The Harmful Happy Plate

The Harmful Happy Plate

by Julie Dillon, MS, RD, NCC, LDN, CEDRD

My everyday mealtime chaos includes my six-year-old daughter singing at the top of her lungs while my two-year-old son eats one bite then jets from the table. I think that it would be much easier if he still used his high chair, yet he rejected that contraption as soon as he could walk. This makes mealtime a bit messier and acrobatic in nature. In the blink of an eye, he goes from noshing on dinner to dancing in the living room. “We sit to eat” crosses my lips throughout the meal, and I lead him back to the table. Toddlers are distracted by nature, so we try to keep distractions to a minimum (no TV) and give him a high five when he sits safely at the table. We are clear about when meal time is over so he can get his fill, and he will sign “All done!” when his body communicates fullness. Sometimes this happens with a bite or three helpings.

Recently I received a text from a dear friend. She is raising her children to be intuitive eaters and modeling healthy ways of relating to food. With intention, this family neutrally represents food and teaches kids to eat when their tummies have the amount they need.

Luckily, our children are born intuitive eaters—yet our world is not. My friend and I often lament about how hard we need to work in order to shield our children from learning body distrust and body hate.

So imagine her surprise when my friend’s daughter finished dinner and announced that it was now a “happy plate.” I felt sadness when she texted the details. After getting clarification, my friend learned the Happy Plate practice exists at her daughter’s childcare center.

What is the Happy Plate? Often at daycare and family dinner tables, “Make it a happy plate!” can be heard when a child wants to leave the meal with food remaining. I have been told that it is done to encourage children to eat enough and be sure they won’t ask for more food shortly thereafter.

As a pediatric dietitian and eating disorder specialist, I strongly discourage this Happy Plate nonsense. My top three reasons include:

  1. The Happy Plate mantra encourages children to discount hunger and fullness cues. When we plate a child’s food or pack his/her lunch, we are not in his/her body nor are we able to predict with 100 percent accuracy the exact amount of energy he/she will need at that meal. If a child is full, do we really need to encourage him/her to eat more? What’s more, teaching a child to ignore hunger and fullness cues lays a foundation of negative body image and body distrust.
  2. “Make It a Happy Plate” cajoling teaches a child to eat to please rather than fueling his/her body. Eating to make another person happy normalizes disordered eating while omitting innate hunger and fullness wisdom.
  3. Happiness feels good and easy, so of course we prefer it. On the other hand, the human experience includes sadness, frustration, boredom, loneliness, anger, and a myriad of other emotions. Some feel comfortable while others do not. Discounting the fullness experience in favor of a Happy Plate transforms the eating relationship—and not in a good way. It spells out that eating past fullness can make us feel happy. It also makes our loved ones happy. Do we want to teach children to eat in order to make happiness?

What’s the alternative to the ease of the Happy Plate? Here are things to consider:

  1. Be sure to structure consistent meal and snack times. This helps a child respect hunger and fullness while tolerating hunger if he/she is hungry a bit before an eating time. When a child says he/she is all done, kindly remind her when the next eating time will occur. Do not provide between-meal handouts besides planned snacks.
  2. Children make mistakes when plating their own food. In order for a child to become a competent eater, you will have food waste. Save the starving children comments and acknowledge when a child listens to his/her body. An example: “You served yourself, and you decided you didn’t need all of it.” Keep it neutral because food decisions are not good or bad.
  3. If a child eats little at a meal and requests food outside of mealtime, kindly remind him/her of the next meal or snack time. If the child says he/she is hungry, teach him/her what to do. Say “Your tummy is hungry, so remind it that food will be available soon. It is just not time to eat.” NOTE: Need to consider child’s age and time until next meal. 
  4. Hold back the praise when a child eats everything on her plate. A child who ate all of her food and another child who ate half of the food served did an equally good job at that meal. This may feel unnatural, but it is the way to promote healthy ways of relating to food and positive body image.

Kids and the Paleo Diet, Not!

