Co-parenting in separate homes raises many concerns around child & teen nutrition. I often see one parent committed to raising kids & teens diet free, while their co-parent is entrenched in diet culture or has other food-related concerns.

While I see this also when parents are living together, it’s especially challenging when sending your kids away for extended exposure that you’re unaware of or unable to protect them from.

How might this show up, and what can you do? Read on!

Signs your co-parent is stuck in diet culture:

#1 Limiting or restricting food access

Often I see adolescent clients with one parent on a diet or meal plan that affects his food accessibility. Their other parent  may be using a low carbohydrate meal kit that doesn’t provide enough carbohydrates for a developing teen. (Learn how much carbohydrates your adolescent needs in a day). It can be not wanting to buy “processed” foods or only having “healthy” snacks available.

These scenarios, and others, leave your adolescent feeling restricted around particular foods. 

#2 Talking judgmentally about food

Judgmental food talk is so prevalent and easy to fall prey to until you’re aware of how harmful it is. 

  • Putting food into categories of good and bad, healthy and junk, etc. (Read here why you should avoid labeling food).
  • Talking negatively about specific foods or positively about others. 
  • Putting down processed foods, and then having a protein powder smoothie (which is a processed food), or not allowing chocolate bars in the home, and eating an energy bar (which is also high in calories). 

Messages like this can negatively affect your adolescent and set her up to a negative relationship with food. 

#3 Talking negatively about bodies

When adolescents hear negative body talk- even about others’ bodies, it affects how they feel about their own body. So while his parent may not be commenting on his changing body, even talking about their own or others’ body size and shape can have a negative impact on your adolescent.

Body talk even encourages activities that may change body size and shape such as dieting or working out. 

These comments too, affect the way your adolescent feels about his body, and can often lead to risky behaviors in the hopes of changing his body. 

When a parent has limited food accessibility, is negligent,  or incompetent 

These are not necessarily diet focused. However, they can also affect your child’s food experience and how they interact with food. 

Not having enough food

A parent may not have enough food because of lacking resources to properly stock a pantry, lacking knowledge of the amount of food adolescents need, or not having the skill to provide food. 

While these issues can be addressed and improved, until they are, adolescents will be restricted in their eating and it can affect how they approach food when they have greater accessibility. 

Lacking food variety

A lack in variety may include having no fruits and vegetables, always serving the same food, or always relying on the same takeout meals.

When adolescents have limited variety it can be difficult developing a good relationship with all food. It also can lead to eating more (possibly past fullness) of food when given greater access. 

Chaotic eating schedule

Scheduled eating (meals and snacks) are important to support adolescent’s eating enough throughout the day. That obviously looks different in each household. But there should be a sense of knowing around when  to expect meals and the security of knowing meals take place every day Read more about the importance of scheduled meals. 

If this isn’t your adolescent’s experience, they may start hoarding or sneaking food, learn not to trust their hunger signals, and/or eat past fullness (or binge) when food is available. 

How do you know something’s wrong?

While your adolescent may tell you their experience at their parent’s home, often they won’t for fear of causing a (greater) rift in their parents’ relationship. 

You may notice problematic behaviors, habits, or beliefs that aren’t coming from your values, and try to dig deeper into where they originate. 

  • Your adolescent sneaks food
  • They consistently eat past fullness 
  • She’s started a restrictive diet
  • He’s following a strict exercise regimen

While these practices can start from any where (friends or social media for example), it may be helpful to learn what messages are being sent at your co-parent’s home. 


Continue to Part Two for what you can do if your co-parent is promoting diet culture messages.