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What to say to larger kids (from adults who’ve been there)

Are you wondering what you should say to bigger kids? Are you a parent, teacher, doctor, coach, aunt/uncle, grandparent, or other important adult to a child who has a larger body?

Luckily, I have a lot of answers for you! A recent social media post collected hundreds of answers from adults who were self-identified “fat kids” and reported what they wish caring adults had said to them when they were children.

A word about the word “fat”

The term “fat” can be used as a slur or a neutral descriptor. In its neutral form, saying “fat” is the same as saying “tall” or “brown-eyed.” Other words for fat bodies, such as “overweight” and “obese,” are currently considered to be stigmatizing. Many fat justice leaders have reclaimed the word “fat” as the preferred neutral descriptor for their bodies.

However, we should not call someone “fat” unless we 1) are doing so kindly 2) have zero thoughts that they should lose weight; and 3) clearly have their permission to do so. And nobody should ever use “fat” as an insult. It’s always best to let people who live in marginalized bodies to define themselves rather than assuming a label on their behalf. And never tell a person in a larger body that they are “not fat” or should be proud to be fat. It’s their body and their choice to define themselves on their own terms.

What not to say to bigger kids

I’m going to just start with what not to say to bigger kids. The fact is that kids in larger bodies are subject to constant scrutiny and discrimination. This is a sad fact of our culture. A lot of well-meaning adults say things to larger kids that they think will be helpful but are in fact incredibly harmful. Here is a quick guide:

Don’t say:

  • You’re not fat; you’re beautiful: if a child is fat, they know they’re fat. Don’t deny them the truth of their body. When we jump in with a comment like this, we risk adding shame to the word “fat.”
  • You just need to [eat less/move more/eat healthy/]: the implication here is that weight is a choice. Would you tell a child who is short that they just need to stretch their body? No. So don’t tell a child who is larger that they just need to shrink their body.
  • You shouldn’t wear that: there are a lot of opinions about what bigger people should and shouldn’t wear. But if you would let a thin child wear something, then restricting a larger child from wearing the same thing is discrimination.
  • Don’t eat that: there are a lot of variations and ways that adults try to restrict how much and what larger kids eat. But research shows that bigger kids eat about the same as thin kids. The difference is mostly genetics and environment, not food.
  • You’ll grow out of it: this comment can have lifetime effects because many children then begin to worry about how they can make sure they get thinner. They assume that thin is better, and therefore begin the lifelong pain of hating their bodies.

Here’s what we know for sure: when adults tell kids there is a problem with their weight, those children are more likely to grow up to be heavier than kids who were not told their weight was a problem. This research stays steady regardless of genetics and environment. Thus, all those adults who think that kids need to “watch their weight” are in fact setting them up to gain weight.

Why? Most likely because cortisol (stress) is linked to weight. And kids who are raised believing there is a problem with their bodies feel more stress. Also, restriction of any kind leads to compensation. So if you restrict sugar or any food for kids, they are very likely to binge eat those foods when given a chance. This isn’t deviant or “bad,” it’s simple biology.

Here’s a simple guide: if you’re about to say something to a fat kid that you wouldn’t say to a thin kid, don’t do it. And give larger kids extra love and affection to counteract the discrimination they’re facing elsewhere in the world.

The science behind all my statements about weight is available in our Research Library.

What we should say to big kids

Larger kids, like all kids, deserve love, affection, acceptance, and respect. The rules don’t change based on a person’s body size. What we should say to big kids is mostly the same as what we should say to all kids. But parents who have larger kids should probably say these things even more because larger bodies are treated so badly in our culture. You’re going to need to counteract societal messages to keep your kids safe from eating disorders and other serious health concerns caused by weight stigma. The important thing is to honor and respect your child for who they are, regardless of their body size.

Here are the basics:

  • You are loved
  • I accept you as you are
  • You are beautiful
  • You are worthy & valuable
  • You don’t deserve to be mistreated
  • There is nothing wrong with you

If you find it difficult to imagine saying any of these things to a child who is larger, then I want you to think about why. It would be easy to say these things to a smaller child, right? But we should never discriminate against someone for the size of their body. Even though we have been told body weight is within our control, it’s not. So when adults can easily say these things to smaller children but not larger children, stigma and discrimination are at play.

And children in larger bodies need to hear these things even more than children in smaller bodies. This is because our society is cruel to larger people. It’s not right, but it’s true. So your love and acceptance are needed even more in a child who lives in a marginalized body. Remember that the child’s body is not a choice, but it is an integral part of who they are. You should neither ignore their weight nor perceive their weight as a problem.

The answers below were provided in answer to the question “if you were a fat kid, what’s one thing you needed to hear from a trusted and loved adult?” The post was originally created on Instagram by @fatfuturescollective and reposted by @thebodyisnotanapology. I’ve kept the comments anonymous, lightly edited, and categorized them below.

You are loved

This was BY FAR the most common comment. And it’s heartbreaking that so many people felt unloved because of their bodies. How can you make your child feel loved today?

  • I love you just as you are.
  • I’d have wanted to be told I was loved, I was worthy of love and respect, that I didn’t have to try to make everyone like me.
  • You don’t need to shrink yourself to be loved
  • You’re actually already just great, so, what feels good and beautiful to YOU? What makes your heart sing? Let’s do more of THAT.
  • That I was just fine as I was, lovable and valued at any weight.
  • You are so loved!!!
  • That I’m perfect and loved just the way I am.
  • You’re lovely and loved.
  • No one needs to apologize for the space they occupy. We are all worthy, holy, loved beings.
  • You are loved, you are good just as you are.
  • I love you for who you are.
  • You are precious and worthy.
  • There is nothing wrong with your shape and size.
  • Losing weight could not possibly make me love you more.
  • I’m proud of you for who you are.
  • You are safe, you are loved, and good enough exactly as you are.
  • You are loveable.

I accept you as you are

Accepting a child is so close to loving a child that most people can’t tell the difference. Larger children know they face discrimination in the world. Can you be a person who accepts them exactly as they are?

  • Your body belongs here with us and for you, just as it is.
  • Your body is amazingly strong and beautiful as it is.
  • You are welcome to exist as you are, and you are loved.
  • There is nothing wrong with you.
  • You don’t need to change and you deserve all the happiness, joy and love you can find in this life.
  • You do not need to lose weight to be loved.
  • You’re perfect just how you are and you don’t need to change anything about yourself!
  • You are not too much and not too little. You are just enough, and worthy of love.
  • That I was lovable, beautiful, and acceptable just as I was.
  • You are perfect just the way you are! It would have saved me so much turmoil if someone would have just told me that.
  • That my weight wasn’t a character flaw, and I wasn’t ‘bad.’
  • I wish someone had told me not to be ashamed of myself and to love myself no matter what size I was.

You are beautiful

All children want to feel beautiful in their others’ eyes. And larger children get very little validation that they are beautiful. Examine your own biases and make sure that you’re complimenting bigger kids as often as you are complimenting thinner kids.

  • I would have loved to been complimented on my clothes like other girl children.
  • I used to really love hearing “your outfit looks great today”. As I got older and gained weight into my teens, I never heard it anymore about anything I did and realized it must be because I was getting fat.
  • That I’m beautiful. I wasn’t ever told this. So now I have this weird thing where I know I’m beautiful but am never sure if others see my beauty.
  • Your body is perfect just the way it is.
  • You are lovely as you are, not “you’d be such much prettier if you lost weight”
  • That fat changes nothing. You’re beautiful. You’re cherished.
  • You’re beautiful, you have a bright future, you are so talented, you are so loved, etc.
  • That outfit looks amazing!
  • You don’t need to hide that part of your body.
  • You are beautiful and powerful.
  • All bodies are beautiful worthy of love and celebration.
  • You are beautiful, resilient, empathetic, resourceful, and above all, you are ENOUGH.
  • That dress looks beautiful on you.

You are worthy & valuable

Every child deserves to feel worthy and valuable in this world. This is a basic human right. What can you do to make sure the child feels worthy of your affection?

  • I would be saving so much money on therapy if they told me my value and worth are not measured by my size!
  • Your body is and always will be valid and powerful and uniquely beautifully yours.
  • Your value in life isn’t determined by how skinny you are. People obsessing over your body has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them.
  • You’re enough as you are. Anybody that doubts that or tells you differently is wrong.
  • You are incredible, beautiful, and worthy RIGHT NOW.
  • That who I am and what I do in life is not defined by my body.
  • You are worthy exactly as you are. Your dreams, hopes, desires, and passions are treasures are what I care about, not what your body looks like.
  • We are all worthy of joy and love.
  • You are not innately bad or wrong for having the body you have; you are enough; you have value; you are brilliant and strong.
  • The shape of your body does not change your absolute worthiness of love and care.

You don’t deserve to be mistreated

Many bigger kids are mistreated both at home and outside in the world. It’s important for adults to stand up for children who are being mistreated. Don’t dismiss fat-shaming and teasing as “normal.” It’s simple discrimination, and if you wouldn’t accept it based on race, ability, or gender, then you should not accept it based on weight.

  • You don’t owe anyone thinness or good health or beauty, you have the right to be respected however you show up in the world.
  • I needed someone to tell me that it wasn’t my fault that no one wanted to be my friend or that I was being bullied and teased.
  • What people say about you is a reflection of themselves.
  • I needed to hear adults shut down fatphobic comments and jokes as they happened rather than look embarrassed or laughing nervously at them.
  • I wish someone would have explained to me that the problem was not me, but the insecurity of my peers. That their cruelty was a reflection of them, not me.
  • I will help make school/gym class/dance class a safe place for you and everyone else.
  • You’re more than the names they call you. I love you and will take care of you.
  • That being fat is absolutely NOT the worst thing you can be. Being narcissistic, selfish, mean, abusive, making other people feel less worthy for ANY reason are all worse than being fat.
  • There is nothing wrong with your size – we are all different & there is beauty in all bodies. When bullies make fun of your size, remember that you are okay, you are loved.
  • I wish someone had told me that I didn’t deserve to be mistreated and then done something about it.
  • If people treat you badly because of your body, that is a real problem and you deserve support but it is not your fault. You and your body deserve respect and kindness inherently.
  • “Who are your bullies?” And “Here’s how I can help.”
  • Nobody has the right to humiliate you or make fun of you. This is not ok.

There is nothing wrong with you

So many fat kids are told there is something wrong with them. That they are the cause of their body weight. But we know that weight is mostly genetic and environmental. We have almost no control over our weight. Help your child know that their body is good.

  • All bodies are good bodies. You’re not lazy. You deserve to eat.
  • There is nothing wrong with you and there is everything wrong with diet culture.
  • You don’t need to work so hard to change yourself. Just be.
  • Let’s buy you clothes that fit you. Let’s not buy clothes for you to shrink into or clothes that tent and hide your whole body.
  • It’s OK that your belly sticks out.
  • Your body is strong, beautiful, and worthy of all the love. Honor it and it carries you through your joyful life.
  • The body you have right now is the right body.
  • That my body was a good body no matter how it looks. It keeps me alive
  • You have fat on your body, that’s normal, there’s nothing wrong with it and you don’t need to change.
  • Your body is perfect and you don’t need to change it.

You don’t need to change yourself

Bigger kids feel as if they need to change themselves in order to be loved. Make sure you counteract this harmful belief.

  • You don’t need to change for anyone. Just be you.
  • You don’t need to be thin to be happy and healthy.
  • Your body doesn’t need to be fixed- there’s nothing wrong with it
  • Losing weight will NOT magically change your life and make everything better.
  • Move your body because it feels good and you enjoy it. Don’t worry about numbers or loss. Just enjoy the dance.
  • That you can be “overweight” and healthy (weight does not mean health or lack thereof). That all bodies are different and all shapes and sizes are beautiful!
  • You don’t have to diet to be a good person. Bodies change and weight does not define your worth. You are enough and you always will be enough.
  • You don’t need to diet just because someone else thinks you’re fat or because everyone else is doing it.
  • Skinny and strong are two different things, and your size isn’t evidence of health.
  • I wish my mom had told me that my body didn’t define what I could and couldn’t do.
  • Some people are born into smaller bodies. They most likely didn’t do anything differently from you.
  • You are not the problem, it is society’s expectations that are the problem. Your body is valuable and good, every day, at every size.
  • People and society will make up stories about you because they can only see one aspect of who you are. Resist the temptation to believe them. The richness of your life and your value don’t lie in these stories. Manifest and cultivate your whole self in context – your inner life as well as your wonderful, able, powerful body.
  • You don’t have to lose weight to be worthy, and you don’t have to lose weight for people to love you.

