Advice for Parents with an Overweight Child

by Julie Raymond, MA, LCPC, Eating Disorder Specialist

Many parents grapple with the same question:  If my child is overweight, should I talk to her about it?

A new study offers a degree of guidance regarding this issue; the conclusion is “no.”

Published in the Journal Eating and Weight Disorders, the study concluded that parents’ comments regarding weight, even though well-intended, often lead to unhealthy dieting behaviors, binge eating and other eating disorders. A parent’s comments about weight can contribute to a daughter’s chronic dissatisfaction with her body – even if she is not overweight, for years.

The study reported on over 500 women in their 20s and early 30s who were asked about body image and how often their parents commented about their weight. Those who recalled parents’ comments were much more likely to think they needed to lose 10 or 20 pounds, even when they weren’t overweight.   Interestingly, the degree of criticism was not relevant. Whether a parent commented frequently or rarely resulted in similar “scarring.”

We see the ramifications of parental comments all the time at Timberline Knolls; and therefore, could not agree more with the results of this study.

We encourage parents to have healthy conversations about food with their daughters and openly challenge society’s messages about food and the necessity to be thin.

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) revealed startling statistics in 2015.  A full 42% of 1st-3rd graders want to be thinner. These are children under the age of ten, which only reinforces the need to talk to kids at an early age. Parents must try to repair the damage that has been done by the media and cultural landscape on health and belief in the thinness myth.

It is equally critical for parents to model healthy eating and reasonable exercise. This means teaching kids that healthy eating, is enjoying all foods in balance, moderation and variety, rather than buying only organic, cutting out sweets and “junk” food. Additionally, promoting an understanding that all foods provide nutrients and there is room for all types of foods in their diet will further cultivate a more loving relationship with food rather than one that is focused around fear and anxiety. Conversations around food rather than discussions focused on whether foods are good or bad and how many calories or fat is in foods are encouraged.

We want to teach about a healthy lifestyle, rather than a healthy weight or number.  We know people can be healthy at all sizes.

If parents focus on internal qualities such as good character, kindness, generosity, compassion, positive morals and values in their children, perhaps the American culture might finally experience a decrease in eating disorders.

 

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