Kids and the Paleo Diet, Not!

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While surfing my mailbox dedicated to RD listservs, my eye caught “Paleo for Kids.” I was getting ready to be upset when instead I happily found Michele Redmond, MS, RDN, at The Taste Workshop’s comments.

She shared with my peers that “restrictive eating and fear of foods is inherent in any diet but particularly paleo which, depending on which paleo model you follow, promotes eating beans and grains as actually dangerous for your gut and health. Involving kids in these eating patterns and beliefs raises lots of nutrition and social-eating questions.”

Michele highlighted the three links below. They are worthy of your time. The TED talk is a must watch!! While the articles are not specific to our children, parents must be aware of the mental rigidity and consequential nutritional deficiencies that are likely to develop if you impose any diet on your children.

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1. There is no one right diet—Paleo debunked by archeologist:

Debunking the Paleo Diet: Christina Warinner at TEDxOU

 2. From strict and obsessed to balanced:

     My Ever Changong Viewpoint on Paleo and CrossFit

3. From the trenches of Crossfit and Paleo to the gray zone:

     Don’t Be a Fanatic 


You can learn more about Michele Redmond, MS, RD at

Raising a Child to Love Their Body

Raising a Child to Love Their Body
By Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CDE, CEDRD

I was recently out with a group of “mom friends”, having one of those conversations talking about anything and everything related to our kids, all under 1 year old.  Our conversation turned into an honest discussion about raising our children to be anti-dieting, body image-loving, positive self-esteemed individuals.  My friends were worried about being a good example to their daughters, teaching self-esteem, and hoping that their girls will learn to love their bodies.  These moms were especially worried about raising girls, but this is a topic for every mom- mothers of sons included!  I claim to be an expert in this area but it’s honestly something I’m concerned about too.  I had just talked about losing the last few pounds of my post-pregnancy weight 10 minutes before this part of the conversation came up.  My point is that my advice for moms and dads is something I am going to be working on as well.  I think moms can all learn from one another and support each other to raise confident children.

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Here are my favorite tips:

  1. Eliminate fat talk:  Take a good look at yourself and your environment.  Do you criticize yourself in the mirror?  Do you complain about being “fat”?  Your kids will learn from you.  Eliminate this kind of dialogue in your life to other people and especially to yourself.
  2. Feel good about your body:  Replace the fat talk with positive talk.  Do something each day to make you feel good about your body.  One of my favorite tricks is something I heard from a therapist:  Take a tube of red lipstick and write on your mirror “I am beautiful because…” and everytime you look in your mirror, you have to answer the question.
  3. Model healthy behaviors with food:  Show your child a healthy relationship with food by eating balanced meals and snacks.  Don’t restrict and binge.  Have a wide variety of food in your diet, including food from all food groups, including nutritious and less nutritious foods.  Have desserts and fruits and vegetables in your life, and teach your child how to enjoy these foods in a healthy way.
  4. Make time to move with your family:  Exercise as a way to feel good, not just burn calories.  Pick an activity you love and make time for it.  Treat this as part of your self-care routine.
  5. Introduce the concepts of “hungry” and “full” as early as possible:  Children are born with the skill to stop eating when they are full but gradually lose this with environmental influence.  In order to prevent the dieting “restriction” mindset, it’s important to teach children it’s natural to eat when they are hungry.  Therefore, it will be natural to stop eating when full and satisfied.
  6. Do not label food (or yourself) as “good” and “bad”:  Every food is included in a healthy lifestyle, no matter what.  Restriction of “bad foods” can lead to bingeing.  Don’t say “oh I had a good/bad day” because nutrition is not all-or-nothing!
  7. Never force your child to clean his/her plate:  This will alter kid’s perception of how much they should eat.  If they don’t eat at this particular meal, there is always the next meal or snack to make up for missed food.
  8. Talk about how bodies come in all different shapes and sizes:  Respect other body types and talk about how people look different because everyone is unique and special.
  9. Spread the word:  I love movements like “Operation Beautiful”, which spread the message of positive self-esteem and self-worth.  Teach children to participate and have fun doing so!