Be yourself

Every person should be encouraged to be their authentic self. This includes dressing the way you want to, doing the activities you enjoy, and living your life regardless of body weight.

  • You do not need to be a certain size to do all the things!
  • Sure, you can wear the cute leotard to gymnastics class. No need to cover up in baggy shorts and a t-shirt.
  • You can let your belly relax.
  • Wear what makes YOU feel good!
  • Your body doesn’t define you.
  • It’s okay to take up space with your body.
  • Some people are just made to be bigger, bolder, brighter!
  • You don’t have to compensate to fit in.
  • Don’t let being fat keep you from trying things. Be physical, be in your body, it’s OK.
  • You can take up as much space as you want – your thoughts and your heart are valuable and precious; your body doesn’t invalidate those things.
  • Bodies are constantly changing. Trust your body and listen to its needs. Everything else will fall in place as it should.
  • You don’t have to sit on the sidelines. Let’s go have some fun!
  • I needed to be asked “what do YOU want?” instead of having everyone else tell me what they wanted: how my body should look, how I should eat, how to move, and that I should accept all of it. Knowing that I could have questioned all of the shame heaped on me in my youth openly earlier on would have allowed me to share some of that pain rather than bearing it alone.

Listen to your body

Bodies are wise, and they should be in charge of how we feed them. If a body is hungry, it should be fed. So many larger kids are put on diets, and it’s incredibly harmful. Look carefully for subconscious beliefs about how much you think your child should eat, and remember that food is nourishment. It is essential to life. And we know that the No. 1 outcome of food restriction is weight gain.

  • You don’t need to diet!!!!! Your body is perfect the way it is and dieting will harm it more than being fat ever will!
  • Have seconds if you’re still hungry.
  • Eat. I wish I was told it was okay to eat. Instead of receiving dirty looks as I went for more or had dessert.
  • Listen to your body. If you’re hungry, eat.
  • Don’t skip meals! If you’re hungry, eat.
  • You can have as much as you want.
  • Often the reason we overeat is that we under-ate earlier or are being restricted.
  • It’s okay to enjoy your food!
  • I will never put you on a diet or pressure you about your weight or food choices.
  • Restrictive dieting is not a righteous way to treat your body as a temple. Neither is punishing exercise. You don’t have to earn food.
  • I’m happy to feed you and glad to see you eat.

Fat is fine

Just because our culture pathologizes fat doesn’t mean that being fat is a problem. A body is never a problem unless other people make it so. Normalize fatness, and seek ways to let your child know that there is nothing wrong with their body.

  • Your body is magic. You have no idea yet how much it can do and feel and hold. I’m still learning its depths and wonders and the places it holds pain
  • It’s okay to be fat. You never have to “grow out of it.”
  • There’s nothing wrong with you.
  • You have nothing to fix or change when it comes to your body.
  • Your body is a miracle, fearfully and wonderfully made, just as it is right now and always.
  • You will be loved and it won’t be despite your weight.
  • Fat adults are still loved, healthy and happy people
  • People are all born differently, some are thin some are fat some are short some are tall, and being fat is nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Thinness does not equal happiness. Learning to love your body will be one of the most freeing experiences you will ever accomplish.
  • I wish I’d seen the fat adults in my life loving their bodies and modeling that.
  • You can be fat and desired, fat and beautiful, fat and strong, fat and healthy. Food is to nourish and sustain you and it’s delicious. Movement is to be enjoyed.
  • It would have really helped me to know that fat people find love and intimacy and aren’t automatically social rejects. I was so ashamed because I thought I couldn’t be attractive and therefore couldn’t be loved.

If you love a larger kid, then please keep this list of what to say nearby. Remember that larger kids are just as worthy of our love and acceptance as thin kids. And they are highly sensitive to weight stigma, which has serious health impacts. A larger child knows when their parents, coaches, teachers, and doctors think they are “too fat.” And it’s devastating. Adults’ perception of fat is far worse for a child than the fat itself. Let’s do better!

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Data in support of the non-diet approach to health

Data in support of the non-diet approach to health

Despite what every magazine, influencer, newspaper and even your doctor says, the data we have available is in support of a non-diet approach to health. This is surprising and even shocking to many people, but it’s important that we turn the tide on diet propaganda and look at the facts.

NOTE: every statement in this article is linked to scientific research. Simply click on the link within the paragraph you’re reading to see the source.

Dieting is a national obsession – why?

In November 2020 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that more Americans are on diets now compared to a decade ago. A 2009 study estimated that 24% of American men and 38% of women were actively attempting to lose weight. Meanwhile, 70% of American women 50 or older report that they are trying to lose weight.

And alongside the increases in diet efforts, the weight loss industry grew. In 1984 the U.S. the weight loss industry generated about $10 billion in revenue. That number jumped to $72 billion in 2019.

While it markets itself as a health initiative, weight loss is a money-making industry that has experienced tremendous and highly profitable growth. And while it’s been very successful as an industry, it’s been a failure in terms of health and weight. There has been no increase in population health and the rise of the diet industry parallels an increase in U.S. body weight of about 10 lbs.

This is good for the diet industry, because it points to the weight gain as the problem it’s here to solve. But the data in support of a non-diet approach to health shows that:

  • Dieting leads to weight regain
  • Most dieters regain the weight lost plus more
  • Dieting is bad for your health
  • Dieting leads to eating disorders
  • Reported risks of fat itself are surprisingly incorrect

These proven facts are rarely spoken of outside of non-diet circles. Why? Because they don’t support fatphobia, or weight stigma, which is pervasive and was intentionally built by the massive and highly-profitable weight loss industry to sell products.

Dieting leads to weight regain

Since the 1950s, health and mental health professionals have criticized the conventional wisdom that permanent weight loss is possible. Clinical trials on weight loss have high dropout rates. Additionally, they rarely have participants move from one weight category to another. Finally, the overwhelming majority of people who lose even 5–10% of body weight have regained it 1 year later.

It is well established that weight loss can usually be achieved by restricting food intake. But the majority of dieters regain weight over the long-term. But why? Is it because people are bad at dieting? Or do they just slip back into bad habits?

The answer may surprise you. Because it’s actually completely out of the dieter’s control. It’s a biological fact that our bodies want to maintain our weight. When a body loses weight, every system works to get it back to where it was. That’s why no current treatment for weight reliably sustains weight loss.

Within 9 years of weight loss, 95% of women and 93% of men were unable to maintain the reduced body weight. This figure is regardless of the weight loss method, amount of weight lost, or starting BMI. In other words, diets have a 5% success rate. Five percent would be considered a complete failure for any other medical recommendation. No educated medical professional would recommend a treatment with this level of failure. Yet they do recommend intentional weight loss. It boggles the mind!

Dieting leads to additional weight gain

You may be thinking that while regain is possible, at least you tried! But regaining weight lost isn’t the only problem with intentional weight loss. The majority of people who diet end up heavier than they were when they started. Again, this is biologically based. It’s not due to bad diets, bad dieters, or any other modifiable personal behavior.

Studies show that about two-thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets. And these studies likely underestimate the reality.

Over time, after controlling for age and body mass index (BMI), mild dieters gained about 6.7 lbs. And severe dieters gained about 10.3 lbs compared to non-dieters. You read that right: dieting causes weight gain.

Intentional weight loss is a predictor of accelerated weight gain. The odds of becoming “overweight” by 25 years were significantly greater in people who dieted compared to those who didn’t. Dieting is linked to increased susceptibility to weight gain, independent of genetic factors.

Dieting is bad for your health

There is no evidence that dieting results in health improvements, regardless of weight change or weight status. But, even worse, dieting has serious side effects. In fact, dieting itself is correlated with many of the problems often attributed to higher body weight.

Dieting is associated with a higher risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality. This is even after adjustment for pre-existing disease, initial BMI, and the exclusion of those in poor health. This means that dieting is associated with earlier death. In other words, dieting in an attempt to extend life expectancy is actually associated with a shorter life expectancy.

The primary issue with dieting is that restricting calories, which is how most people lose weight, increases the body’s cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone. It controls blood sugar levels, regulates sleep, manages our use of fuel, reduces inflammation, and controls blood pressure. Increased cortisol has been shown to lead to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired brain function
  • Increased infections
  • Muscle weakness
  • Osteoporosis

Every one of those side effects of dieting is associated with being at a higher weight. But the act of trying to lower your weight actually increases your risk for these physical ailments.

Dieting leads to eating disorders

Dieting is the most important predictor of new eating disorders. Teenage girls who dieted were 5-18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder. The rate depended on how severely they dieted. The more intense the diet, the more likely they were to develop an eating disorder.

Adolescents using weight-control behaviors were at increased risk for binge eating. They also had more behaviors such as self-induced vomiting and use of diet pills, laxatives, and diuretics. While not everyone who diets develops an eating disorder, the chances increase dramatically with every weight loss attempt.

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that impact people of all ages, genders, races, sexual identity, and socio-economic status. Global eating disorder prevalence more than doubled from 2000 to 2018. It increased from 3.4% to 7.8% of the population. This is particularly alarming considering there are few proven treatments. Eating disorders are considered extremely difficult and are very expensive to treat.

Reported risks of fat itself are surprisingly incorrect

You may have heard that fat is “deadly.” Perhaps you believe that people who fail to lose weight are “killing themselves.” But it’s simply not true. This very useful analysis of weight research provides an excellent review of the truth about fat:

1. Obesity is not an epidemic

An ‘epidemic’ of overweight and obesity implies an exponential pattern of growth typical of epidemics. The available data do not support this claim. Instead, in the US there is a relatively modest rightward skewing of average weight on the distribution curve. The majority of people weigh ∼3–5 kg more than they did a generation ago.

2. Overweight and obesity are not major contributors to mortality

Except at true statistical extremes, high body mass is a very weak predictor of mortality. It may even be protective in older populations. 

3. Higher weight does not cause disease 

Causal links between body fat and disease remain hypothetical. It is more likely that higher body fat is a symptom of underlying metabolic processes. It’s unlikely that fat is a direct cause of disease.

4. Long-term weight loss is neither beneficial nor probable

 There is no evidence that people who are obese and overweight can achieve a lower weight. Nor that doing so will improve their health.

The anti-diet approach

The anti-diet approach is based on a core belief that diets are more harmful to health than weight. The data clearly support the concept of a non-diet approach. Diets create health complications and solve none. People who follow an anti-diet approach are often accused of not caring about their health. But the opposite is true: anti-diet is pro-health. And being anti-diet does not mean you don’t eat well and pursue other health-promoting behaviors. It’s just that you pursue them without the goal of weight loss or weight control.

There are proven behaviors that support health and longevity, but none of them rely on weight loss as a result. For example, exercise is good for your health. So are adequate sleep and healthy, fulfilling relationships with other people. Being anti-diet means you may choose to pursue these activities for your health. But the impact of these behaviors on the scale is irrelevant.

Other factors impact health more than weight

Additionally, the non-diet approach recognizes that there are factors that impact our health more than weight. These factors are out of our control. Genetics is the primary driver of weight. Additional factors include racism, discrimination, sexism, sexual harassment, poverty, food insecurity, and environmental toxins. These factors are directly linked to lower mortality and increased disease. People facing these factors may indeed have higher body weight. But it is not the weight itself that is causing their health problems. Instead, it is societal and environmental issues over which they have no control.

Finally, the non-diet approach recognizes that weight stigma is actually a risk factor all on its own. Weight stigma is the belief that fat is unhealthy and deadly. The health impact of weight stigma is likely the same as those often blamed on weight. Most likely, the problem is not the weight itself, but the way society treats people who are at higher weight. Heavier people are actively discriminated against in almost every professional, medical, and social setting.

In summary, it’s better for your health to weigh more and never diet. There is no benefit to dieting, and it is associated with significant health complications. Living at a higher weight than you want to be can be hard in our society. But that’s a societal problem, not a problem with your body. The data definitely support a non-diet approach to health, and I hope you’ll find out more and make the shift!

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Weight loss incentives for kids – a good idea?

Weight loss incentives for kids - a good idea?

Lots of parents have heard of weight loss incentives for kids and wonder whether it’s a good idea. We live in a culture that tells parents that they should avoid weight gain in their kids. And parents are told they need to “watch” their kids’ weight. But since weight loss is hard, parents figure they can sweeten the deal with incentives for their kids. So is this a good idea? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?

The short answer is undecidedly no.

Weight loss incentives for kids are undeniably harmful. Any possible benefits are fleeting at best and the costs can be far-reaching. Kids whose parents gave them weight loss incentives report a broad variety of negative results.

What are the most common outcomes of weight loss incentives for kids?

