Many people’s New Year’s resolutions center around starting new habits and trying to get healthier. People often have a goal of losing a certain number of pounds or going to the gym a certain number of times. But Dr. Katy Miller, medical director of adolescent medicine at Children’s Minnesota, suggests taking a different approach to resolutions with your kids.
The beginning of a new year can be a perfect opportunity for families to set goals around forming good habits. However, Dr. Miller urges families to avoid using the new year as motivation to lose weight or go on a diet.
“We see all these kids with eating disorders that often stem from well-meaning conversations with parents, family members or friends talking about wanting to lose a couple pounds,” said Dr. Miller.
Avoid weight talk
If your family is considering a New Year’s resolution around health, Dr. Miller’s first and most important piece of advice to parents – avoid weight talk about themselves and about their child.
“You want to model body positivity for your kids. Instead of talking about how you want to lose a certain number of pounds, keep the focus forward facing and on positive outcomes like, ‘I really like how I feel and my mood is better after I go for a walk, so I’m going to go for a walk every morning,’” described Dr. Miller.
Avoid comments, even joking ones, about body image or weight. This is true not only for your child, but also for yourself! “Our society has really normalized poking fun at larger bodies, and this kind of comment can be really harmful. Kids hear what we say about ourselves and internalize those messages, even when we aren’t commenting directly on their bodies or weight,” Dr. Miller says.
Another reason to avoid talking about weight: it does more harm than good. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has advised parents and doctors against prescribing or talking about weight loss to kids and teens because it could increase their risk of weight gain and disordered eating.
Focus on the positive benefits of activity
One way you can encourage and increase physical activity is to focus on its health benefits outside of weight loss.
Mental health benefits
One of the many benefits of physical activity and movement is how it can positively impact mental health. Connecting the mental health benefits of being active can be gratifying for teens because it takes the focus away from the number on a scale. Teens who are only focused on weight may work out twice and be disappointed they haven’t lost weight. Changing their mindset can help them stick to their goals.
Time away from screens
There are many mental health concerns tied to social media, so spending more time away from their screens and more time participating in some kind of physical activity can be a health benefit.
A like on social media can be addictive, literally. Plus, social media can create unrealistic comparisons which can cause feelings of inadequacy and other struggles. Learn more about how social media can be linked to mental health concerns.
Movement and physical activity can be great ways to relieve stress. When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals that make you feel happier.
Diets in disguise
Social media is full of posts and ads by influencers that promote health and fitness, especially on photo and video-based apps like TikTok and Instagram. Dr. Miller encourages families, especially teens, to be weary of what they see on their social feeds.
“I think social media influencers are savvy and know that the word “diet” isn’t politically correct anymore. Instead, you’ll hear it coded as “wellness.” But it’s really a diet disguised as healthy living,” described Dr. Miller.
Some health or fitness trends on social media can be harmful for teens, such as very restrictive diets. It can be hard to keep up with what your child is seeing. However, being proactive and talking with your child about what they’re seeing on social media and the risks of disinformation can prevent them from trying something dangerous.
Setting good goals
Now that the word weight is off the table, Dr. Miller says your family can focus on creating positive, health-promoting goals. A few examples include:
- Eating more fruits and vegetables at meals.
- Becoming more active with the goal to reach the recommend 150 minutes of physical activity per week.
- Drinking more water every day.
- Getting 8-10 hours (depending on your child’s age) of sleep each night.
- Having family meals together (this has been shown to decrease the risk of eating disorders and promote better nutritional intake).
- Cooking together.
These goals should be something enjoyable that the whole family can do and not be something that’s punishing or focused only on one particular child.
“Family activities are one of the best interactions because they get kids off of their cell phones and interacting with their family. Activities like an outdoor family walk for 10-15 minutes every Saturday or going sledding. You don’t all need to lift weights as a family, it can be casual,” said Dr. Miller.