There is a $70 billion diet industry driven to convince all of us that the biggest problem in our lives is our weight. But the science on that fact is inconclusive. Yes – that’s surprising, but we must remember that $70 billion industries grow to that point based on extensive advertising and PR campaigns that convince us that there is a problem that only they can solve.
As a result of the $70 billion diet industry, parents believe that they must focus on their children’s weight to make sure they are healthy. We propose that this belief is driving eating disorders in our children. We beg parents to focus instead on other health indicators that will make a much more significant impact on our children’s lifetime health and wellness.
The following factors are much more important to a person’s lifelong health than the food they eat or the number on the scale. These factors also help prevent eating disorders, which impact 10% of the population and have serious negative health consequences.
1. Loneliness: humans are social animals. Even the most introverted of us need human connection to be healthy. Strong social connections and a sense of belonging are the No. 1 thing parents should focus on to ensure good health for their children. Parents should actively promote a sense of belonging within the family unit and help their children build strong social connections. Children who suffer from loneliness are more likely to have mental disorders including anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
2. Sleeplessness: too little sleep is an underlying factor in almost all mental disorders, including the most dangerous: suicidality. Parents should be vigilant in ensuring their children get as much sleep as possible given our busy schedules. Good sleep hygiene must, at a minimum, include removing all electronic devices from the bedroom at night. Children who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation are at higher risk for eating disorders and other mental health disorders.
3. Aimlessness: our kids are built to be passionate sponges. Their dreams and desires should be limitless. The whole purpose of childhood and adolescence is to explore passions and purpose in life. A life spent on electronics, isolated in a bedroom, does not promote passion and purpose, which are critical to health. Sometimes when a child lacks passion and purpose, they pour their energies into maladaptive obsessions, such as drugs, drinking, promiscuous sex, cheating, and eating disorders.
4. Self-Hatred: our culture is heavily influenced by billion-dollar marketing campaigns that tell us we are not good enough as we are. The weird thing about marketing is that humans consistently deny that it has any influence on their decisions, but clinical studies prove again and again that it has a huge influence. Our kids need to learn that they are good enough exactly as they are, without any modification or consumer goods. The diet industry and media are powerful forces that constantly tell our kids they need to change their bodies to find success and happiness. We must actively work against these forces.
5. Poor Emotional Hygiene: We all know to remind our kids to wash their hands and brush their teeth, but few parents know the importance of teaching emotional hygiene. Emotional hygiene is the practice of processing all sorts of emotions – including and especially the uncomfortable ones – as soon as they arise. Poor emotional hygiene is believed to be the underlying factor in all maladaptive coping mechanisms, including eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, and other methods that people employ to avoid feeling their feelings.
Food and weight have become a national obsession driven by our desire to be happy and healthy. Powerful industries are exploiting our natural desires by telling us that the “right” food and the “right” body weight will solve all our problems. But food and body will usually self-correct and become healthy for each individual when the above five issues are addressed.