New Year! New Intentions with Star Charts!

New year! New intentions with Star Charts!


If you’re like me, you need and want to get your kids more involved in their food fare as well as getting excited about the foods they’re eating. With a new year ahead, you and your family can join us as we set intentions to make healthy habits with the help of a star chart. I personally want to get my kids to just try new foods. It doesn’t matter whether they like them but I want them to try. Keep in mind that I eat every kind of food under the sun…from chitlins to kale chips. And my two boys are surely making great strides with new foods at their own pace. However, I’m well aware that my own efforts sometimes get in the way. For example, every Sunday evening I present them options that I’m eager to have them try. But this is just a once-a-week activity…and can be overwhelming for my younger son. Besides, kids like to think they’re calling the shots!

So this past Sunday, the boys and I sat down to create “star charts” to help motivate them to try new foods and to help encourage them to practice self care and/or healthy habits.


I drew the basic foundation and added the three most important behaviors (for my boys at present) and then I gave them space on the charts to add three or four behaviors they wanted to achieve.


So far…so good! As you can see per my older son Bobby’s star chart,  he is enthusiastically awaiting his prize for his healthy habits and even my younger son Billy is motivated. He actually tried cod, broccoli, a new yogurt and peanuts in just two days.


On Monday, Billy refused to try a hard-boiled egg as well as his dinner when I failed to ask him for his choice. I quickly realized my mistake and asked him what he would like to try; he willingly ate the new yogurt and peanuts.


As you might have noticed, both boys like to select their own veggies and their own new food to try. This is typical. So don’t forget this step as you create your own star charts with your child.  Making the chart with the child and letting them have opportunity to make choice is essential. This is where we give them “control”—the ability to speak in their own voice. Read below on tips for stellar self-care star charting! Join my boys and me. Download our PDF Star Chart to start teaching your child healthy behaviors and to make this process easy and fun for both parent and child. Let us know how it goes.

Tips to Stellar Star Charting:

For creating healthy habits…

1. Parent chooses two to three behaviors.

2. Child chooses two to three behaviors.

3. If the behavior is open ended like trying a new veggie, let each child choose between at least two options.

4. Encourage each child to help decorate and make their own stars so he/she can proudly show off their efforts. Be sure to display – perhaps on the refrigerator.

5. Rewards are most effective when immediate. Young children may benefit from rewards every three days rather than just once a week.

6. Ideally, set the goal at 60 percent stars (success) per day. This allows for flexibility and the option to opt out and not be penalized on days when your child feels overwhelmed, overstimulated and/or just tired. If your child continuously earns all his/her stars, make the behaviors slightly more measurable; try a quarter cup of veggies with dinner or just reset the goal at 90 percent.

7. Have fun and change some of the goals each week. For instance, when your child loses interest in a goal, you can replace it with a new goal like clearing his/her dishes from the table. When a goal becomes a habit, it no longer needs to be reinforced, so just remove it from the chart.  You can even change a few goals—maybe two out of six per week to keep your child on his/her toes.

8. And of course, remember not to strive for perfection or just set end goals – rather set goals of trying foods and activities to encourage the process of trying.


You must read this interview with the one and only, Dr. Linda Bacon!

Health at Every Size and Body Respect—a Discussion with Dr. Linda Bacon
By Erica Leon, MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD
Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian
Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor


Photo Credit: Michael Newton via Compfight cc

With the ever-present discussion of the “childhood obesity epidemic,” I asked Dr. Linda Bacon[i], an internationally recognized authority on topics related to nutrition, weight, and health metabolism, to describe exactly how best to approach weight concerns among parents and practitioners alike. Dr. Bacon proposes a major paradigm shift from conventional weight management practices to what is now referred to as “Health at Every Size.”


Body Respect

According to Dr. Bacon, the Health at Every Size message starts from respect.