Weight loss may seem like a good idea. But 95% of people who intentionally lose weight gain it back, and 65% of people who lose weight gain back more. That’s regardless of the method of weight loss. Yes, it includes “moderation” and “clean eating” diets. However it’s accomplished, intentional weight loss has undeniably awful results for a supposed health recommendation.

But aside from the fact that diets fail, there are other important side effects of asking kids to lose weight, including:

  • Eating disorders
  • Body shame and insecurity
  • A lifetime of weight cycling, which damages health
  • Negative relationship with food
  • Feeling “less than” and ashamed of themselves
  • Disliking the parents/blaming the parent for body image issues

You may think that these impacts pale in comparison to the health implications of living in a larger body, but they do not. In fact we have been fed numerous lies about body fat and health. The bottom line is that health is not based on weight. There are many things parents can do to pursue health without ever using a scale, food restriction, or body shame.

💥 And we should mention another outcome of intentional weight loss (AKA dieting) in childhood: higher adult body weight. That’s right. Children who diet have higher body weights compared to children who do not diet. This effect is likely based on a combination of the complex biological and psychological factors that establish body weight. If your goal is to raise a child who has low weight, then incentivizing your child to intentionally lose weight is one of the worst things you can do.

Weight loss incentives that damaged kids for life

💥 ATTENTION: Under no circumstances should you think that this list has good ideas that you should follow in your own parenting. This is a list compiled from adults who have struggled with eating disorders and body image issues. And they attribute these health-damaging and life-threatening conditions in part to their parents’ misguided attempts to manage their weight.

  • My parents offered me $10 for every pound I lost. I was 10 years old.
  • I was told that I would get all new clothes if I lost weight.
  • We had a family weight chart and had weekly weigh-ins. The winner each week got to pick the movie for family movie night.
  • Mom took me shopping and let me pick out my favorite outfit. Then she bought it for me – in a smaller size – as incentive to lose weight.
  • My busy mom promised to spend time with me if we went to Weight Watchers meetings together.
  • Dad said that whichever of my siblings and I lost the most weight in 45 days would win $100.
  • I got a scale for my birthday one year, and was promised my “real” gift if I lost weight.

If there is any part of you that thinks the incentives above are healthy, you are mistaken. Putting kids on diets and incentivizing weight loss has far-reaching negative impacts on their health for life.

💥 Kids who diet are 5-18x more likely to develop an eating disorder, the deadliest mental health condition.

💥 And you may be surprised to know that kids who diet also have higher adult weights than those who don’t. That’s right. Putting your child on a diet today increases their weight as an adult.

The myth that weight equals health

It’s true that we live in a culture that says body weight is the key to health. But that’s incorrect. It’s been built on the false premise of the BMI, which has been thoroughly discredited yet is still used as a tool to assess health.

Why? It’s complicated. Weight stigma has a long history in our culture, and it has racist, classist, and sexist roots.

Lower weight has been an indication of purity, intelligence, and self-control for over a century. We equate weight with health, but what we are really doing is equating weight with class. A quick look at body weight statistics will show you that you are statistically more likely to be at a lower weight the more socially privileged you are. In our society, that means being white and wealthy.

And of course we can’t ignore the fact that weight loss is big business. The weight loss industry is currently $72B (2019), and it has been growing steadily at a fast pace for the past 50 years.

Parents understandably believe our societal bias, supported by massive marketing campaigns, that weight equals health. But they are mistaken. Strong relationships with our family and body respect are actually where we can make an impact on our kids’ lifetime health.

How parents damage food & body relationships

Kids look to their parents for validation and security. All children seek approval from their parents and long to be “good enough” for their parents’ love. This heartbreaking fact is why weight loss incentives for kids are so damaging and painful.

A child’s body is the child themself. They cannot separate their body from who they are. Thus, telling a child they need to change their body is the same as telling them they need to change who they are as a person to obtain love, affection, and respect.

Here’s what adults told us about what they learned when their parents incentivized weight loss: When my parents incentivized me to lose weight, I learned …

  • that something was wrong with me. I was imperfect. Disgusting
  • to associate being hungry with being loved
  • I wasn’t good enough. I was repulsive and embarrassing to them
  • acceptance was conditional, and that my parents would love me more if I was thin
  • that I was different, less “good” than kids who were thin

We heard from so many adults who wish their parents hadn’t put them on a diet or incentivized them to lose weight. Here are some especially poignant comments:

  • Today it’s hard to enjoy food without a guilty conscience.
  • I am in eating disorder recovery, and I can’t even talk to my parents right now.
  • My life revolves around my weight, and I live in constant fear that if I gain weight I will be worthless and alone forever.

What parents should actually do to improve kids’ health

Parents often think that raising healthy kids means raising thin kids. But health is far more complex and multi-faceted than a number on a scale. When parents focus on the scale, they often fail to nurture their kids in the critical health behaviors that positively improve health.

Here’s what parents can do to raise healthy kids:

  • Connect with each child emotionally, and maintain that connection no matter what. Building emotional safety in the parent-child relationship is possibly the single most important modifiable health behavior.
  • Ensure kids get plenty of rest and enough sleep every night. Lack of sleep is more directly associated with the health risks commonly ascribed to weight.
  • Do physical activities as a family and individually with each child in a way that is fun and fulfilling. Play together and hike together. Get outside together or do some stretching in the living room floor. Don’t base movement on outdated and harmful messages of pain and weight loss.
  • Eat together as often as possible, providing a broad range of food choices but never forcing foods or labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Don’t restrict your own food in an effort to lose or control your weight.

You can also model healthy behaviors like:

  • Meaningful connections with friends and family
  • Taking care of your emotional needs
  • Not smoking, drinking, or otherwise depending on addictive substances
  • Moving your body in ways that feel good to you
  • Eating a diet filled with all food groups and foods that you enjoy and make you feel good

We have been told that weight determines health, but in fact it is the behaviors above, not a number on the scale, that determines our health. If we want to raise healthy kids, this is our roadmap. Weight’s got nothing to do with it.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Let’s make school free of weight bias

This is a guest post written by Julia Cassidy, MS, RDN, CEDRDS about how we can make every school free of weight bias

Diet talk is so engrained into our culture, which makes sense as to why it is a part of our schools and the school activities. Weight bias at school jeopardizes kids’ emotional and physical health.

To help create a safe, weight-neutral environment for our kids, administrators and teachers can change this culture and protect our kids by focusing on making school activities free of diet talk free and body-positive. 

opt out school weight

Where do we start?

  • Be alert to incidences of weight bias, understand your own attitudes, and those of your students.
  • Be aware of the language that you use about weight, and avoid labeling people as “fat” or food as “bad.”
  • Don’t make negative assumptions about people who are at higher weights.
  • Avoid “Fat-Talk.” Be careful of how you discuss weight in the presence of children. Use sensitive and appropriate language.
  • Avoid “should” statements related to weight and food with your students. For example, avoid making comments like “You shouldn’t be eating that” or “You should eat something healthier.” 
  • Talk positively about your own body in front of the students – or at least don’t make negative comments about your body. 
  • Refrain from labeling foods as “junk, bad or unhealthy” on the school campus. 
  • Allow kids to regulate their eating by allowing them to decide how they eat and how much they eat. 
  • Encourage self-esteem in your students. It is important for kids to recognize that self-esteem comes from many sources, not appearance. Celebrate their successes and behaviors that have nothing to do with their body and be sure to compliment them on these qualities. (e.g., qualities like kindness, being a good friend, doing well on a school assignment, working hard to achieve a goal, taking good care of a pet, etc).

Weight bias at school

Teachers, remind kids and adolescents that they are still growing and that they need to eat enough to support their activity and growth. Talk about what bodies do, rather than what they look like.

Talk about foods in a neutral way, rather than talking about foods being “good” or “bad.” Focus on where food comes from and offer fun food exposure experiences in the classroom. Remember it is the job of the parents to decide what the kids bring to school, and it is the job of the kids to determine how much they eat and what they are going to eat. 

Weight bias examples

When kids are teasing or bullying others because of their weight, they may not realize how harmful their behavior is. Weight bias has become so ingrained in our society that kids sometimes reflect what they have witnessed elsewhere.

Let students know that weight-shaming behavior is inappropriate without making them feel embarrassed. Weight bias can be expressed in both direct and indirect ways. Be aware of these behaviors among your students:

  • Verbal comments such as name-calling, derogatory remarks, teasing, or joking directed at higher-weight students 
  • Social exclusion such as ignoring or not including higher-weight students in activities 
  • Physical aggression such as shoving or physically intimidating a higher-weight student 
  • Humiliation of a higher-weight student through spreading rumors or cyber-bullying

Tips for reducing weight bias at school

  • Celebrate all bodies! No matter what size they are. 
  • Establish a zero-tolerance policy for weight-based bullying.
  • Educate Yourself. Understand the multiple complex causes of weight so you don’t make false assumptions about people who are in a larger body. Remember that genetic, biological, environmental & social factors all contribute to body size.
  • Treat the importance of weight tolerance as you would racial or religious tolerance.
  • Health-improving behaviors such as exercise, nutrition, sleep hygiene, etc. should be equally applied regardless of weight status.
  • Encourage students of all weights to participate in sports teams, student council, talent shows and all extracurricular activities.
  • Challenge negative stereotypes that place blame and stigma on larger-bodied individuals.
  • Increase awareness of how the media perpetuates weight bias. The media stereotypes higher weight individuals and sets unrealistic ideals of thinness.
  • Discuss examples of weight bias among youth and encourage students to intervene and stand up for their peers.
  • Are the desks or chairs in your classroom large enough to accommodate your larger-bodied students?
  • Challenge your own assumptions about body weight.

Weight bias research facts:

Sadly, we forget that kids are supposed to gain weight during their elementary and adolescent years. Kids can’t change the genes that will determine how tall they will be or when puberty starts. They are born with the ability to intuitively regulate their intake by determining when they are feeling hungry and full. 

  • Kids, on average, gain 40 pounds in the 4 years around puberty.
  • Girls’ body fat percentage increases by 120% during puberty.
  • 2 out of 3 13-year-old girls are fearful of gaining weight.
  • Kids are fearful of gaining weight when they need to be gaining weight and become aware of their bodies/weight as young as 5 years old. 

About Julia Cassidy, MS, RDN, CEDRDS

Julia Cassidy, MS, RDN, CEDRDS

Julia Cassidy is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist Supervisor, a Licensed Body Positive Facilitator, and a Certified Intuitive Eating Coach. She is passionate about helping individuals heal their relationship with food and their bodies. Julia is is the Director of Dietary for Center for Discovery where she has worked for over 15 years. Julia oversees 20 Dietitians nationwide and has developed and updated the nutrition program used with all clients in the adolescent residential programs at Center for Discovery.


  1. Hunger JM, Tomiyama AJ. Weight labeling and disordered eating among adolescent females: Longitudinal evidence from the NHLBI Growth and Health Study. J Adolesc Health 2018;63:360–2
  2. Adapted from: Sunny Side Up Nutrition
  3. Sobczak, Connie. Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and Quiet That Critical Voice!). Gürze Books, 2014.
  4. The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
  5. Neumark-Sztainer D, Wall M, Eisenberg ME, Story M, Hannan PJ. Overweight status and weight control behaviors in adolescents: longitudinal and secular trends from 1999 to 2004. Prev Med. 2006 Jul;43(1):52-9. Epub 2006 May 112
  6. KK, Birch LL. Weight status, parent reaction, and self-concept in five-year-old girls. Pediatrics. 2001;107:46–53.
  7. Nadia Micali, George Ploubidis, Bianca De Stavola, Emily Simonoff, Janet Treasure. Frequency and Patterns of Eating Disorder Symptoms in Early Adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 2013
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Parents, don’t talk about weight and dieting with your kids

Parents, don't talk about weight and dieting with your kids

Many parents believe they can prevent their kids from gaining weight by talking about weight and dieting.

But weight is largely a function of genetic and environmental factors over which we have no control. And parents who teach their kids to fear weight gain and encourage dieting create conditions ripe for eating disorders. [3] Living in a larger body is less deadly than we think it is. But weight stigma is serious, especially when it begins at home.

Lots of parents criticize weight in front of kids

Because of our culture, most parents engage in regular “fat talk” in front of children. This includes:

  • 76% of parents speak negatively of their own weight in front of children
  • 51.5% of parents speak negatively about “obesity” in front of children
  • 43.6% of parents speak negatively about their child’s weight in front of the child

Source: [4]

This behavior should not be surprising. Our culture widely criticizes people in larger bodies. Many people believe it is their duty to inform larger-bodied people that they are endangering their health.

