First of all, when I hear the word overweight, I want to say, “Overweight for what?” Being overweight is not a true descriptor; it’s a medicalized way of saying that someone looks different from the norm.
There’s a medical and societal misunderstanding about weight and health, and the standard now is to be thin. If you’re not thin, people think there is something wrong with you. But, even worse, if your child is not thin, people think there is something wrong with your parenting, and that really hurts.
If your child is on the high end of the weight spectrum, then that is where your child’s body naturally belongs. If your child has been in the average range and gains weight with puberty, then you should know that weight gain is perfectly normal, too. There are so many reasons for weight gain and loss, and we should not jump to conclusions based on what society currently believes is “normal.”
The untouched, un-dieted body is perfect just as it is. Everybody does not have to be the same. You do not have to control your child’s weight.
If you have a larger child, that doesn’t mean that something is wrong. That’s called genetic diversity. Provide regular meals and snacks, and don’t make food good or bad. Don’t give food special treatment. Don’t set up food as a reward or shameful.
Most importantly, don’t’ let your child begin dieting because dieting has been correlated with just two things: 1) a lack of long-term results (95% of people regain weight lost from a diet within 2 years); 2) a higher rate of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
If you have a child who is living in a larger body, then your responsibility as a parent is not to help your child lose weight. That will only lead to frustration and potentially serious eating disorders. Instead, your greatest work as a parent of a large-bodied child is to build trust between your child’s body and mind.
Trust your child to eat what they need when they need it. The biggest mistake you can make with your child is trying to control your child’s body. Instead, we should let our children’s bodies get loud enough so that we can both hear what the body needs. What does the body need to be satisfied? To be nourished?
We’ve got to back off with the idea that kids can’t be trusted to eat correctly to fuel their bodies. Our job is to provide a variety of food and don’t provide food rules. I know this is scary, but the kids will regulate after a few months of food freedom. When you loosen the dynamic of control and let your child find his or her own way, you will see that the child will begin to trust his or her true desires and needs.
Finally, something that is really important if you have a child with a larger body is to prepare them for weight bias. Speak up whenever anyone addresses your child’s weight. Assure everyone that your child’s body is perfect, and tell them that you do not want any further discussion of body size.
So many people believe they are helping children who have larger bodies by telling them that they are large, but do they somehow think the child is not aware of that fact? It’s ludicrous! Help your child build the inner strength and skills necessary to manage these comments, which may be delivered on a daily basis.
The number on the scale is not your biggest worry. Your biggest worry is whether your child has the resilience and self-esteem to live freely in a world in which weight bias and fat shaming are woven into our society. When we trust that bodies are naturally diverse and perfect as they are, we can avoid so many emotional and physical problems that are driven by shame and stress.
Tracy Brown, RD, is a nutrition therapist, registered licensed dietitian and attuned eating coach. She established her private practice in 2006 in in both north and central Florida and now in Naples, FL. She specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating in children, teens and adults. She teaches Intuitive Eating and works with people in person, individually and in in groups, online and via phone.