As a parent, feeling responsible for your child’s health and well-being is natural.
But when it comes to your child’s body weight (especially if they are in a larger body than you might be comfortable with) or you notice they have gained weight rapidly and are worried, please understand that many factors are at play; blaming yourself (or getting upset with your child) for their weight gain is never productive or helpful. Research has shown that blaming parents for their child’s weight can lead to worse health outcomes and more significant weight stigma.
So, what should you do if you believe your child, tween or teen is gaining, or has gained too much body weight?
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Body diversity is natural and normal. Like different heights and foot sizes, different hair and eye colors, people come in different body shapes and sizes. We need to always have in the back of our minds that a person’s body weight does not determine their worth or value. In our industry, this is referred to as the Health at Every Size Approach® (HAES), or weight-Inclusive approach. Our bodies were meant to be different sizes and shapes, we are all unique and our kids are the same. People with larger bodies can be as healthy, if not healthier than ones with thinner bodies. Read more about the Health at Every Size® philosophy and use positive body image messages.
- Genetics, metabolism, hormones, and other factors all play a role in determining our weight. When we talk about weight, we often think about calories in vs. calories out. But the reality is much more complex. Genetics, metabolism, hormones, and other factors all play a role in determining our body weight. For example, some children may have a genetic predisposition to store more fat, while others may have a faster metabolism that quickly burns off calories. And while diet and exercise are important, they are not the only factors determining body weight.
- Weight gain during puberty is a natural and necessary part of development. During adolescence, a major growth spurt usually occurs, which can be very confusing to both kids and parents. Appetites soar in preparation for a growth spurt. Consequently, many tweens and teens get heavier before they grow taller! All parts of a child’s body change in puberty, and it is not unusual to see even a fifteen-pound weight gain over a relatively short period of time with some adolescents gaining upwards of 40 or more pounds during this process. However, excessive weight gain can be a cause for concern, mainly if a significant increase in body fat accompanies it and you believe your child is eating for reasons other than physical hunger. Here is where we would seek the counsel of our trusted health care professional.
- The effects of the Food Police can last a lifetime. When was the last time someone made a comment to you about your weight or the food you were eating? Think about how this made you feel. Have you ever done this yourself to others, or your kids? We refer to people who do this as the “Food Police.” And in their (or our) effort to ‘help’ others, we end up stigmatizing them. We become part of the diet culture world and contribute to a culture that promotes weight-based discrimination, bullying, and negative body image. This can be especially harmful to children, who are still developing their sense of self and may be more vulnerable to negative messages.
Studies have shown that focusing on body weight and encouraging weight loss can lead to negative body image, disordered eating and even eating disorders, which can have long-term consequences.
Instead, parents can work on promoting messages of body positivity, healthy habits, and take a non-judgmental approach to health.
- Practice what we preach. As parents, we can model positive body image and self-care habits for our children. This means treating ourselves and our bodies with kindness and respect. It is also important to avoid making any negative comments about your child’s weight or body shape. Instead, work on focusing in on your child’s positive qualities and behaviors. It also means celebrating body diversity and teaching children to love and accept themselves just as they are.
- Small changes can make a big difference. Completely changing your child’s diet and lifestyle all at once can be overwhelming; small changes can make a big difference over time. Start by making one or two small changes, such as adding more vegetables to meals, swapping sugary drinks for water, or taking a family walk after dinner. Avoid rigid thinking and labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Instead, encourage moderation and balance in food choices. By making gradual changes, you can help your child develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
- Consult a healthcare professional. If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, consult a healthcare professional. They can help you determine whether your child’s weight is a concern. Start with a registered dietitian we can let you know if we are able to help you, or if you also want to get your primary care physician or pediatrician involved if you haven’t already. We often work and communicate with our client’s entire healthcare team because some situations will call for this team approach to care the best way possible for the client’s wellbeing.
Remember, every child is different and may have different needs regarding their weight and health.
And as their parent, guardian or adult role models in their lives, you must above all else remember that you are not to blame for your child’s body shape or size! But you can be blamed if you put pressure and ideals and thoughts into their heads that they are not worthy and that their body has a problem.
Be the role model they need… Someone who does not focus on weight loss or strict diets, and instead promotes healthy habits and a positive body image. Doing so can help your child develop a healthy relationship with food and their body.
If you are concerned at all about your child’s nutrition, and food or body image, please reach out. The earlier you can access professional health the better for your child in the long run.
Help your child grow up to have a healthy relationship with food and their body with these 10 tips.
It is hard to have any conversations these days that doesn’t include some mention of a person’s body weight, body size, or state of health; these conversations are prevalent in our diet-focused world. However, discussing body weight is sensitive, particularly for children and teens.
These tips are a good start in this process and will help you provide the long-lasting support your kids need.
Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She is certified as an eating disorder specialist and is passionate about helping women at midlife, menopause and beyond to make peace with food and body image.
Erica is a highly sensitive nutrition therapist who takes the time to learn where you or your family are in the pursuit of health. Respectful of your individual needs and lifestyle, she will provide an honest assessment of whether or not you are a good fit to work together. Click here to schedule a 15-minute Discovery Call with Erica to let us know about your needs, and to see which of our Dietitians is the best fit for you!
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