Generational fat talk

Fat talk doesn’t arise from nowhere. It’s everywhere in our culture. Most media outlets trumpet the perceived dangers of weight. Doctors regularly engage in clunky attempts to discuss weight. And many families engage in generational fat talk and fat shaming.

Over 40% of young women and 27% of young men said they received encouragement from their mothers to diet to stay slim. And about 20% of young females and 18% of young males said they’d gotten similar messages from their dads. [3]

But parental pressure to get and stay thin is associated with poorer health in young adulthood. There seems to be a cumulative effect on adult behaviors centered on weight, weight-related behaviors and psychosocial well-being. [3]

Parents who talk about fat negatively increase their child’s risk of mental health conditions. This includes eating disorders.

If you’re trying to avoid weight gain, don’t talk about weight control

Body weight is a complex topic. Our culture has mistakenly promoted it as a simple equation containing three incorrect concepts:

  1. Fat is deadly (not true)
  2. The way to avoid being/getting fat is to diet and “watch your weight” (not true)
  3. People will avoid being/getting fat if they are afraid of being fat and/or shamed for weight gain (not true)

Many parents believe that they can save their kids from weight gain by teaching dieting and weight control. They think they can improve kids’ health by preventing weight gain. They teach their kids that weight gain is bad and that they should diet and control their weight.

But adolescents whose mothers or fathers had weight-focused conversations with them had higher BMI. [1] In other words, parents who try to avoid weight gain by talking about weight control increase the chance of weight gain in their kids.

Remember, weight itself isn’t as much of a problem as we’ve been lead to believe. But parents who attempt to control kids’ weight actually create conditions that seem to increase weight.

Girls who are pressured to diet by their parents were 49% more likely to be larger adults than girls who hadn’t gotten parental pressure. Boys who had a similar experience were 13% more likely to be larger. These results take into account genetic and environmental conditions. Therefore, it appears that an anti-weight environment may increase weight. [3]

This is because weight is more than just calories in/calories out. It’s a complex biological, environmental, social, and emotional equation. And parents who tell kids to control their weight or engage in dieting influence their kids’ natural weight trajectory.

A healthier approach

It’s much healthier if parents accept that each child’s body will gain weight as it’s supposed to. This doesn’t mean ignoring health. For example, Intuitive Eating has significant health benefits regardless of weight. But there’s no need to worry about weight itself. And doing so can have the opposite effect.

Talking about weight control increases the chance of eating disorders

Not only do parents who urge their kids to diet boost their odds for obesity later in life. Parents who talk about dieting and weight also have kids who have an increased risk of eating disorders. [3]

Disordered eating behaviors are associated with hearing hurtful weight-related comments from family members, for both females and males. [5] Eating disorders, like weight, are complex. They are based on multiple factors including biological, environmental, social, and emotional. Parents are never to blame for eating disorders. But their behavior can make an impact.

Messages about dieting from parents are linked to higher odds for poor self-esteem, body satisfaction and depression in young adulthood. [3]

Parents who pressure their kids to control their weight and fear weight gain are inadvertently promoting eating disorder behaviors. These behaviors, which include food restriction, binge eating, and purging, create significant health conditions.

Parental pressure to diet increased the risk of “extreme weight control behaviors” (i.e. eating disorders) by 29% for girls and 12% for boys. [3] It is far healthier for parents to allow their kids’ weight to develop without criticism than to intervene. Parental interventions in their kids’ weight often backfire and create worse health.

But what about health?

The only thing parents are being asked to do here is to stop engaging in negative fat talk. And stop promoting unhealthy weight control and dieting. Parents who want healthy kids can still create conditions in which each child will thrive.

Parents can have a big impact on their kids’ health. Parent conversations focused on weight and size are associated with increased risk for higher weight and disordered eating behaviors. But conversations focused on healthful eating are protective against disordered eating behaviors. [6]

And every member of the family can benefit from Intuitive Eating. This is a healthy approach to food and movement with zero focus on the scale.

Parents can create an environment in which kids are healthy. But it has nothing to do with weight.

Tips for raising healthy kids:

1. Don’t discuss fat and obesity negatively. If you discuss weight, do so from a neutral standpoint. Respect each person’s unique biological, environmental, social, and emotional conditions. Don’t ever make assumptions about a person’s health or behaviors based on their weight.

2. Don’t criticize your child when they gain weight. Weight gain is a natural part of development. There will be periods during which your child’s body changes, sometimes significantly. Hold back from commenting on weight gain. It will not help and may cause harm.

3. Protect your child from negative weight talk. Outside of your home, your child may still be subject to negative weight talk. Help protect them by teaching them about weight stigma. Consider opting out of school and doctor weigh-ins.

4. Talk about health behaviors with no weight association. Bodies can be healthy in a wide range of weights. Rather than focusing on weight, focus on behaviors that are healthy. Help your child get enough sleep, exercise, human connection, and a wide variety of foods.

5. Approach food from a neutral standpoint. Parents who restrict and outlaw certain foods set their kids up for negative food behaviors and beliefs. Instead, pursue an all foods fit approach. Provide a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. But don’t restrict other foods that are fun and delicious.

Overall, what parents do around weight and food matters more than what they say. Investigate your own relationship with food and weight. Explore Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size® to gain more understanding of the concepts covered in this article.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


[1] Berge et al, Parent conversations about healthful eating and weight: Associations with adolescent disordered eating behaviors, JAMA Pediatrics 2013

[2] Hainer et al, Obesity Paradox Does Exist, Diabetes Care, 2013

[3] Berge, et al, Cumulative Encouragement to Diet From Adolescence to Adulthood: Longitudinal Associations With Health, Psychosocial Well-Being, and Romantic Relationships, Journal of Adolescent Health, 2019

[4] Lydecker et al, Associations of parents’ self, child, and other “fat talk” with child eating behaviors and weight, International Journal of Eating Disorders, 2018

[5] Eisenberg et al, Associations between hurtful weight-related comments by family and significant other and the development of disordered eating behaviors in young adults, Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2013

[6] Berge et al, Parent conversations about healthful eating and weight: associations with adolescent disordered eating behaviors, JAMA Pediatrics, 2013

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Opt-out of school weight programs: don’t weigh my child at school

opt out school weight

More and more schools are weighing kids, but you usually have the option to opt-out of school weight programs. It’s an option worth considering regardless of your child’s individual weight status.

School weigh-ins are upsetting and stressful for most kids. Parents should be asking hard questions about the practice of weighing kids at school. For example:

  • Why should the school weigh my child?
  • How will this personal health data be used?
  • Given that this is private health data, how is my child’s privacy being protected?
  • Does weighing kids at school have any impact on their health?
  • Do the risks of weighing my child at school outweigh the benefits (if there are any)?

As parents, we have the right to ask these questions. Many times the answers are vague, and focus on “preventing childhood obesity.” But exactly how does weighing children at school do that? It turns out it doesn’t. Weighing kids at school has not been shown to impact their weight status or health. It has not reduced childhood obesity despite being in practice for decades.

A randomized controlled trial (the scientific gold standard) published in 2016 found that school-based weight interventions that included weighing children, nutrition counseling, and access to an after-school exercise program were not effective in reducing BMI or improving health behaviors. Journal of School Health

opt out school weight

Terrifying kids nationwide

Kids do not like school weigh-in programs. When asked, they express confusion, concern, and even terror about being weighed at school. Children may ask to miss school on weigh-in days. This happens even when adults weigh the children one-on-one and don’t comment on the weights publicly.

Think about a group of children waiting in line, waiting to be weighed, watching their peers going in to be weighed. What do you think they are talking about? Weight! They are saying things like “what do you think he weighs?” “she’s so skinny!” and “I’m so fat!”

These are not healthy conversations for people of any age or size. They are a common side effect of being weighed at school while living in a culture of weight stigma.

Many adults remain traumatized by school weigh-in programs from their own childhoods 25+ years ago.

“I remember being weighed in front of all my friends at school when I was about 9. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life! I was told in front of my whole class I was obese. That was the beginning of my eating disorder.”

While many schools attempt to avoid public shaming, the problems with school weight programs remain.

“I hated being weighed at school today. It’s all anyone talked about all day – their weight, other people’s weight. It was awful!”

Why we should opt out of school weight programs

School weight programs are a perfect example of people meaning well but doing harm. School weight programs have not been shown to have any benefit to the children who are weighed. They have not been shown to reduce weight individually or among populations. And even if they did, intentional weight loss is not associated with improved health, and may even lead to reduced health long-term.

A school that focuses any time on children’s weight is very likely to do more harm than good. Here are the reasons we opt out of school weight programs.

1. No evidence of positive impact

Given that we all know that being weighed at school is stressful, there should be good reason to do it. But even a carefully planned and expertly delivered weight program had zero impact on weight, health behaviors or health.

The study published in the Journal of School Health set itself up for success. It implemented an intensive 6-week program incorporating weekly 30-minute counseling sessions followed by a 6-month maintenance phase with monthly sessions and weekly weigh-ins.

Each visit included:

  • a weigh-in
  • review of diet and physical activity log
  • assessment of progress toward behavioral goals with a review of successes and strategies used and problem-solving challenges experienced
  • discussion of the session’s topics using a student booklet
  • assessment of current behavior related to topics and discussion of challenges and strategies for improving
  • structured goal setting for the coming week.

A Food and Activity Tracking Log was provided to support the child in making healthy behavior changes. There was also a comprehensive exercise component.

Despite this advanced program developed by weight loss experts, students in the intervention did not show lower BMI, percent body fat, or waist circumference. Additionally, there were no differences in health behaviors compared to the control group.

Most schools do not have an advanced program like this in place, and merely weigh our kids with no follow-up. So what are they attempting to do when they weigh our kids?

2. Perpetuates weight stigma

There is no evidence to support any benefits of weighing kids at school. And worse, it often causes harm. One reason is that weighing kids at school perpetuates weight stigma. This is the assumption that people are “better” or “worse” based on their weight status.

School weigh-in programs, even those conducted following guidelines designed to minimize risk of stigma and bullying, perpetuate weight stigma and bring weight to the center of conversation for at least one day of the school year.

“I feel so ashamed standing in line to be weighed. Everyone is looking at me and they all know that I’m the fattest kid in the class. I feel their eyes on me and their judgement.”

Bringing weight into the school conversation alongside spelling, history, and math tells our kids that their body weight is just as important as their brain. It’s not.

Weight stigma is strongly associated with negative health outcomes. In fact, many suggest that the problems that have been associated with high body weight are more likely due to weight stigma.

Weight stigma shows up in every corner of our society already. It is in our homes, healthcare settings, and schools. But weight stigma is not making us healthier. In fact, a focus on weight reduction in U.S. schools and healthcare settings has occurred at the same time as rising national weights. In other words, it’s quite possible that weight-stigmatizing behaviors are making us gain weight!

3. Perpetuates diet culture

Another reason our children should not be weighed at school is that we live in a diet culture. This is the assumption that people can and should control their body weight through restrictive eating and increased exercise.

Our diet culture means that many children will restrict food leading up to the weigh-in, or will begin restricting after finding out their weight status at school. Diet culture means that we cannot weigh our children without simultaneously suggesting that they lose weight.

“Mom, I can’t understand how I’m “overweight.” Where? I just can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do with this information.”

Weight loss methods are often called “lifestyle changes,” but the majority of bodies require mild starvation in order to lose weight. Intentional weight loss is dieting, no matter what we call it. One study found that girls who diet are 25% more likely to develop an eating disorder.

Dieting, regardless of the specific method, has such massive failure rates and side effects that it should be permanently removed from practice. Intentional weight loss results in regain, often plus more, in 90-95% of cases. And it causes permanent changes to the metabolism, making future weight gain more likely.

Over and over again, studies have found that the most common side effect of intentional weight loss is higher weight. Take a moment to imagine healthcare and educational systems that recommend treatment with this level of failure. It’s outrageous.

Opt out: the best imperfect solution

In a perfect world, we would like schools to stop weighing children. However, with weight stigma deeply embedded in our culture, this is unlikely. Luckily, most school weight programs are “opt-out.” This means that parents have the option to opt out of having their child weighed at school.

We recommend that parents opt-out of having their children weighed at school for children of all sizes. This is part of our work towards social justice. Weight stigma will be perpetuated if only the kids in larger bodies opt-out of school weighing. But if kids of all size bodies opt-out, it is a firm statement that weight does not belong at school. It is a statement that all kids deserve to be free of weight stigma.

Check with your district regarding their weighing policy. Find out whether they weigh students and, if they do, whether you can opt out. If not, consider what options you have. Perhaps you can start a movement in your district, or at least at your school. Bodyweight is private medical data. Parents have the right to opt-out of their kids being weighed at school.