She summarized it by saying, “This respect is for our own personal lived experiences as well as those of our children, as there is no objective truth to what we are ‘supposed’ to eat or ‘how’ to eat it. What is going to work best for our bodies can be learned by developing a critical awareness of our own bodily sensations [emphasis added].”

She offered the following examples of this concept: “‘Eat your fruits and vegetables because they are ‘good for you,’ and stay away from junk foods’ is a parenting message that takes the child’s inner body trust and awareness away from him/her. Instead, allow your child to discover the positive benefits of added fiber (from fruits and veggies) such as easier digestion.”


Another common example of body respect that she discussed with me is insisting that your child or teen eat breakfast. “With body respect,” Bacon says, “we allow our children to discover on their own what the consequences of missed breakfasts are. They may notice difficulty concentrating in school and have low energy. Rather than nagging, we can allow our children to keep checking in with their bodies and connect eating with improved energy.”

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What Does “Healthy Weight” Actually Mean?

“‘Healthy weight’ means different things to different people,” according to Bacon. “There is natural weight diversity across the spectrum.” According to Dr. Bacon’s most recent book, Body Respect, research shows that trying to control or manage weight (through caloric restriction or dieting), may work in the short term but more often results in rebound weight gain. Our bodies can undermine efforts at weight control because the body is enormously successful at regulating its weight. It’s not something we need to “work at”—in fact, this “control” approach ends up being counterproductive.

She explained that diets affect self-esteem as we eventually blame ourselves for not being able to maintain a restrictive diet or not losing weight. Her “Health at Every Size” philosophy is based on the idea that a better way to reach a good state of health is to manage behaviors that favor health, for example, good self-care, meaning learning to eat according to hunger and fullness cues, as well as satisfaction, choosing physical activities that are pleasurable, managing our levels of stress, and getting enough sleep. With better self-care, our bodies are more likely to stabilize at their own natural healthy weight. Bacon stated, “often the parents with the best of intentions blame themselves when things go wrong. This helps no one.  Recognize that you can’t control your kids—you can only practice and model good self-care for yourself, so you can in turn support your child.”


Help for Big Kids

When asked how best to help bigger kids, Dr. Bacon explained that “weight tells us little about kids’ health or health habits, but it does tell us a lot about how that kid will get treated in the world. The best way to help kids is provide support: let them know that the problem is in society, not their bodies. The perpetual stereotyping of fatness affects children of all sizes with fat children as the direct targets. When fatter kids are bullied, and many of them are, there may be nobody in their lives telling them that the bully is wrong and that everyone everywhere is loveable just as they are. It takes a strong sense of self-worth to feel safe in your skin in a world where some bodies are dubbed ‘good and acceptable’ and others are dubbed ‘bad and unacceptable’.”


She summarized her overall philosophy: “We need to make this a world where all bodies are good bodies, where children can feel good about themselves in their own unique and precious bodies in all of their glorious diversity. We have the opportunity to stop this self/body hatred and to help kids learn to respect and celebrate body diversity.”


[i] Dr. Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight and Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight, is changing lives through her teaching, research, writing, public speaking, and the transformative “Passing the Message On” multi-day Health at Every Size® (HAES) workshops. Dr. Bacon combines academic expertise and compassionate clinical experience to bring together scientific research and practical application. She shifts the focus from weight to well-being, giving doctors, dietitians, therapists, and people of all shapes the tools for achieving better fitness, health, and even happiness—all without dieting.

Self Care For Your Teen and Tween

6 Strategies To Prevent Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse in Youth
By Laura Cipullo RD CDE CEDRD CDN and Mom

Photo Credit: pcfishhk via Compfight cc

Start the New Year, with self care! Moms and Dads, here are 6 tips to help your tweens and teens create a healthy self-care regimen that will decrease the likelihood of developing eating disorders and substance abuse.

