Diet Talk Can Be Unhealthy

from Yolanda Evans, MD


Did you know that parents who talk about dieting may lead to unhealthy eating patterns in kids?


A recent study of teen girls found that parents’ negative talk about weight was associated with their children having unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors. The study looked at 356 teen girls (more than 75% racial and ethnic minorities) from 12 different high schools. Some of the unhealthy weight control behaviors that teens engaged in included skipping meals, smoking cigarettes, taking diet pills or laxatives, vomiting and binge eating, as well as going on a diet. Parents’ talk about weight included encouraging a teen to diet, a parent talking about his or her own weight, and a parent talking about his or her diets to lose weight or keep from gaining weight. The strongest associations involved parents who dieted and negative weight talk by mothers.


This study also looked at family teasing about weight. The researchers found that girls who were teased by family members had higher body mass index (BMI), higher body dissatisfaction and more unhealthy and extreme weight control behaviors. Teasing by family members was most strongly associated with binge eating. Binge eating is eating so much that a person would be embarrassed if someone saw them, or feeling a loss of control over the amount of food that they eat.


The researchers did not find that the family behaviors explained all of the unhealthy outcomes. They thought it was possible that outside influences, like media messages, also play a role in teen girls’ self-esteem and eating patterns.


To help your child feel satisfied with their body and to support healthy eating behaviors, parents can:

  • Remember that your children pay attention to what you say.  Avoid making comments about body dissatisfaction (theirs or yours) on a regular basis.
  • Be a positive role model.  Discuss healthy eating habits, such as having 3 balanced meals and regular snacks each day.
  • Talk to your teen. Use the media as a way to have conversations about appropriate body images.
  • Avoid encouraging unhealthy weight control behaviors. Be careful not to reinforce media messages about quick weight loss schemes.




D. Neumark-Sztainer et al. Family Weight Talk and Dieting: How Much Do They Matter for Body Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating Behaviors in Adolescent Girls?  Journal of Adolescent Health; 47 (2010): 270-276