The most popular diet today might be intermittent fasting. Essentially, “you’re going through longer fasting states with the goal of losing weight,” said Sarah Tankersley, a pediatric dietitian at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia.
It can take many forms, from the 16/8 method, where you fast starting at 8 p.m. at night and don’t eat again until noon the next day; the 5:2 diet, where you restrict calories to 500 or 600 two days a week; Eat-Stop-Eat, where you fast for 24 hours twice a week; and other forms.
The bottom line is that you’re restricting the calories you eat in order to gain a trimmer waistline.
Why This Diet’s Not a Good Idea for Kids
Intermittent fasting might be dressed up as an innovative weight loss method, but it’s just like any other diet where you’re restricting your caloric intake, said Tankersley. “Children are growing, their brains are growing, their muscles are growing. We don’t want to restrict anything in children. It should be more about making healthy choices.”
And a diet that skips breakfast or skips eating a few times a week doesn’t teach children about making those choices. “Children and teens are still learning lifestyle behaviors and how to live,” she said. “Sure, you might achieve short-term results by cutting calories this way, but are you setting up a child for lifelong success with their health?”
So encourage kids to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables, then meat/protein and bread/whole grains for the other half. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Here are a few ideas:
Out of Control Hunger
In children and teens, the frontal cortex—the part of the brain that helps recognize when you’re hungry and when you’re full—isn’t as developed as it is in adults.
Because of that, kids might decide to skip breakfast if they’re short of time, and they might pass over lunch too if they don’t like what’s on the menu that day. So when they get home, they’re cramming two or more meals into their snack time because they haven’t eaten all day.
“So intermittent fasting can tend to encourage binging and overeating in kids,” said Tankersley. “We see so much increased eating at home when kids skip meals.”
Eat This Way
It’s not as trendy, but teaching children and teens to enjoy a healthy, balanced breakfast, lunch and dinner—with a couple healthy snacks thrown in—is a much more sustainable and healthy way to eat for a lifetime.
• Whole-grain toast topped with peanut butter and sliced banana
• Cheerios with fruit and milk
• Fruit, veggie and yogurt smoothie
• Turkey sandwich with spinach and tomato, grapes and veggie chips
• Pizza slice, pears canned in juice and carrots with ranch dressing
• Chicken salad with apples and grapes and whole-grain crackers
• Burgers topped with tomato, lettuce, onion and avocado, oven fries and fruit salad
• BBQ chicken, steamed broccoli, cornbread, and sliced apples
• Salmon, mashed potatoes, green beans and peaches canned in juice Snacks
• Hummus with pita and carrots
• Bagel and cream cheese
Then, keep on offering lots of water and encouraging exercise, whether that’s a formal team sport, joining a gym or playing outdoors. “All that good stuff,” said Tankersley.
The Children’s Hospital of Georgia has the largest team of general pediatricians, adolescent medicine physicians and pediatric specialists in the Augusta area. For more information, visit our website at augustahealth.org/kids or call 706-721-KIDS (5437).