The Do's and Don'ts of Talking to Your Child About Their Weight

With increasingly overwhelming academic and social pressure, being a child today is no easy feat. And while parents obviously want to see their children succeed, it’s safe to assume the ultimate measure of success is optimal health and overall happiness. But what happens when, at their annual physical, your child’s doctor tells you they are “overweight?” Or worse, at risk for obesity related diseases like diabetes? How do you approach this sensitive subject without damaging their self esteem and overall emotional well being? And further, how do you help them have a healthy, positive relationship with food, and their body? Today we’ve partnered with Marci Evans MS, CEDRD, LDN, a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian, Intuitive Eating Coach, and owner of Marci RD Nutrition Consulting to provide parents and family members with some “Dos and Don’ts” of talking to your children about their weight.   

First things first: Focus on you

While your instinct might be to first talk to your child about managing their weight by eating healthy and exercising, ultimately it’s up to the whole family to get on board. This means making fruits and vegetables the star of your meals, stocking the pantry with healthy snacks, keeping hydrated, and making exercise and physical activity a priority. Marci emphasizes, “The most important thing a parent can do is model healthy behavior. Fake it if you have to!”

“The best thing a parent can do [for their child’s health] is model healthy behavior. Fake it if you have to!” {Click to tweet}.

Focus on promoting healthy habits, not reaching an ideal body weight

While your child’s doctor will likely show you a graph indicating your child’s body weight, and what his or her “ideal” body weight should be, it’s not proven that this is the only indicator of health. Instead of focusing on reaching a number on the scale, focus on promoting healthy habits within the household. Encourage your family to cook healthy meals together, incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diet, eat more whole foods and less processed foods, and exercise regularly. If practiced consistently, these healthy habits will naturally lead to reaching an “ideal” body weight, and keep your child focused on the practice of being healthy, not the end goal of reaching a number on the scale.

Never bribe

“Never bribe your children with money or presents (or food!) if they successfully lose weight,” Marci emphasizes. It’s important to know that feeling strong and healthy is the “reward” for eating healthy foods and participating in daily physical activity.

Focus on what you can add, not what you need to restrict

When we try to change our diets, it’s easy to think about all of the things we need to “give up.” No more cookies! No more pizza! But it’s important to focus on what we need to add to our diets, versus what we need to take away. Adding fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans to a lunch or dinner will add more nutrients and fiber, and make you feel full while naturally suppressing sugar cravings. By adding nutrient dense, whole foods to your family’s diet, you naturally crowd out the less nutritious foods.

Use positive language.

To me, this is non-negotiable. Foods are neither inherently “good” or “bad” and it’s important not to dictate foods that your child “can” and “can’t” eat or “should” and “shouldn’t” eat. This doesn’t mean you need to promote chocolate cake as a health food, but instead, focus on how foods make you feel. A great place to start is by checking out our list of 12 foods that promote academic success. Tomatoes help with math equations, and sunflower seeds help with sleep! Marci adds, “Have a conversation with your child and express that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Let them know what you love about their bodies and reinforce that their job is to take good care of their bodies so they can be healthy and strong, not because they need to look a certain way.”

Teach your child self-compassion and self-love.

When working towards any goal, studies show that we are much more likely to succeed if we treat ourselves with kindness and compassion, and don’t beat ourselves up along the way. If you or your child doesn’t fall into a “normal weight range” this does not mean you failed, or worse, that you’re a failure. It just means it’s time to practice some healthy habits so you can live your best life. Focus on what your body can do and then set goals to do those things better!

Close the commentary

There is no shortage of media messaging that tells people (especially women) how they should look. But let’s face it, we all look different, and hopefully that never changes. Try to avoid commenting on your child’s or anyones else’s body, even if you are saying something positive. Any comment, positive or negative, sends a subtle message that their self-worth lies within their physical form. Marci suggests, “Focus on the qualities you love about them, rather than their appearance.” Comment on their strong work ethic, their kindness, or how they are a great friend.

Have you ever been in a situation similar to this? Let us know if any of the tips above are helpful in the comments below.

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