I recently read that Italian politician Elvira Savino wants to make it illegal for parents to raise their children as vegan. I immediately thought this law was ridiculous, but then I thought Savino might have a point. She noted how parents shouldn’t be allowed to impose this diet on their children, and I agree.

I just think that Savino is focusing on the wrong type of diet. Parents can teach their children far worse dieting habits than veganism. I can’t personally speak to the effects of being raised as vegan, but I do know what it’s like to be raised as a constant dieter.

My entire family once tried the Atkins diet. Another time, we only ate Lean Cuisines for dinner. And my mom was always talking about how her diet "starts tomorrow." 

Growing up, I learned that the best way to be healthy was to restrict what I ate, and this perspective has taken a big toll on my body and mind. So if we’re going to start outlawing certain types of diets, I demand we make it illegal for parents to teach their children  to have a “diet mentality.”

Kate Monick

In my house, I learned I must strictly regulate what I ate in order to be healthy. I learned to eat in excess one night to prepare myself for self-deprivation the next day. I learned that life would be a constant back and forth between periods when I could eat what I wanted and periods when I had to be on a rigorous diet.

I want to be clear that I’m not trying to bash my family. Lots of my friends also grew up in homes where they spent more time dieting (or preparing to diet) than not. “Diet mentality” is a cultural phenomenon that we learn in many ways every day. But we learn it first (and most strongly) at home.

Both boys and girls whose parents consistently discuss weight loss are more likely to become constant dieters. Teaching children a “diet mentality” wreaks havoc on their mental and physical health. Yo-yo dieting increases your risk of heart disease and mental illness.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com

From where I’m standing, vegan children have it pretty good. If parents are informed and attentive, vegan children can be just as physically healthy as their omnivorous peers. Vegan children can also plainly see the effects their parents' diet has on them. Once they grow older, they can easily make the choice between remaining vegan or eating animal products.

Children raised under this “diet mentality” do not have this luxury. We accept the eating habits our parents (and society) imposed on us as normal, and therefore we cannot see the various ways these habits may harm our health. It's difficult to stop our tendency to restrict our diet. We can’t just decide to improve our relationship with our food and bodies overnight. It takes a lot of time and effort.

Sure, vegan children may need to take a few vitamins to stay balanced and healthy (depending on how their parents feed them), but children raised as constant dieters will struggle for the rest of their lives. So let’s make "diet mentality" illegal. Let’s encourage parents to teach their children to eat intuitively by listening to their own bodies. Now that's a law that might actually protect the health of the next generation.