Health can be weight-free!

The good news is that not having your child weighed at school does not mean you don’t support your child’s health. In fact, in almost all cases, health exists completely separately from weight.

Schools can certainly improve kids’ health by focusing on movement and nutrition. As long as these programs are free from weight stigma and diet culture, they can be effective and helpful. A few basic principles should guide school health programs:

  • No food should be labeled “good” or “bad.” This includes “healthy” and “unhealthy,” which everyone knows is code for good/bad.
  • Exercise should never be promoted as a way to “shape up,” “get lean,” or lose weight.
  • There should be no mention of “no pain, no gain,” or other fitness euphemisms for suffering in order to look a certain way.
  • Adults should avoid labeling people who are thin as “healthy” compared to people who are larger. Body size is not a reliable indicator of health status.
  • Nobody should ever be told they need to “watch” their weight. Everybody knows this means restrict food and increase exercise, which is a diet.
  • Nobody should ever be complimented for weight loss. This perpetuates the idea that thinner is better.
  • Adults should never promote, discuss, or suggest any restrictive eating behaviors, including vegan, vegetarian, paleo, etc.

With these guidelines, schools can positively impact our kids’ health without any of the damaging side effects of weight-based health discussions. When our kids are free from body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders, they are undoubtedly healthier.

More Ideas

Read More: Educators: please stop promoting dieting and weight loss to children; Let’s make school free of weight bias

Get our “Don’t Weigh My Child at School” cards to help.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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What to do when your tween daughter calls herself fat

how to help your tween daughter when she calls herself fat

Has your daughter called herself fat? What can you do when your tween daughter calls herself fat?

Are you shocked because you didn’t expect her to think that about herself at such a young age? It’s sadly common. One study found that nearly half of girls aged 3-6 years old are afraid of being fat. This is a startling indication of the level of weight stigma and fatphobia we have achieved in our society.

There are two types of girls who worry they are “too fat.” First, there are girls who are in larger bodies according to their body weight. In other words, they are larger than many of their peers. These girls are given lectures at doctors’ appointments and have trouble finding clothing that fits them well in stores. Second, there are girls who are technically in smaller bodies. These girls are automatically assumed to be “healthy” based on their weight and have no trouble finding clothing in stores.

There’s a difference

It’s important to recognize the difference in these girls. We must understand that our girls know that in our society, being fat is considered a terrible thing. Societal messages constantly reinforce the idea that being thin is the path to health, happiness, and success. Thus it shouldn’t be surprising that tweens use the word “fat” as a slur. But also, when a tween girl feels bad about herself she will call herself “fat” as a stand in for feeling sad, bad, or lonely.

When a larger girl calls herself fat it is very likely she is experiencing discrimination, or fatphobia in the world. She must be supported in recognizing that fatphobia is wrong and harmful and accepting her body as it is. When a smaller girl calls herself fat she is perpetuating fatphobia. She has picked up on messages that fat is bad, and needs to be taught that it’s not OK to use fat as a slur against herself or others.

5 rules about the word “fat”

Maybe you’re surprised that I”m using the word fat. If so, here are some ground rules so you understand exactly how and why I use it.

  1. Fat should never be used as a slur or a way to criticize bodies.
  2. If you are not fat then in general you should not use the word fat unless you have been educated and truly understand appropriate uses.
  3. Fat can be used as a neutral descriptor. You have fat in different places on your body just like you have hair in different parts of your body. You can be fat just as you can be blonde or tall. But you should not use these words unless you sure it is both neutral and true.
  4. Fat is a feature, not a feeling. It should not be used as a stand-in for feelings like scared, sad, or lonely.
  5. If someone is large and uses the word fat as a way to describe their body, do not correct them. Fat people get to claim the word “fat” for themselves if they want to.

Now let’s explore how you can respond to your tween daughter when she calls herself fat.

Guidelines for parents who have larger kids:

A tween girl who is actually considered “fat” is going to face discrimination. She will be criticized for her weight and will have trouble finding clothes. This is terrible, and it’s also true. Parents need to recognize that if their child is physically larger, she’ll need extra support in accepting her body.

1. Don’t tell her that it’s just baby fat/she’s not fat, etc.

Don’t say that she will grow out of it. And don’t demand that she is not fat, she’s beautiful. All of these things can make her feel even more ashamed of her body. They all suggest that fat is bad, and something to get over and/or be ashamed of. Instead, talk to her about what it means to live in a larger body in our society. Help her understand that we are more than bodies.

2. Tell her it’s not OK

It’s never OK for your child to be criticized, teased, or marginalized for her body size. Bodies are a social justice issue. They are assaulted by racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination. Parents who have larger kids need to become social justice warriors who are willing to fight back against our culture. We can build a kinder world for our children (and everyone), but it’s not going to happen without work. Read More: Weight stigma and your child

3. Work on your own food and body issues

Our kids are finely attuned to how we feel about them. If you have food and body issues, there is a good chance that you are struggling to accept your child’s body. Invest time and energy into understanding body politics and fatphobia so that you can help your child. Read More: Get off the diet cycle and raise healthier kids

4. Teach her to accept her body (and never diet)

Trying to change our body size and shape doesn’t work, and it leads to eating disorders, so our main goal as parents of children living in larger bodies is to help them never, ever diet, which means we need to help them accept their weight, whatever it is. Read More: The science to support a non-diet, weight-neutral approach

5. Find out her feelings about the word “fat”

Fat can be a neutral descriptor, but it can also be a way to be cruel to ourselves. It’s not OK for her to call herself derogatory names. Often when she calls herself “fat” in a negative way, it means that she’s struggling with other feelings. Ask her questions. Find out what “fat” means to her. Read More: A letter to a tween daughter who called herself fat

6. Peers may tease her because of her body

It sucks, but she will likely experience discrimination because of her body. It’s not fair, but don’t make it worse by ignoring it or pretending it doesn’t happen. Teach her to be confident and assertive in these situations. Give her some tools to respond to bullying. But also be prepared to speak with your school’s administration if she becomes a target for bullies. Read More: Help your child deal with body shaming

7. Healthcare providers, teachers, and well-meaning adults will tell her to “watch” her weight and “eat healthy”

She knows this is code for “your body is unacceptable.” Teach her that their beliefs are not true and their behavior is not OK. Learn about Health at Every Size® and teach her that just because our society is fatphobic does not mean there is something wrong with her. Empower her to politely but assertively respond to these people. Allow her to opt out of school weigh-ins and doctor’s weigh-ins when possible.

8. Work harder to find age-appropriate, cute clothing

Work a little harder to help her have fun with fashion. Do your research and make sure that stores carry her size before taking her shopping. Remind her that the problem is never her body, it’s the sizeist fashion industry. And help her blame the clothes, not herself, when things don’t fit. Read More: How to shop for clothes when your daughter wears plus size.

Guidelines for parents who have daughters in smaller bodies:

If your tween girl is not actually fat, you need to educate her about being a good citizen and not be fatphobic. This will help her be healthier as well as make her a better friend, family member, and community member.

1. Teach her about appropriate and inappropriate ways to use the word fat.

In other words, teach her that unless the word fat accurately describes her body, she may not use it. She should never use the word as a slur about anyone’s body. And teach her to use feeling words for feelings. Fat is not a feeling.

2. Teach her about body politics and fatphobia

Body fat is a social justice issue. Parents need to teach kids of all sizes to be social justice warriors who are willing to fight back against our culture. We can build a kinder world for our children (and everyone), but it’s not going to happen without work. Read More: Social Justice, Fatphobia, and Eating Disorders

3. Teach her that body size is not a joke or something to be taken lightly

In our current climate, it may help to align body size with race. Just like she should not make jokes about, criticize or tease someone for their skin color, she should not make jokes about, criticize or tease someone for their weight.

4. Help her understand that calling herself fat in front of friends who are larger will make them feel bad

Smaller people rarely notice the impact of their comments on friends and peers who are larger. Teach your daughter that when she calls herself fat, it makes everyone feel bad about themselves.

5. Let her know that weight is not equal to health

Your child can be an ally to kids who are in larger bodies by intentionally disconnecting the association between weight and health. The idea that weight = health is problematic on every level, not least of which because it’s just plain wrong. But it also increases the chances of your child thinking it’s OK to criticize people for their bodies. The weight = health bias is bigoted and unhelpful.

6. Teach her not to diet, ever

Dieting is completely unhelpful. 95% of people who intentionally lose weight regain the weight, often plus more. That’s because weight is not a matter of willpower; it’s a matter of biology and environment. Also, about 20% of teens who go on a diet will progress to an eating disorder. Those are not good odds.

But what about health?

Fatphobia has been neatly shrouded in the belief that people can criticize other people’s weight if they are concerned about that person’s health. Headlines abound regarding the “obesity epidemic,” and the many dangers of fat. But in fact, there is no proven link between obesity causing an earlier age of death, and in many cases, people who carry more weight actually live longer.

You need to know that many of the studies and information that we hear is funded and promoted by the diet industry, a $72 billion monster that can only survive when its market (us) is convinced that they need to lose weight to achieve success and happiness. This is the core goal of marketing: to create a market by creating a problem they can solve. The diet industry is genius because it has convinced most people that its product works even though it fails 95% of the time. How do they do this? By telling us that failure is a weak-willpower problem, not a problem with their product. Genius!

We have known the truth for decades: Diets don’t work, they lead to eating disorders, and they actually result in weight gain. I can say with confidence that it is healthier to raise your daughter to accept her weight and not be fatphobic than to judge her own or anyone’s health and worth based on the scale.

The biggest danger to her health is the belief that there is something wrong with gaining weight or living at a higher weight.

Teach body acceptance to all girls (of any size)

Learning body acceptance is not easy, but it is the single greatest step we can take as parents to help our children be truly healthy in body and mind. Body acceptance is the best way to help your tween daughter who calls herself fat.

Body acceptance simply the act of accepting the body as it is, with no assumption that it needs to change. Weight loss is about controlling food and exercise in order to reduce the body. Body acceptance is about enjoying food and exercise, and living a healthy, active lifestyle, with no expectation of reducing body size.

Body acceptance comes with time – it is not something that happens overnight. It will require consistent conversation with your child to convince her that her body truly is OK. Here are some tips:

1. Don’t diet or control your weight

Children learn from parents, and parents who diet are more likely to raise kids who diet. Accept your own body, and your children are more likely to accept theirs.

2. Avoid fashion/lifestyle/celebrity magazines

Avoid magazines and reading materials into the house if they promote any form of dieting or focus on weight loss. Remember that most magazines are not talking about diets openly – they are hiding them under the guise of “health,” but if the goal is weight loss, it is, in fact, promoting a diet.

3. Avoid purchasing any foods that are considered “diet” food

This includes diet soda and anything sugar-free, fat-free, carb-free, etc. Only use gluten-free products if someone in your family has Celiac disease or is otherwise instructed not to eat gluten free by a board-certified physician. Stay away from food fads that are being promoted on Instagram as “clean.”

4. Turn off or at least clap-back at television shows that promote dieting or weight loss

The same goes for TV shows that glorify thinness or feature unusually thin people. Avoid shows in which the characters make fun of people who are fat, discuss dieting, weight loss or a need to change their body size or shape.

5. Seek media materials that are inclusive

This means they feature a variety of characters of different sizes, shapes and skin color. Normalizing normal bodies is a very important part of body acceptance. It’s hard to find entertainment that is truly inclusive, but try! And when you are consuming non-inclusive media, talk about the lack of diversity.

6. Eliminate all #fitspo, #bodygoals and similar “health” accounts from social media

Monitor your child’s Instagram, TikTok, and other social media accounts to protect her from dangerous messages about reducing and controlling body size. Instagram, in particular, has been shown to be deeply damaging to girls’ self-esteem and body acceptance, in part because it has become a marketing platform for coaches and trainers who are selling their programs, diet shakes, diet teas, etc. The diet industry teaches their salespeople to use Instagram as a sales platform.

There is nothing we can do as parents to completely protect our children from the fatphobic culture in which we live. But if our tween daughter calls herself fat, we can help. We can teach her to navigate our fatphobic culture without shame, control our home environment, and talk to her openly and often about accepting her body.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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A letter to the doctor who told me to “watch” my daughter’s weight

This letter was submitted by a parent who wishes to remain anonymous:

We came in for a check-up for my 12-year-old daughter last week. Since her birth, you have spent significant time during our appointments discussing my daughter’s weight trajectory. I can remember you telling me several times that her height was at a higher percentage than her weight, which you said was “good.”

