Moms, please don’t diet.

I write and teach a lot about the importance of supporting kids in developing a healthy relationship with food as well as the dangers of over controlling kids’ eating.   The parents I have seen in clinic and via my online work are either struggling with children who don’t eat enough or eat too much.  The “too little” or “too much,” however, is relative and often tied to concerns about weight. If the worried parents are dealing with their own food issues in the background, the task of helping their child is ten times harder because parents’ eating struggles tend to spill out onto their kids.  It may not be the cause of their child’s struggles, but it can hamper resolution of the presenting problem. This is particularly true when a parent is dieting.

Below are some experiences I’ve collected from women who remember their moms dieting.

Women remember their moms on diets.

“My mom dieted constantly. She was the happiest I’ve ever seen her when fen-phen was available and she was thin thanks to that. My mother’s response to me getting {a chronic condition} and having to give up favorite foods like beans, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds? ‘You’ll be so healthy! I should do the diet with you!’ By healthy she means thin.”

“{My mom has been} working hard to not be fat for at least 40 years. Her mother was very critical of her weight when she was growing up and she doesn’t seem to think she’s worthy of taking up space.  I started dieting around nine. I have spent the last decade trying to get out of this idea that all food is bad, all ill health is a personal failing, and thinness is a prerequisite for happiness.”

“My mom was forever on weight watchers, drinking diet cokes, fluctuating up and down. What’s interesting is I think what had the most impact on me was the positive affirmation my dad gave her when she lost weight. I went on to struggle with anorexia and bulimia for almost 10 years (although many many factors contributed to that).”

“While I was never put on diet or necessarily deprived of choice, in a dieters home our snacks were mainly popcorn, diet jelly, diet ice cream! Regular Lays {chips} didn’t survive very long when we occasionally had them. We did have a sweet cupboard and some biscuits in the home it wasn’t a complete police state but I don’t think I ever learned moderation.  My relationship with food was definitely influenced a lot by the diet mentality- it was feast or famine mentality eat all the sweets at one time, polish off the temptation and finish the biscuits or the mindset of safe to overeat “ free/ low calorie/ sugar free foods”.  I have really had to learn how to make peace with food and to not see foods as being good or bad. Even though we weren’t on diet we were definitely conscious of deprivation and the suffering that comes with dieting, the proof of this is looking back now at birthday/ mothers day card messages that we wrote to my mom, repeated messages of  “mom relax, indulge enjoy some cake don’t be guilty all those type of messages”. So I thought my mom was beautiful and remember telling her I loved her tummy rolls that she was constantly trying to get rid of.  I’m sure this had an impact on my own body image. Something I still struggle with today. The diet mentality and diet language were and still are a challenge  referring to sweets as “ junk food/ rubbish”  / food is fattening.”

“My mom joined Herbalife when I was 5 and my oldest brother was getting married (she didn’t want to be the ‘fat’ mother of the groom walking down the isle).  I don’t know if I would if I would have ever been influenced by fat phobia if she hadn’t dieted.  She was always on the phone with people she was ‘coaching’ and I kind of resenting the lack of attention I received growing up because she would spend hours helping other people and being on long conference calls that we had to be quiet for.  And when she wasn’t doing that she still was talking about her clients and celebrating their ‘successes’ with us, and I felt like she didn’t care about me as much as joe who lost 4 pounds that week.  One time she told me about a customer who decided to celebrate a three pound loss by having a piece of bread and butter and gained it all back.”

“I would watch my mom skip meals, do three day cleanses, and drink gross un-filling shakes my whole life.  When she lost the initial weight (over 40 lbs) she was so happy and energetic (because she saw fast results, I’m sure) but really she got too thin because she was still trying to lose weight even after 5 kids and be the same weight she was in college.  Of course now she is heavier than ever before and she is miserable because she thinks she needs to be thin to be happy. “

“I remember in grade school, witnessing my mom throwing up after a couple meals to get rid of the food she ate.  Interestingly, she didn’t hide it.  I  don’t think anyone in my family had ever heard of eating disorders. I’m positive my father never had.  But after a few times, my father told her that if she didn’t stop her body would get used to it and do it automatically.  Thankfully that explanation seemed to do it and she quit.  Probably the shortest dip into bulimia ever.  I grew up thin so for me it never dawned on me to try any dieting restrictions.  But it did plant the seed that diets were a normal thing for adults and that avoiding fatness was important.

Diets vs. Medical Restrictions

Let me be clear, I’m not talking about the parent who has a legit medical reason to avoid a certain food or ingredient.  I’m referring to dieting for weight control which almost always involves one or all of the following: eliminating or heavily restricting food groups, externalizing portion control to a diet guru’s opinion, or otherwise following rigid rules about food.

