Diets for babies, part 1: A perfectly wrong approach
© 2011 Roy Benaroch, MD
Plenty of people are overweight—that’s not news. So if you’re a worried parent, why not start early. Could putting an infant or baby on a diet be a good way to prevent obesity?
No. The answer is no. It is the wrong thing to do.
Dieting is never, under any circumstances, an effective way to reach or maintain a healthy weight. The very idea of “going on a diet” implies that someday you’ll “go off the diet”. Even the most successful diet is a temporary step, a brief “holiday” of well-meaning improved eating to lose weight. Inevitably, dieting ends with a return of old habits, yo-yoing weight right back up to and often past where the victim started. Trying to be a healthful eater by dieting is like trying to drive safely by keeping your eyes open—but only for the next 10 weeks.
Dieting is especially a bad idea for the youngest people. Their bodies need nutrition, and plenty of it, to grow. Fat is essential for the developing brain. Healthy babies can seem quite chubby, especially before the baby fat melts away as crawling and exploring replaces eating as their main hobby.
Unfortunately, the very babies at the most risk for eventual weight problems are the ones most likely to be targeted for the unhealthy habits of dieting. Parents who themselves are weight-worried, or have suffered from psychological and physical harm from overweight, may be very motivated to prevent obesity in their children. But by restricting intake, parents dramatically increase their children’s risk of obesity and eating disorders. The evidence is overwhelming that an overly restrictive feeding style is just about the best way to ensure that children will grow up without the ability to make healthful food choices of their own. Dieting is the wrong idea for all babies, but especially those at the most risk for overweight.
Parents who wish to prevent obesity in their children may look to diets as an effective approach—this despite the fact that dieting probably never helped themselves! Media hype about the latest diet and the latest celebrity stringbean model only adds to the pressure.
Fortunately, there are effective, simple steps during early childhood that parents can take to help ensure a lifetime of healthy eating for their children. The goal isn’t a specific weight at a specific age, but a healthy attitude about food that children can enjoy for the rest of their lives. Doesn’t that sound better than a diet?
Coming soon: Diets for babies, part 2: A better alternative