But this time, her weight had jumped up a category, and you told us we need to “watch” her weight. You asked her pointed questions about her food consumption and exercise habits and asked her why she thinks she has gained weight.

This is a serious issue for me because I know how incredibly damaging weight-based comments can be to a child’s long-term health. I know that you care about your patients, and I know that you had no intention of doing harm, and yet you did. Here’s why:

1. Your comment suggested that weight gain is cause for concern

My daughter is right in the middle of the multi-year process of puberty, and her body is making its transition into that of a woman. There is no need to pathologize her body’s development during a stage that is known for weight fluctuations, especially since we know how vulnerable young girls are to eating disorders. Looking at a chart and seeing a person’s body weight should not override your ability to look at my child and see that she is healthy and thriving.

2. You suggested that a higher BMI is cause for concern

You mentioned that my daughter’s BMI has increased since you last saw her. The BMI scale was developed 200 years ago by a mathematician who explicitly stated that it could not and should not be used to indicate individual health. BMI pays no attention to body composition, which is why athletes have high BMIs. It is also racist and sexist. The healthcare system has grabbed onto BMI as a way to categorize individual weight and link it to health status. This is complete nonsense. BMI is not, and has never been a meaningful way to measure individual health (NPR).

3. Telling a child to “watch” their weight is unhelpful at best, and harmful at worst.

You may think that your comments during our appointment were not directly recommending dieting or weight loss, but there is simply no other way for my daughter and me to interpret them given the diet culture in which we live. Even if they were meant helpfully, your words do not exist in a vacuum, they were not benign, and they had a negative impact on my child.

When we left your office, my daughter looked down at her body and said in a small voice “where would I lose weight from? And how would I do it?” This infuriates me. Your comments caused her to doubt her body and want to change her strong, healthy, and thriving body.

There is no value in telling a child to “watch” her weight. If she passively “watches” it, she will gain and lose weight the same as she would if she paid no attention to the scale. What you really mean when you tell a person to “watch” their weight is that they need to avoid gaining “too much” weight.

Girls who “watch their weight” feel shame about their bodies and attempt to control their weight by dieting. They are part of the 65% of American women who participate in disordered eating behavior and another 10% who have eating disorders (UNC).

“Watching” your weight is a euphemism for dieting, which is the most important predictor of new eating disorders. One study showed a 5x increased risk of eating disorders for adolescents who engaged in moderate dieting and an 18x risk for adolescents who engage in extreme dieting and restriction (The BMJ).

4. Weight-based comments perpetuate weight stigma and diet culture

Our medical system has an unhealthy focus on body weight as the primary indicator of health, and this weight bias is impacting us all, especially girls and women (NEDA). When doctors make comments about weight, they must recognize the culture in which we live and the unhealthy weight stigma and diet culture that we encounter every day and carefully consider whether unsolicited weight-based comments add any value to patients’ healthcare (HINT: in most cases, the answer is “no”).

There are so many measurements of health, and weight is one over which we have very little influence, despite dedicated efforts. The best evidence of this fact is that despite the endless weight loss information provided in healthcare settings and the media and a $72B diet industry pushing every possible “solution” to overweight, there is zero data to show that intentional weight loss efforts last or that they positively impact health outcomes. In fact, the most notable outcome of intentional weight loss is weight regain (Journal of Obesity).

There are many health behaviors that can positively impact my child’s health that have zero side effects, including stress reduction, balanced nutrition, physical movement, and sleep hygiene. So why not focus on those when you meet with a young woman who already faces huge gender and body bias in our culture? Why talk about her weight when such comments can only harm her health?

A negative outcome

The outcome of our appointment was not greater health for my child. It added stress and anxiety to a notoriously difficult time in a girl’s life. It was fuel for the societal belief that something is “wrong” with her and that she needs to “watch” her body even as it’s developing new levels of productivity, ability, and joy. This is absolutely not healthy.

I sincerely hope you will consider how you choose to talk about weight in the future.

This letter was submitted to me by a parent who wishes to remain anonymous.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

Read More:

U.S. News & World Report: Diet Culture Dangers: Could your Child Be Heading for an Eating Disorder?

Weight Loss Initiatives for Teens: They’re Hurting, Not Helping by Katherine Zavodni, MPH, RDN

We need to talk about her weight.’ The doctor then looks at her and says, ‘I think you are old enough to start using exercise equipment too.’ ARE YOU KIDDING ME?’

The Nurse Practitioner says to my 13-year-old daughter, ‘Tell me Riley, HOW CAN YOU EXPLAIN ALL THIS WEIGHT YOU’VE GAINED?’

A Plea for Détente in the War on Obesity, by Linda Bacon, Ph.D

Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again, by Traci Mann, Ph.D

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When your child gains weight in eating disorder recovery

woman looks at herself in the mirror and worries she has gained weight after an eating disorder

Stephanie’s daughter Nova had been doing well in eating disorder recovery … until she started to gain more weight than she expected. “I feel like weight gain has thrown everything off,” says Stephanie. “I’m terrified we’re going straight back to where we started.”

It’s quite common for your child to gain weight in eating disorder recovery. Regardless of your child’s current or previous weight, recovery can result in weight gain. This is due to many factors, all of which can be explained and intellectually understood. But someone who has an eating disorder is typically terrified of weight gain. And while they may accept weight gain intellectually, at some point they may balk as the weight continues to come on.

Weight gain in eating disorder recovery

Weight gain is expected, and so is a negative reaction to weight gain. While eating disorders go much deeper than weight, weight stigma and fear of fat are a critical symptom.

When a child gains weight in eating disorder recovery, they may believe that recovery is bad or wrong. These feelings can reduce them to tears. When they go to put on a favorite outfit, an outfit that they remember as being loose, they may discover that it is too tight. Fear of weight gain is a normal and natural part of recovery, and the only way out is through.

Here are a few tips for parents who are supporting a child who gains weight in eating disorder recovery.

1. Accept your child’s weight

Your child probably hates the size of their body. It’s very traumatic to gain weight in eating disorder recovery. It will take time for your child’s body to adjust to non-disordered eating. And it will take at least as much time for your child’s mind to adjust to a non-disordered body size.

You may be surprised by how much weight your child gains in eating disorder recovery. You may even be shocked and uncomfortable with it. Some people fluctuate up and down dramatically during eating disorder recovery. You may worry that your child is swinging too far.

We live in a fatphobic society, and your concerns about your child’s weight are understandable under these circumstances. But your concerns will not help your child heal from an eating disorder. It is very important that you accept your child’s body at every size throughout recovery and beyond. 

Take some time to learn about Health at Every Size, which can help put your fears to rest. The health impacts of having adipose tissue are small compared to the health impacts of an eating disorder.

Your child will sense if you are uncomfortable with their body. Even if you say nothing out loud, they know. This is an unfortunate fact of parenting. But it’s something we can work on. Notice every time you have a negative thought about your child’s weight, and change your mind.

Practice: first thought/second thought

You will probably have negative thoughts about your child’s body size. When that happens, notice the thought, and then change your mind.

For example, your first thought might be about how she looks: “she looks fat in those shorts!” Notice that thought, and replace it with something positive about how your child feels. “I’m so glad she’s feeling strong and healthy.” Alternatively, replace it with something positive about what their body does. “Her body is getting stronger every day.” This takes practice, but it’s essential in helping your child heal.

2. Trust your child’s body

Someone who has an eating disorder has learned to ignore feelings of hunger and satiety. An eating disorder requires a disconnection from the natural instinct to feed and move the body in healthy ways.

Eating disorder recovery includes reconnecting the mind and body. It involves building mind-body communication pathways. Someone in recovery must learn to trust a body that they have previously determined to be untrustworthy. This is hard.

Intuitive eating can be very helpful, but it is an advanced concept. Intuitive eating requires listening to the body and giving it what it needs. This is something that takes time to develop, especially for someone with an eating disorder.

As your child learns to trust their body, you can help by trusting their body. This goes against the cultural messages that tell us bodies must be controlled. But controlling the body resulted in an eating disorder for your child. It’s time to try something different.

Parents must trust their kids’ bodies, even when our kids don’t feel they are trustworthy. We must trust even when we are scared that our kids will get “too fat.” We can’t know whether they will fully recover, but we can trust that their bodies will try to survive.

Body trust-building statements

Here are some trust-building statements to say out loud to yourself, other family members and your child:

  • If we listen to our bodies, they find balance.
  • Our bodies are naturally self-regulating.
  • It takes time to tune into how our bodies feel and what they want, and we’re working on it.
  • We were born knowing how to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, and what to eat. Sometimes our thoughts get in the way of this inborn knowledge. But, with practice, we can reconnect with our intuitive body wisdom.

3. Be prepared for the fallout of weight gain during eating disorder recovery

While eating disorders are about much more than food and body size, food and body size are massive triggers for someone who has an eating disorder. When bodies gain weight in recovery, alarm bells ring. Eating disorders tell us that weight gain is very, very wrong. Your child will have to face weight gain in order to succeed in recovery. It’s not easy, since our society insists that weight gain is always bad. Be patient, and be prepared for messiness.

Your child may rage and scream. They may cry and mourn. Their body has become your child’s expression of self-worth. As their body changes, your child may feel worthless and unlovable.

These feelings not over-dramatized or exaggerated. Your child is truly hurting and mourning the loss of the eating disorder’s role in their life. The eating disorder was a valuable and important coping mechanism, and losing that coping mechanism is traumatic.

It is hard to see our children suffer. It is hard not to want them to calm down and stop feeling angry and sad. But it is critical that our children receive the space they need to express the very real panic, fear, and despair that comes with losing an eating disorder and gaining weight.

When the fallout comes, and it may come all day, every day for a while, take a deep breath and remember that it’s real, and it needs space.

Feel the feelings

When your child gains weight during eating disorder recovery, they will have a lot of feelings. Don’t try to distract your child from the pain. Don’t try to take it away or tell them that it’s overblown. Listen to your child every time they want to talk about this. Let the pain come. It will pass. Help your child feel their feelings. The best thing a parent can do is to be present and supportive through their child’s feelings. Your ability to tolerate feelings will help your child learn to tolerate feelings.

Stephanie was relieved to realize how normal Nova’s reaction is. “I’m still scared, but now I feel like I know what I can do to help her. And I’m going to talk to her treatment team to see if there’s anything in particular they want us to work on at home.”

Navigating eating disorder recovery is challenging, but Stephanie’s got the right attitude, and she’s doing great!

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Weight stigma and your child: what parents need to know

Weight stigma and your child: what parents need to know

Parents need to know the dangers of weight stigma because it impacts everyone. And whether your child is thin, fat*, or in between, their health is impacted by weight stigma.

A word about the word “fat”

The term “fat” can be used as a slur or a neutral descriptor. In its neutral form, saying “fat” is the same as saying “tall” or “brown-eyed.” Other words for fat bodies, such as “overweight” and “obese,” are currently considered to be stigmatizing. Many fat justice leaders have reclaimed the word “fat” as the preferred neutral descriptor for their bodies.

However, we should not call someone “fat” unless we 1) are doing so kindly 2) have zero thoughts that they should lose weight; and 3) clearly have their permission to do so. And nobody should ever use “fat” as an insult. It’s always best to let people who live in marginalized bodies to define themselves rather than assuming a label on their behalf. And never tell a person in a larger body that they are “not fat” or should be proud to be fat. It’s their body and their choice to define themselves on their own terms.

Popular media and healthcare providers scream about the dangers of fat. But the real danger is weight stigma and weight discrimination. Weight stigma contributes to physical and mental health complications. These include weight cycling (a natural and expected physiological response to dieting) and eating disorders. Therefore we need to tackle weight stigma in order to reduce these risks to our kids’ health.

What is weight stigma?

Weight stigma is discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s weight. It reflects internalized societal attitudes toward body size and impacts how we treat each other. Therefore understanding and counteracting weight stigma will help your child avoid body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders.

Weight stigma is damaging for people who are larger. But it’s also bigotry that impacts people of all body sizes. Ask just about anyone walking down the street today and they are likely carrying internalized weight stigma and body loathing. This impacts their feelings about their body and themselves. There is no benefit to weight stigma, and there are many downsides.

The media and weight stigma

Media and entertainment outlets frequently portray strongly biased views of people who live in larger bodies. They promote weight stigma constantly by depicting fat people in dehumanizing and stigmatizing images. These include newspapers, magazines, books, movies, documentaries, videos, photographs, social media accounts, and more.

The media shows fat people eating fattening foods, sitting, and wearing tight, ill-fitting clothing. But it shows thin people eating colorful salads, exercising, and looking stylish.

