Daughter’s Weight Weighs On Mom
Q: “My daughter is overweight and I am having a really hard time with it. No one in our family has ever been overweight. I try to get her to eat right, but she doesn’t try very hard. She’s an attractive girl, but she’s too heavy. What can I do?”
A: First, we know that the teen years are a time for growth and development. Be careful not to assume she has a problem. Your daughter is growing and her body may be changing.
What makes you think she has a problem? Make sure it is her issue and not yours. If she is concerned and wants your help, then you are in luck.
You have an opportunity to listen to her thoughts about why she thinks she has a problem and what steps she thinks would help her turn things around. Hopefully, she will have some useful ideas for how you can show her love and support in the healthy things she wants for herself.
If she is unsure what she needs to do, then together you can research the subject and even ask for help if you need it.
If she does ask for help, there are several roles you do not want to take. You do not want to be her food police. You do not want to remind her of her goals when she is acting in a way that runs counter to them. You do not want to tell her she needs to diet or lose weight.
You want to let go of the idea that you can control what she eats or whether or not she exercises. You do not want to get your feelings about loving her and her weight confused. It can be a real challenge to make sure your non-verbal communication is loving when you are observing unhealthy lifestyle habits.
What do you want to do? You want to have a good relationship with your daughter. You want to show her a healthy role model both in yourself and within your family. You want her to know you will support her in the ways that you can.
I hope she can let you know what would help her. She might ask you for a gym membership or to take a class with her. Having a partner when forming new healthy habits makes it more fun, as long as it is not competitive. If she gets discouraged, remind her it takes 21 times for a new habit to be formed — it will take patience.
I am sure you have already examined the messages about health that are shown in your family. You have probably removed the pop and sweets and unhealthy snacks from the house.
You probably have made sure healthy snacks and healthy meals are always available at home. You have bowls of fruit around and veggies ready to eat in the refrigerator. I expect that water is your primary drink.
I also imagine that you have reviewed what you have shown your daughter about weight and body image. You don’t talk negatively about your own body or others’ bodies. You don’t diet; you just eat healthfully. You don’t hide your body from your daughter and, if you do have self-image issues, you don’t share them with her. Be patient with your daughter as she clarifies her own health goals.
You may know what your keys to healthy living have been: exercise, portion control, eating off of smaller dishes, setting your own personal goals, avoiding sitting for prolonged periods, and making sure you start the day eating an energizing breakfast.
You may also recognize the things that have gotten in your way on other issues in the past: enduring criticism, being compared to others, nagging, having others set your goals instead of you, and feeling controlled.
Can your daughter walk the family dog for you or can she go for a walk with you? Does she help fix healthy meals for the family? Are there times when the electronic devices throughout the house are turned off so people will find other activities?
Does she keep you company when you “run” errands? Does the family eat meals together? Can you start a breakfast routine? Everyone may not be at the table at the same time, but at least they can eat.
Are the unhealthy foods out of the house or out of sight except for those special times when guests drop by?
Research has shown us several basic weight loss facts. First, diets don’t work. Don’t even use the word. It invites thinking of a temporary state of being rather than a way of living. Also, many people see diets as taking something away from them.
You want your daughter’s thinking to move towards giving herself a healthy lifestyle. Therefore, your goal is to support health within your family. Second, you have no control over what she puts into her mouth or how little she exercises.
Therefore, creating an environment that has healthy foods, makes it OK to have frequent smaller meals, and having light snacks available helps. Third, your daughter may eat when she is no longer hungry but is just in the habit or emotionally self-nurturing. Eating more slowly, drinking water before a meal and finding other ways to take care of anxiety and depression can be role modeled.
Remember, your daughter is separate from her body. She needs your love and support no matter what healthful or unhealthy choices she makes. Don’t feel that it is your job to remind her when she makes poor choices. Breathe, relax. When she is ready, she will take charge. Until then, take excellent care of yourself!
Dr. Susan S. Bartell, Dr. Susan’s GIRLS-ONLY Weight Loss Guide
Mary Pipher, The Shelter of Each Other