Ways to Approach an Overweight Teen

Is your teen overweight? Should you bring it up? Find out the do’s and don’ts of talking to teens about weight.

Q: My 13-year-old daughter has been steadily gaining weight the past three years. At first I thought it was just a normal stage, and wasn’t thinking about it becoming a problem. Now I can see she is definitely overweight when compared to her friends and I am really concerned. She has become very touchy about it, too. How can I help?

A: We are all living in a culture that appears to value a lean body type. This is the person who can eat anything, stay thin, and is often the advertisers’ ideal body. However, we don’t all have that body and our task is learning to live healthfully with the body type we have. Many parents feel uncomfortable talking about weight with their children and avoid it because they were once hurt by someone making an unkind comment to them.

Gradual weight gain can become more noticeable when your daughter starts acting uncomfortable with it herself. It could have been that her friends were similarly plump and slimmed up as they matured where she has not. Bodies do not mature at the same rate. Some people develop more quickly than others. The most important issue is health. Does your daughter have her own healthy eating and exercise habits?

Is your daughter’s body weight similar to the rest of your family? Has the family explored allergies, genetics, or food choice and inactivity as a factor? How does your family define health? Is it based on exercise, good nutrition or appearances? Is it a family value? Does your family sit and eat meals together, taking time together, or do you have to rush through meals? It is easy to overeat when rushing.

Many families experience food as comforting and they may be part of generations who ate fried food and carbohydrates, all things that can make it difficult for someone struggling with a weight issue. If the whole family is out of balance, then helping create gradual, indirect changes may be the best route to creating an atmosphere of long-term change for everyone in your family.

You and your daughter may already know there are three normal and natural body types for all of us. We have endomorphs, with a large frame, soft rounded figures and a solid, strong build. Mesomorph body types are medium framed with a muscular, stocky medium build and are often very strong. Ectomorphs often have fine bones and long limbs and are lean and have a light, thin build. What body type(s) run in your family? What body type is your daughter? Often learning all about our body type is one of the first steps to setting realistic expectations for our bodies. Body type influences not only the weight we naturally carry, but also how we metabolize food, our energy level, and where extra pounds reside in our bodies.

There are more don’ts than do’s when it comes to how you can best support your daughter now that she seems concerned about her weight.


• Tell her she has a problem. Wait for her to say she is interested in getting healthier.
• Compare her to other girls her age. Remember we all have different body types.
• Judge the what, when, where, and how of her eating.
• Tell her to diet. Diets are short-term solutions and do not create long-term healthy lifestyle changes.
• Talk about your own need to diet, or criticize your size, weight or share your body image worries.


• Model self-acceptance. Make sure that you are walking the walk of being healthy and fitting your own natural body type. As you become the best silent role model you know how to be, you may choose to exercise, eat small portions, keep healthy foods in the house for the family, and provide good food low in fat and carbohydrates. But do this as a message of you loving yourself and your body as it is and taking good care of yourself, not as preaching to your daughter.
• Acknowledge she is in charge of her own food choices and food intake, no matter how hard that is for you.
• Pay attention to your food habits; do you eat when you aren’t hungry; use food as a reward; eat quickly; clean your plate or can you stop when you are full? Think about releasing unwanted fat instead of “losing” weight.
• Think about being a picky eater instead of judging food to be good or bad for you.
• If she’s interested, offer dance classes or sports as a healthy habit.
• Make sure any changes you make are not about her, but are for yourself. Otherwise they won’t last and it might send the opposite message you intend.

Do you need to run interference for relatives and family friends who take it upon themselves to judge your daughter for her size? You cannot control what they say, but you can let them know when what they say is making everyone, including your daughter, not only feel worse, but doesn’t help create change.

If you pursue these goals, then you will be a safe resource for your daughter when and if she needs to talk about her weight struggles. Together you can explore creative ways to develop a healthy house around both food and exercise. The most important role for everyone in your family is to listen and support her as she gets clear about her goals on maintaining a healthy body.

Good luck!

Categories: Tweens & Teens