The media portrays fat people as lazy, weak-willed, self-indulgent, and a drain on the nation’s resources. This is an ignorant and bigoted presentation. It has solidified the strong belief that fat is bad and thin is good. It’s important to note that the media’s revenue comes from advertising. It’s undeniable that the +$70 billion weight loss industry supports the very existence of our media outlets.

Healthcare and weight stigma

The second leading source of weight stigma is people in the medical and healthcare professions. This creates a significant barrier to healthcare for anyone who lives in a larger body. No visit to the doctor, regardless of the purpose, begins without an attempt to weigh the body.

Anyone in the “overweight” and above categories is lectured about their weight. This is regardless of why they came for a visit. It is also based only on weight, not health behaviors. Many receive lectures about weight reduction. This is despite the fact that there is no proven, safe, and effective method for reducing weight.

Weight stigma in healthcare often results in delayed diagnosis and treatment for many people who have serious medical conditions. Doctors are notoriously fat-phobic. Surveys show the majority of doctors actively dislike larger patients. And this is a major problem considering that more than 60% of their patient population is plus-size.

The playground and weight stigma

Our kids grow up in an ecosystem that is full of weight stigma. As early as preschool, children prefer thin figures in drawings and stories [1]. By elementary school, larger children report unsatisfactory peer relations, including social rejection [2].

Children who are larger are at increased risk for being targets of weight-related teasing [3]. And they also experience more non-weight-related teasing and bullying [4], and other forms of victimization such as physical aggression [5].

As early as the first grade, fat kids are treated differently by their peers. They are more likely to be treated poorly and be disliked. They often struggle with loneliness and friendships. Larger children are more likely to be rejected, made fun of, teased, picked on, and disliked [6].

This is the trickle-down effect of parents, teachers, doctors, and the media actively promoting weight stigma. Children are ostracized, bullied, and discriminated against. And this trauma has lifelong consequences that are much more serious than adipose tissue.

Weight stigma leads to poor health and eating disorders

The “War on Obesity” has failed to reduce the national weight. It has, however, succeeded in increasing weight stigma, which many researchers say is deeply health-damaging. Some people suggest that weight shaming is good because it encourages kids to lose weight. But weight teasing and bullying in adolescence leads to higher (not lower) weight 15 years later.

This means that the “War on Obesity” is actually causing people to gain weight. People who are exposed to weight stigma are also more likely to exhibit eating disorder behaviors including extreme dieting and self-induced vomiting [7].

In cultures with fat stigma, we see more young women who express dissatisfaction or disgust with their bodies, which is an essential precursor (and continuing accompaniment) of eating disorders. [8]. 

There is a strong relationship between the “obesity epidemic” and the proliferation of eating disorders. “If fat bodies were accepted and not hated in our culture, fat people would not embark on restrictive eating or disordered eating in order to lose weight, and the majority would not develop eating disorders.” [9]

You may think it’s healthy to put your child on a diet. But diets have serious consequences. Instead, parents should help them manage the impact and reduce kids’ exposure to weight stigma.

What you can do at home

How you treat your child at home can be an important way to reduce their risk of eating disorders. A home that rejects weight stigma and dieting is safer for your child’s body and mind. And it’s also the right thing to do. No other marginalized community is as openly ridiculed and hated as fat people, and that’s simply unacceptable.

Here are a few basic rules to implement at home. Enforce these rules across all family members and anyone who enters your home without exception. Your child needs to know that bigotry and discrimination are not allowed or acceptable, no matter what.

1. No diets

Nobody in the home should even go on a restrictive diet with the purpose of losing weight. Read why

2. Stop food policing

A wide variety of food should be available to everyone in the home without restriction or monitoring. Read why

3. Don’t fat shame

Don’t allow anyone to tease or criticize another person’s body. This applies to anyone in the family, outside of the family, a celebrity, a stranger, etc. Read why

4. Avoid glorifying body-types

Everyone should learn to avoid making comments about “perfect bodies” and glorifying any particular body type. Don’t praise people for weight loss, discuss methods to achieve weight loss or a “perfect butt,” “washboard abs,” etc.

5. No scales

There is no reason to keep a scale in the home. Throw it away.

6. Health at Every SizeⓇ philosophy

Learn about and embrace the HAES approach to health. Read why

What you can do at school

School is the place in which your child is most at risk of fat stigma. Approximately 43% of larger adolescents reported being teased by peers [10]. Therefore to help your child avoid weight stigma, you must advocate for unbiased schools and classrooms. Here are a few goals for your child’s school environment:

1. Language

Health should not be linked to body weight. Dieting of any kind should never be promoted.

2. Dress codes

Dress codes disproportionately impact people who are larger. Make sure your school is fighting weight stigma by eliminating dress codes. Or at least be sure to enforce them consistently across all body sizes.

3. Weighing

Children should not be weighed at school. There is no educational justification for weighing children at school. School weigh-ins perpetuate weight stigma and have no value. Read why

It may be tricky to advocate for your child’s safety at school, but it is essential. Want ideas? Read Lindo Bacon’s guide for teachers and administrators. 

What you can do at the doctor’s office

Weight stigma in the healthcare setting is pervasive and leads to lifetime health impacts. People who experience weight stigma attend fewer doctors visits, screenings, immunizations, and more. Help your child learn to navigate the health system by doing the following:

1. Don’t talk about weight

Doctors have been advised by their pediatric association not to discuss weight with children. There are many good reasons for this. The pediatric association knows that weight stigma is a problem. And although many doctors still bring up weight in front of children, parents can confidently interrupt and stop such conversations.

2. Don’t tell my child to “watch” their weight

Tell your doctor not to suggest weight loss – even the seemingly benign “move more/eat less,” which is entirely unhelpful. Additionally, the term “watch your weight” was coined by Weight Watchers, a multi-billion dollar company that profits off weight stigma. There is no medical evidence that “watching” weight is health-promoting. And it can lead to dangerous preoccupation and obsession with weight.

3. Treat my child without bias

Weight bias is unconscious, which is why it’s so damaging in the healthcare setting. Bring it to the forefront by stating openly that you are dedicated to fighting weight bias. By making it open and conscious, you reduce your child’s exposure through thoughtless comments.

You may feel intimidated and uncomfortable advocating for your child in this way, but you simply must. If your child’s doctor is not open to having these discussions with you, then you must find a different doctor. Period.

Fight the good fight

Our children need to learn anti-discrimination practices. These include fighting for the unbiased treatment of people who have marginalized race, sexuality, gender and gender identity, and weight. Since weight stigma is openly promoted in our culture, this is a revolutionary but much-needed act.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


[1] Su & Aurelia, Preschool children’s perceptions of overweight peers, Journal of Early Childhood Research, 2011

[2] Gable, Krull, & Chang, Implications of Overweight Onset and Persistence for Social and Behavioral Development Between Kindergarten Entry and Third Grade, Applied Developmental Science, 2009

[3] Gray, Kahhan, & Janicke, Implications of Overweight Onset and Persistence for Social and Behavioral Development Between Kindergarten Entry and Third Grade, 2009

[4] Gunnarsdottir, Njardvik, et al., Teasing and social rejection among obese children enrolling in family-based behavioural treatment: Effects on psychological adjustment and academic competencies, International Journal of Obesity 2012

[5] Hayden-Wade et al., Prevalence, characteristics, and correlates of teasing experiences among overweight children vs. non-overweight peers, Obesity Research, 2005

[6] AW Harrist, TM Swindle, et al, The Social and Emotional Lives of Overweight, Obese, and Severely Obese Children, Child Development, 2016

[7] Puhl, et al., The Role of Stigma in Weight Loss Maintenance Among U.S. Adults, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2017

[8] Polivy and Herman, Causes of Eating Disorders, Annual Review of Psychology, 2002

[9] Watkins P., Hugmever A. D., Teaching about eating disorders from a Fat Studies perspective, Transformations, 2012

[10] Van den Berg, Neumark-Sztainer, et al, Racial/ethnic differences in weight-related teasing in adolescents, Obesity, 2008

[11] Reiter-Purtill, Ridel, et al, The benefits of reciprocated friendships for treatment-seeking obese youth, Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2010

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Why is my child gaining weight in eating disorder recovery?

Weight gain is often a natural and healthy part of eating disorder recovery. Parents must accept their child's weight gain to support recovery

If your child is in eating disorder recovery, you may be noticing some weight gain. Sometimes you are prepared and even desperately want this. If your child has been dangerously underweight, then, of course, you want them to gain weight. But for many parents who have kids in recovery, there comes a time when they worry their child is now “swinging the other way” or “going too far” in recovery.

That’s what happened to Kari and Ian. Their daughter Bailey is in recovery for anorexia. After hospitalization, she went into residential treatment. She did well, and Kari and Ian implemented Family-Based Treatment (FBT) while Bailey gradually stepped down from full residential to lower levels of care.

“I read all these stories about kids not recovering, so I feel really lucky that it seems like the treatment worked really well for Bailey,” says Kari. “But the truth is that now I’m a bit worried. Bailey’s weight has passed the point of where she was before the eating disorder. Her doctor seems a little concerned, but her therapist and nutritionist assure me that this is how it should be. I’m pretty confused and just want to do the right thing.”

Restriction and eating disorders

Almost all eating disorders begin with dietary restriction. A child can be anywhere on the weight spectrum when they start the cycle of an eating disorder. Due to a cascade of physiological factors, the restriction can beget more restriction. For many others, it leads to a restrict-binge cycle. Either way, the body and brain are not receiving the nutrition they need to maintain “homeostasis” or a steady weight.

Once in the cycle of most eating disorders, the person becomes increasingly food- and weight-oriented. They find themselves thinking about eating or not eating many times per day. They may plan exactly how to avoid eating or what to eat next. Rules and restrictions take over their lives, leaving little room for anything else.

Almost all of us who have eating disorders began with a diet. Whether we remain in the restrictive phase (anorexia), or cycle between restrict-binge (binge eating disorder) or restrict-binge-purge (bulimia), restriction is a core behavior. 

Multi-layered disorders

While this is happening, the body responds by slowing down the metabolism to meet the unstable access to food. The body does not like weight loss or unstable food supplies, so it triggers a famine response in which the body becomes extremely efficient with every nutrient and calorie it receives. This is why most efforts to lose weight result in regain, often with some extra pounds to protect against the next famine.

Why is my child gaining weight?

This effect can also happen with an eating disorder. Even after recovery, the body can continue to run slowly and hold onto calories and nutrition in an attempt to avoid the deadly impact of famine. Many people accept that they carry extra pounds in eating disorder recovery simply because their eating disorder triggered their body’s famine response.

While this can be challenging in our anti-fat society, it’s a necessary part of recovery for many people.

If your child is gaining weight during recovery from an eating disorder, it is because weight gain is a natural and physiological natural response to the restriction they endured. Your child’s weight during recovery may fluctuate wildly as the body recovers a new state of homeostasis.

How much weight will my child gain during recovery?

Weight gain during recovery depends on how big of a factor weight was in your child’s eating disorder, how long your child has struggled with an eating disorder, his or her individual metabolism, the total weight lost and gained throughout the eating disorder, the number of weight cycles, and more. These factors will combine to make each recovery journey unique.

Because most eating disorders involve restriction, recovery often includes weight gain. Recovering bodies need to return to a natural weight and will likely add pounds in response to the restriction endured during the eating disorder. It is impossible to estimate your child’s recovered weight, especially since it may take years for your child’s body to settle into a new “normal.”

What you must know is that once recovered, no number on the scale will ever measure your child’s health. Full recovery from the eating disorder, not body weight, will dictate your child’s health and the likelihood of a successful, meaningful, and joyful life.

It can be uncomfortable

The good news is that your child’s weight, with proper eating disorder treatment, will eventually stabilize. The bad news is that your child’s new weight may make you uncomfortable. This is why you need to work on your own biases about body weight and food restriction.

  • Do you believe low body weight is a sign of health?
  • Do you believe that your child can only be happy and successful in life if his or her body meets a narrow societal standard of body size?

These are the questions that Kari and Ian had to consider as Bailey gained weight.

“Our primary goal, of course, is for her to be mentally healthy,” says Kari. “Of course, we don’t want the eating disorder coming back, so we’re going to be vigilant about not allowing restriction and dieting anymore. We’ve gotten rid of all our diet foods and are careful about how we talk about food and weight now. But the truth is that we still struggle with the idea of gaining weight. I guess it was just so ingrained in us, as kids of the 80s, that thin is best. I’ve been watching my weight my whole life. This is a major shift for us.”