“But I don’t keep my kids from eating carbs.  We serve fruit as dessert, they eat spaghetti squash, peas, protein pancakes and lentil crackers.  Just because we don’t do bread or other refined carbs, doesn’t mean we’re on some crazy diet.”

Here’s the thing.  You have a right to express your food values in whatever ways work for you.  You have a right to serve the kinds of foods you enjoy.  But…bread and other simple starches are a staple in most cultures.  If you scrimp on fruit for fear of sugar or starchy staples are totally missing from your home, without an allergy, deep religious reason, or strong aversion, that qualifies as a food restriction…otherwise known as a “diet.”

In her book, Your Child’s Weight: Helping without harming, feeding expert Ellyn Satter nails the big problem with parental dieting:  Even if you only restrict your own eating your kids are watching you.  They will decide, “when I grow up, that’s how I will eat too.”


If you’re on a Paleo, low carb, all-juice, keto, 21-day fix or other fad diet, chances are you’re fixing yourself something different than the rest of your family.   You can’t really model normal eating while nibbling on a 250 calorie Lean Cuisine or lettuce sandwich.  If you’re not making yourself a separate meal, what are the chances you’re going through the effort of providing warm dinner rolls, or ooey gooey lasagna if you abstain from carbs?

Dieting in front of kids teaches them lies about food & eating

But what’s so BAD about doing all these diet acrobatics with your eating?  What is the actual issue with keeping your family sugar-free or eating a separate meal as a mom (or dad)?  It’s just food and everyone likes different things right?  Here’s a quick bullet list of falsehoods kids can learn directly or indirectly from dieting parents:

  • You need a prescription, meal plan, special itty bitty plastic containers, points limit or calorie count to know how to eat.  FALSE!
  • Avoidance or fear of of perfectly safe foods that you actually like is perfectly normal and healthy.  FALSE!
  • Pasta is okay for kids but not for adults. FALSE!
  • Weight loss and how a food might affect your appearance is the most important thing about eating. FALSE!
  • Tasty foods should be avoided and are harmful.  FALSE!
  • You should be wary of all but a strict list of foods.  FALSE!
  • You can’t trust your appetite.  FALSE!
  • Certain foods are more powerful than we are–so avoidance keeps us from falling into some gluttonous pit. FALSE!
  • Hunger is scary and should be avoided at all costs.  Or maybe it should be tolerated and ignored.  FALSE!
  • Feeling satisfied or even full is a sign you’re doing it wrong. FALSE!
  • Going on and off of various diets is just what adults do. FALSE!
  • Not being fat is the holy grail of health, proof that you’re doing it right and worth any effort.  FALSE!

The list above is old, dry and useless B.S.  It’s all falsehoods. Recycled in new ways each year.  Please don’t fall for it.  If one or more of those false statements feels true for you, I am happy to refer you to a dietitian (me or someone nearer to you) who can help you get out of that life sucking mess.


From my observation there a few types of dieting parents (true for non-dieting parents too):

  • Those who are critical of their own bodies–and those who are not.
  • Those who are critical of others’ bodies–and those who are not.
  • Those who are critical of others’ food/eating choices–and those who are not.

I used to think it was enough to simply not criticize (self, others, or food) while doing your own thing.  But I’m beginning to realize that’s not nearly enough in our current diet and body obsessed culture.  Because even if kids make it to adolescence unscathed by our food issues, if we don’t do something to arm them against the false and harmful messages of diet culture, they will be vulnerable to it.  Perhaps they’ll be vulnerable to it anyway.  But we can’t be merely neutral.  We must be active in teaching kids to be savvy consumers of media and spotters of false marketing.  We need to actively instill a strong body image and sense of self-worth that is based in something with deep roots.  We need to show them what normal eating is so they get a gut sense of something’s not right when they see the counterfeit.  To be honest, I’m not 100% sure how to do all of these things for each of my children.  Hopefully I can stay just one step ahead of the learning curve.

Mom — do you struggle with your own eating?

If you are a mom who struggles with your own eating, there is hope outside of dieting.  I would love to refer you to a non-diet dietitian near you — just email me:  I am also available for distance nutrition coaching at and I’ve recently put together an awesome 16-page guide on managing emotional eating, just for moms.  If emotional eating is one of the things that leaves you feeling guilty, you can get my guide here.  I would say it’s useful even if you think you overeat.  My point is there are a lot of resources to help you find peace and joy with food — without ever touching a diet plan again!  Save




Posted by Adina
April 2, 2017

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