to better understand what’s going on for them and why they are focusing on their weight or size.”

She also recommends parents reach out to a trusted GP or Butterfly’s National Helpline if they are concerned about their child’s attitudes and behaviors towards eating and their body, so they can receive support to have a more positive relationship with eating and be kinder to their body.

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