So many parents feel they can and must strive to control their kids’ bodies. This impulse comes from the best place. From everything we have been told, our kids will live longer, healthier lives if we teach them to keep their body weight low.
But here’s the thing: controlling our bodies is actually harder than we have been lead to believe. In 95% of cases, a person who diets regains their lost weight plus more. In the process of losing weight, our metabolic rates permanently slow down, and we increase our cortisol (stress hormone).
None of those are the results we are going for when we gently suggest ways for our children to reduce their food intake and make comments about watching their weight. Worse, when we tell our children to restrict food and watch their weight, we are laying the foundation for disordered eating. If our kids have developed an eating disorder, we absolutely must change how we think about weight in order to support our kids’ recovery from an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are much, much deeper than weight. But weight bias is the most superficial behavior that we must address in order to ever get deep enough to recover.
But parents are going to worry about something
The good thing is that, unless our children are medically underweight (in which case they need medical attention), there are much better things for us to worry about instead of our kids’ weight. In a popular TED Talk, Susan Pinker combined meta-data on longevity to create a great view of what actually impacts our likelihood of death.
The good news: weight is surprisingly low on the list of factors.
The largest factor leading reduced mortality, according to research, is social connections. The primary study, which was conducted in a series of studies of tens of thousands of middle-aged people, collected data about every aspect of lifestyle, including diet, exercise, and behavioral patterns, and then evaluated how many people were still alive seven years later.
This study found that close interpersonal relationships and robust social integration are the strongest factors correlated with reduced mortality. They have more than 3x the impact of body weight.
What to worry about instead of weight
Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review, Holt-Lunstad, Julianne, Smith, Timothy R., and Layton, Bradley J, PLOS Medicine, 2010
Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2015.