  • Focus on overall self care, not weight.
    • Ask your children: “How does your food choice make your body feel? Energized or tired? stable or shaky?”
  • De-emphasize dieting.
    • Health is achieving mental and physical wellness through lifestyle changes.
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  • Encourage expressing negative feelings via words, art, and music.
    • Gift journals or crafts for your teen to use to express their feelings when upset.
  • Help your child expect and accept body changes during adolescence.
    • Educate them on hormones, body changes and social changes in a neutral tone. Honor each individual’s body shape and help buy clothes to suit their individual shape.
  • Educate your children on feelings and coping skills during puberty.
    • Encourage your children to sit with feelings even if they are uncomfortable doing so – this helps to teach resilience.
  • Involve the family.
    • Allow family members to lend a listening ear or give a hug when needed. Parents do not need to have all of the answers.

Postpartum Body Image

Postpartum Body Image
By Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDN, CDE, CEDRD

Photo Credit: Adrian Dreßler via Compfight cc

I had a very easy pregnancy and felt great almost the entire time.  What I didn’t expect was the shock and roller-coaster ride of emotions and body image after giving birth.  Not a lot of people tell you about the intense ups and downs during the postpartum period, especially when it comes to your body.  Everyone says, “Enjoy every minute!!” and “They are only this small once!!”  I remember feeling guilty thinking I wasn’t a fan of the newborn stage and felt so uncomfortable in this new body post-baby.  I would ask myself, “Why do I feel so ‘blah’?”  All I’m supposed to be doing is sitting on the couch and breastfeeding.  The only expectation is to bond with baby Connor, how hard can that be?”

Throughout my pregnancy I told myself I would get back to my normal self as soon as possible.  I didn’t care much about my weight but just wanted to feel good about my body.  I’m a very active person who loves yoga and exercise.  It felt amazing to participate in those activities while I was pregnant.  I also enjoyed gaining weight, knowing that the baby was growing and I was eating to support a healthy pregnancy.  I went back to the doctor a week after giving birth and had lost twenty pounds right away.  “Well that was pretty easy,” I thought to myself as I walked out the door… “I bet I’ll have my ‘normal’ body back in no time.”  So five more weeks pass by, and I walk in for my six-week postpartum checkup.  Those five weeks were probably the hardest weeks of my life, as the initial “high” of giving birth wore off, and life with a newborn started to actually sink in: no sleep, no activity, and increased anxiety.  I get on the scale at my six-week checkup, and the nurse weighs me and says, “Well, we don’t see that too often!  You actually went up!”  I kept on telling myself that weight wasn’t important to me, but in that moment all I could think about was the annoying negative body image voice winning over my healthy self.

Life went on, but something shifted in me around the three-to-four-month mark. I went back to work and felt fulfilled in my career, Connor started sleeping more, and I started to introduce formula and wasn’t exclusively breastfeeding (which honestly took away a lot of stress).  I also asked for help with babysitting so I could get out of the house more often.  I started to not care as much about my postpartum weight loss and started to focus more on doing something each day for myself and self-care for a healthy body.  I felt myself change both mentally and physically as more self-care happened.  I am now feeling so blessed and happy, and my anxiety has decreased.  I am walking more with my mom friends and babies, going to weekly “Mommy and Me” yoga classes, and am training for a five-mile race on Thanksgiving Day.  I am also slowing down each day, cutting back on my “to-do lists,” and just taking it one day at a time with my son with no expectations.  My body feels strong as it has now fully recovered from childbirth, and I feel almost “back to normal.”  But guess what?  I weighed myself the other day out of pure curiosity and wouldn’t you know—my weight was the exact same number it was at my six-week postpartum checkup.  Thanks to a healthier attitude and lots of self-care, I feel incredible both physically and mentally.  I also feel blessed that I can teach my son what it means to love your body no matter what the scale says.

Are Your Words the Cause of Your Child’s Eating Disorder?

What Do Your Children Hear When You Say…?
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD and Mom

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As I surf the net, I read so many blogs that also say all foods fit. Yet they go on to say certain foods are treats, certain foods are bad, and certain foods should only be allowed if the child doesn’t have a weight problem. So how do parents handle this delicate issue?


