In today’s culture, weight is an extraordinarily sensitive subject, especially for children and teens. Deciding how to approach weight issues with young people deserves careful attention: how you handle the topic can have serious and lifelong implications. Here are some tips for discussing weight with kids, and what to do if a child brings up the topic on his or her own.
- Don’t Talk, Do Something. In general, if your child is elementary age or younger and you’re concerned about his or her weight, don’t talk about it; just start making lifestyle changes as a family. The best thing you can do is make it easy for kids to eat smart and move often. Serve regular, balanced family meals and snacks. Turn off televisions, video games and computers. Look for ways to spend fun, active time together.
- Don’t Play the Blame Game. Never yell, scream, bribe, threaten or punish children about weight, food or physical activity. If you turn these issues into parent-child battlegrounds, the results can be disastrous. Shame, blame and anger are setups for failure. The worse children feel about their weight, the more likely they are to overeat and develop an eating disorder.
- A United Front. As with any other important issue, make sure both parents and other important relatives are on the same page. Mixed messages about weight can have unhealthy consequences.
- Talk with Health –Care Provider. If a health professional mentions concerns about your child’s weight, speak with him or her privately. Discuss specific concerns about your child’s growth pattern. Ask for ideas on making positive changes in your family eating habits and activity levels.
- Seek Advice. For kids and teens, check out local programs and professionals who specialize in youth. Look for a registered dietitian with a specialty in pediatric weight management. Many hospitals and clinics have comprehensive programs with education and activities for both kids and adult family members. Some of these options may be covered by your health insurance plan.
- Focus On the Big Picture. The key is health, not weight. If your family starts eating better and moving more, your children “grow into” their weight as their height increases. Compliment your children on lifestyle behaviors (“great snack choice” or “you really swim fast”) rather than the loss of a pound or two.
What to Do if your Child says, “I’m so Fat”
Learn where the fat thoughts come from. Did a friend or classmate tease your child about weight? Did another relative mention the size of his or her belly or thighs? Was there something on television or online about overweight kids?
I have personally been a weight fluctuator my whole life. In middle school being a little chubby I had a cousin that teased me about my weight and called me names. It is hard not to forget or like this particular cousin as an adult. My brother also tormented me about my weight. I then lost 40 lbs and started high school weighing 100 lbs.
My relationship with food has always been unique. When I make a new recipe at home I will ask my husband what he thinks of it, he will give me a frank comment. I will usually say “ it is really good” and then he says, “ you think everything is good”. I grew up in an era where you were expected to eat what was on your plate at dinner, no one ever had to tell me to eat up.
As a kid I was riding bikes and at the pool every day. So my love of water has carried me into my adult hood, as a regular form of exercise. I was on the home town swim team for 10 years growing up and swam laps regularly. My shoulder has given out the past few years and I have fallen in love in water aerobics and go 4 times a week during the school year and 5 or 6 times in the summer, especially enjoying the outside pool. I think it is important to help your kids find an exercise they love and it can become a life long joy.
Last year at Lent a couple of girls suggested giving up cookies and desserts for Lent. I questioned if I could do it..I did and have lost 20 lbs. (again). It is really hard working in food-service where we bake every day to not be compulsed to eat a cookie or baked good. Know when I see a plate with broken cookies for sampling I throw it away, it is amazing how many cookies you can eat when you are just eating broken samples. Last year when the USDA instituted their new rules on snack calories and sodium levels I was taken aback about the amount of calories I would pop in my mouth without a thought. I am much more guarded about what I eat for dessert or extras.
This is the first time in a long time that my actual weight is less than it says on my drivers license, for years I fudged on that….pardon the pun.
Be respectful of your children but guide them in healthy choices for a happier life…
American Dietetic Association