First we must address our own food issues. If we have them—and we probably do (as I don’t know too many people without food confusion)—we need not verbalize them as black and white statements to our children.

For example:

You can eat ice cream because you are young and thin, but Mommy needs to be good because Mommy’s belly is too big.

That is clearly a mother’s issue being verbalized to the child. Mom is implying ice cream is bad, but the child can have bad food because they are thin—and Mom cannot.


Next, we must be careful not to place a moral or value judgment on foods. This means avoiding good and bad food labeling. This backfires because a child typically feels bad when he/she eats something bad. This can even be true of using words such as “healthy” versus “unhealthy,” but perhaps that takes it to extremes. Some children’s programs use the colors of a stoplight to signify how much of something to eat. I’ve always found myself telling clients to listen to their bodies. However, I also know I would tell them to focus on the nutrient-dense foods the majority of the time and that the remainder of the time it doesn’t matter. We began calling these foods “everyday foods” versus “some of the time” foods. This is a perfect solution, no? It really categorizes foods with higher nutrition versus lower nutrition.  This is the way I typically explain foods to my children. The sure thing we know is that the good and bad connotations lead to negative relationships with food. So steer clear of using words implying judgment and move towards words that are science-based, such as “high in vitamin C” and “low in vitamins.”


Another catch-22 is saying that our children need to lose weight and thus should only eat healthy food. This is quite far from the truth. If you, a child, or me needs to lose weight, we must explore the why. Moms and Dads, especially dietitian moms/dads or parents working in health and wellness, need to be so careful of this. Instead, explore behaviors and emotions surrounding the foods.

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Questions to ask are:

  1. Is the individual eating beyond his/her physical cues?
  2. Are you or your child stressed and eating to numb yourself?
  3. Is your child not in tune with his/her internal regulation because you have restricted him/her and forbade all processed foods?
  4. Is your child skipping meals at school or is unable to feel full off of the school lunch?
  5. Is this weight healthy for me even though the doctor says differently?


Again, this is not about eating nutrient-dense foods. That is merely just one piece in the food puzzle.


The “beware of’s” can go on and on, but the most important concept to truly be cautioned against is that of “perfect eating.” There is no perfect eating. If you eat too healthy, it can be significant of anorexia or orthorexia. If you eat chaotically with no boundaries whatsoever, this too can be very unhealthy. Instead promote balance, listening to your internal physical needs, eating for fuel and for pleasure and health too! Eat real food when you can, but don’t go crazy over avoiding processed foods. Enjoy apples just as much as your cookies.


Below is a handout from the book Healthy Habits, which you can download.

Weight Gain in Puberty: Is It Normal and Healthy or Something Else?

Weight Gain in Puberty: Is It Normal and Healthy or Something Else?
Written By Erica Leon, MS, RDN, CEDRD, CDN
Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor
Edited By Lindsey Reinstrom and Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD

Photo Credit: ToniVC via Compfight cc

It could have been yesterday that “Miss Chris,” my ballet teacher at age ten, told me—in front of the entire class—to “stop eating so many cakes and cookies.” She said that I was a promising dancer and I simply must “slim down.” This confused me because I ate normally and didn’t really have so many cakes and cookies!


What I did have was an earlier puberty than many of my friends. This powerful body-shaming message has stayed with me for more than forty years! Flash-forward to both my daughter’s and son’s puberty, and this dietitian/mom was well equipped to explain that in order for adolescents to develop normally, a little extra fat around the middle is essential and a normal part of growth and development.


During the middle-school years, a major growth spurt usually occurs, which can be very confusing to both kids and parents. Appetite soars in preparation of a growth spurt. Consequently, many tweens and teens get heavier before they grow taller! All parts of a child’s body change, and it is not unusual to see even a fifteen-pound weight gain over a relatively short period of time. This happens to both females and males.


When Should You Be Concerned? Is This Healthy Or …?

Your child’s healthcare provider will measure height and weight annually as part of his/her wellness visit. A measurement called a BMI (body mass index) can show weight and growth trends. The BMI can be used as one tool in noticing patterns in your child’s weight and height. Used correctly, it can help identify weight gain and potential correlation with your child’s natural range on the growth chart over the years. The growth chart may reflect a jump in weight range but not height in this prepubescent phase. Now, it is your job as a parent to determine if this is necessary weight gain in preparation of puberty or if the weight gain is a result of your preadolescent’s habits and/or behaviors. For example, if your daughter or son reports eating due to an increase in appetite, you can surmise that this is puberty related. However, if you notice that your tween eats when procrastinating, studying, or when he/she eats with friends even after a family dinner, this may reflect behavioral eating. Or, if your tween eats every time he/she is sad or stressed with homework, this may indicate eating for emotional reasons and not as a physical response to increase energy needs for puberty. So, if it is a true physical need, let your child enjoy his/her body and help prep him/her for more changes while experiencing puberty. If you observe a trend of behavioral and emotional eating, especially of foods low on nutrient density, you may want to have a calm and neutral conversation about self-care, coping skills, and eating for physical reasons.

If you still have concerns about your tween’s proper growth and development, it may be worth talking to his/her physician or a registered dietitian who specializes in pediatric nutrition and intuitive eating.  If you are worried that any recent changes in your household could be contributing factors to less-healthy eating behaviors, it might be helpful to consult with a mental health professional trained in disordered eating and adolescents about your concerns.


How you communicate about body and food choices with your tween or teen can have a significant impact on his/her self-esteem and future relationship with his/her body and food!


Strategies That Are NOT Helpful:

1) Do not talk about your teen’s eating habits ALL OF THE TIME.

2) Do not nag or preach to simply “eat less.”

3) Do not put your preteen or teen on a diet.

4) Do not bribe or reward your child with food.

5) Do not reward or comment on weight loss/weight gain.

6) Do not weigh your daughter/son.

7) Do not reject your child for any changes in their natural body weight.


These strategies can lead a vulnerable child towards disordered eating and poor body image. When parents try to restrict their child’s food intake rather than teaching him/her to listen to levels of hunger and fullness, it usually backfires! Often kids with restricted diets end up eating secretly and eat larger quantities of food than their body needs, which can lead to weight gain.


Strategies That Are Helpful:

1) Do not panic! Explain calmly that weight gain is normal before and during puberty.

2) Help your child to identify if a dramatic change in body weight is related to:

    • Puberty
    • Something else such as emotional eating due to school stress
    • Behavioral eating when with friends after school
    • Less physical activity than usual

3) Focus on healthy habits such as recognizing hunger and fullness, rather than focusing on external numbers such as body weight.

4) Lead by example and be a positive role model for healthy eating and exercising.

5) If your child is gaining weight due to emotional eating, help your child to develop coping skills, healthy ways to express their emotions, and provide a listening ear.

6) Prepare home-cooked meals and have family dinners as often as possible.

7) Keep your pantry and refrigerator stocked with “every day foods” that are nutrient dense, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, and naturally lower-fat dairy products.

8) Help your tween or teen learn how to eat a variety of foods without labeling any foods as “good or bad.”

9) Help your tween or teen learn to differentiate between eating foods for fuel versus eating foods for fun.

10) Do explain that people naturally come in all shapes and sizes.

11) Teach honor and respect to our body by ways of self-care.

12) Fuel your body with nutrient-dense foods the majority of the time and less nutrient-dense foods some of the time.

I am amazed that I still remember my ballet teacher embarrassing me in front of my peers, despite the fact that I was at a healthy body weight for my stage of puberty.  Whether your child is gaining weight in preparation of puberty, by emotional/behavioral eating, or through problems with regulating his/her sense of hunger and fullness, please make home a safe haven of love and support. Offer hope and guidance, and, of course, speak to a health professional about how you as a family can best support your child.