This makes so much sense. Weight gain is a challenging issue in our society. When a family faces an eating disorder, our cultural weight biases become critically important. We have to evaluate how and where they seep into our beliefs and thoughts and work to overturn them.

That’s what Kari and Ian are working on now. “I can see that we still have a lot of work to do about our own weight biases,” says Kari. “We’re working to understand weight science and accept our own bodies and Baileys. It’s not easy, but her life and health are worth it to us!”

Is it ever too much?

Now that you understand that weight gain is a natural and healthy part of eating disorder recovery let’s just consider if there is such a thing as “too much.” I believe that most of the time weight gain makes sense during recovery, but since an eating disorder can swing between restriction and binge eating, weight gain can sometimes (not always!) be a sign of an ongoing eating disorder.

Unless your child’s doctor is an eating disorder specialist, I take any concerns they have about weight gain with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, our healthcare system has a lot of weight stigma, and most doctors don’t understand eating disorders. On the other hand, I would do a quick check-in with your child’s dietitian and therapist.

What I would ask the dietitian:

  • Are you still focusing on a weight-gain goal?
  • Is the current weight gain unexpected?
  • Are we on track to guiding our child toward an Intuitive Eating approach?
  • Do you have any concerns about my child’s weight gain?

What I would ask the therapist:

  • Do you see signs of reduced or increased food obsession and compulsion?
  • Do you believe my child is still actively in an eating disorder?
  • What skills are you teaching that we can reinforce at home to support recovery?

Kari and Ian took these questions to Bailey’s therapist and nutritionist, and they felt greatly relieved. “Both of them explained in detail the signs of recovery that they were observing and what they were still looking for,” says Kari. “They were confident that Bailey’s weight would even out over time and that any gain at this point is not a sign of a new or different eating disorder. I feel so relieved, but we still have work to do on our own feelings about her recovered body. I know this is for us to work on and has nothing to do with her. So we’re working on it!”

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

For privacy, names and identifying details have been changed in this article.

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Stop hating fat people, being afraid of getting fat, talking about people being “too fat” and all forms of fatphobia

beautiful woman living in a larger body

We must look carefully at our society’s deep hatred of fat on a personal, societal and political level. We must question ourselves as a society when we openly and loudly criticize 70% of our population. In a society in which it is socially acceptable to ridicule and complain about people who live in larger bodies, our children are suffering from eating disorders at higher rates every year.

Eating disorders are more than fear of fat

Eating disorders have their roots deep in the psyche. They are typically built upon genetic, temperamental, experiential, societal and other factors. Often we see them in conjunction with Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

But before therapists can work on the deep underlying factors of an eating disorder, they often have to address fatphobia, the fear of getting and/or being fat and the belief that being fat is both a choice and a moral failing.

Most people who have eating disorders are afraid of fat

Many eating disorders begin in pursuit of the “perfect body.” With the media focus in the last decade on the “obesity epidemic,” fatphobia has become an acceptable form of discrimination against a significant portion of our population. Almost everyone feels they are justified in shaming people who live in larger bodies.

Headlines scream at us constantly:

  • The Growing Toll of our ever-expanding waistlines (New York Times)
  • Obesity epidemic at new high, costs $150B a year, hurts military recruiting (Washington Examiner)
  • As America’s waistline expands, costs soar (Reuters)
  • Nearly half of America’s overweight people don’t realize they’re overweight (Washington Post)

People think obesity is a personal failure

Obesity is frequently perceived as a preventable disease brought on by people who gorge themselves on fast food and candy and never exercise. Obesity is seen as something we must “eradicate” and “end forever,” even though, throughout history, and throughout the world, there have always been people who are in larger bodies.

Science has different things to say about obesity than the headlines suggest

Despite all the headlines and everything we believe we “know” about obesity as an “epidemic,” scientific research suggests that we know very little about the cause of rising human weight, or its direct link to disease and death.

  • People who are overweight or moderately obese live at least as long as lower-weight people, and often longer [1, 2, 3, 4].
  • Pooled data for over 350,000 subjects from 26 studies found overweight to be associated with greater longevity than normal weight [5].
  • Data on the elderly (among whom more than 70 percent of all deaths occur) found no evidence of excess mortality associated with being overweight [6].
  • When socioeconomic and other risk factors are controlled for, obesity is not a significant risk factor for mortality; and… for those 55 or older, both overweight and obesity confer a significantly decreased risk of mortality.” [7]

For more scientific research, visit our science library

Fatphobic headlines get more clicks

The media gains more click-throughs (which is directly linked to revenue income) when they publish articles with a fat bias. Moderate headlines and articles that present a nuanced look at fat do not garner as many clicks/revenue.

The media flagrantly appeals to our fear of fat and makes gross assumptions, extrapolations, and correlations about weight. Headlines are built to draw eyeballs and rarely reflect scientific data accurately.

swimsuit models over the years (1)
Even as our waistlines have expanded, the media’s presentation of what is “beautiful” has changed dramatically.

Images of thin, emaciated women and bulked-up, lean men get more clicks than those of people living with average or larger bodies.

When the media drives our perception, and the media is driven by clicks, we must acknowledge irresponsible behavior in relation to fat bias.

Obesity can be linked to the diet industry

The diet industry tells us that each individual is personally responsible for their body weight and has the ability to change it. But remember that the diet industry is a money-making machine that only survives if people continue to gain weight and repeatedly pursue weight loss.

“The first thing is that you can’t believe anything that [the diet industry says]. And that’s by definition because their job isn’t to tell you the truth — it’s to make money. And they’re allowed to lie,” says Traci Mann, Ph.D., author of Secrets from the Eating Lab, in an interview with the Washington Post.

In fact, for all of the yelling about sedentary lifestyles and fast food consumption, the greatest correlative factor for increased weight may be the size of the diet industry, which has ballooned from $10 billion in 1985 to almost $70 billion in 2012.

The diet industry growth

While the diet industry is seven times larger than it was in 1985, our BMI has increased from 129.9 in 1960 to 152.1 in 2010 (17%). And eating disorders have steadily increased – in both women and men – at the same time.

Hmmm … let’s think about that.

There is no proven cause of obesity

It may surprise you to know this, but even though we all assume that obesity is driven by eating too much and exercising too little, there is no evidence for those factors as being the cause of weight gain.

  • People who have higher BMIs do not eat more calories than people who have average* BMIs.
  • People who have higher BMIs do not exercise less than people who have average* BMIs.

*Given that 70% of the population is “above average” BMI, the word “average” is not actually accurate. BMI is actually a bogus measurement. It was never intended to be used on an individual level.

There is no proven cure for obesity

Even if we did agree with the idea that obesity is the worst thing ever, we do not have a cure for obesity. In 95% of cases, people who have lost weight on a diet have regained the weight plus more within two years (UCLA).

Diets are not a cure for obesity, and they have tremendous potential to cause harm. With no proven “cause” or “cure” for obesity, the vitriol our society places on people who are living in larger bodies is irresponsible and cruel. 

This is known as discrimination

The most common openly acknowledged and casually repeated discrimination most people engage in is fatphobia. People who live in larger bodies are openly accused of overeating, not exercising, being morally suspect, intellectually inferior, physically disgusting, and taking money out of our pockets.

But it goes beyond casual ridicule. Weight bias, stigma, and discrimination are correlated with poor medical care and lower income.

There is a word for this: discrimination.

How fatphobia leads to eating disorders

This agreement to vilify the majority of citizens in our society leads parents to inadvertently hurt their children in a desperate attempt to save them from being “overweight.”

Parents put their children on diets, both openly and surreptitiously. If they accept their child’s “high” body weight, they are attacked in articles like this one: Parents’ Denial Fuels Childhood Obesity Epidemic (New York Times).

The pressure for parents to control their children’s weight is high, and it negatively impacts a child’s self-perception.

And this is how fatphobia feeds the development of eating disorders. The hatred of one’s body is virtually unrecognizable from the hatred of one’s self. And when we hate ourselves, we turn our hatred on our bodies and starve them. Food restriction is the core behavior at the heart of anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia.

Eating disorders are about much more than weight, but we cannot ignore fatphobia as a significant contributing factor in their development. It is at our peril that parents ignore society’s hatred of fat, and we must curb our instinct to judge and ridicule people who live in larger bodies.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


We recommend the book Two Whole Cakes, by Lesley Kinzel. It is a short and easy read that quickly and without apology explains what it’s like to live in a larger body in our society. The best part is that it’s written from a place of power, not victimhood. Kinzel writes about the political, financial, emotional, and spiritual struggles resulting from America’s obsession with weight.

Also consider reviewing: Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift, by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, Nutrition Journal, 2011


[1] Flegal KM, Graubard BI, Williamson DF, Gail MH: Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity. JAMA. 2005, 293: 1861-1867. 10.1001/jama.293.15.1861.

[2] Durazo-Arvizu R, McGee D, Cooper R, Liao Y, Luke A: Mortality and optimal body mass index in a sample of the US population. Am J Epidemiol. 1998, 147: 739-749.

[3] Troiano R, Frongillo E, Sobal J, Levitsky D: The relationship between body weight and mortality: A quantitative analysis of combined information from existing studies. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1996, 20: 63-75.

[4] Flegal K, Graubard B, Williamson D, Gail M: Supplement: Response to “Can Fat Be Fit”. Sci Am. 2008, 297: 5-6.

[5] McGee DL: Body mass index and mortality: a meta-analysis based on person-level data from twenty-six observational studies. Ann Epidemiol. 2005, 15: 87-97. 10.1016/j.annepidem.2004.05.012.

[6] Janssen I, Mark AE: Elevated body mass index and mortality risk in the elderly. Obes Rev. 2007, 8: 41-59. 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2006.00248.x.

[7] Lantz PM, Golberstein E, House JS, Morenoff J: Socioeconomic and behavioral risk factors for mortality in a national 19-year prospective study of U.S. adults. Soc Sci Med. 2010, 70: 1558-1566. 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.02.003.

[8] Berrington de Gonzalez A, Hartge P, Cerhan JR, Flint AJ, Hannan L, MacInnis RJ, Moore SC, Tobias GS, Anton-Culver H, Freeman LB, et al: Body-mass index and mortality among 1.46 million white adults. N Engl J Med. 2010, 363: 2211-2219. 10.1056/NEJMoa1000367.

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How to shop for clothes when your daughter wears plus size

shopping for girls plus size clothes

Bodies come in all sizes, and if you have a child who is plus size, you need to consider how to help her find clothes that make her feel good. Girls plus size clothing and plus size junior clothing can be harder to find, but parents can make the process much easier by identifying retailers that carry plus sizes and getting creative with online shopping sprees.

👉 This article is also available in Spanish.

Things to think about when shopping for girls’ plus size clothing

We live in a society that promotes harmful body ideals. Bodies come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. But the fashion industry makes clothes for a very narrow (literally) body type. The lack of plus size fashion for girls and juniors is frustrating for parents.

Children living in larger bodies are at risk of body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders. This is no surprise, since it’s hard to live in a larger body in our society.

We recommend that parents who have plus size girls, tweens, and teens learn about Health at Every Size. This approach encourages parents to completely accept their child’s body. But even the most accepting parents will find it difficult to help their kids feel when stores fail to carry kids’ plus size clothing.

When shopping isn’t fun because there’s a lack of girls’ plus size clothing

Going shopping – an adolescent rite of passage – can be fraught when you’re looking for girls’ plus size clothing. Clothes may not fit well, may be too tight in some places and gape in others. Even worse, many retail stores don’t carry plus size children’s clothes in the store.

Shopping meltdowns are common during this delicate time in a girl’s physical growth and emotional development. Parents and their kids can feel awful about themselves because there are so few options available.

In fact, shopping can be a major trigger for the beginning of struggles with body hate and dieting. Since dieting is a major risk factor for eating disorders, it’s important to address shopping struggles.

This is why it’s a good idea to think critically about clothes shopping before going shopping with your child. Education can help you and she understand the options and navigate the changing room with minimal shame.

Most clothes are made for “straight-sizes”

The vast majority of clothing available in retail stores is for “straight-sizes,” which range from size 0-12 for adults. People who live in larger bodies find it extremely difficult to find stylish clothing in their size.

In 2012, it was estimated that 67% of American women are “plus size” (size 14 or larger) (Bloomberg). However, plus size clothing is often given a tiny fraction of department store floor space. Sadly, the majority of mass retailers do not accommodate sizes beyond 12.

This means that people living in larger bodies have a very hard time finding clothing that meets their body needs and personal style.

The excuse from fashion designers is that making plus size clothing is hard. This will remain true as long as consumers accept a lack of selection in plus size clothing. We need to increase pressure on retailers and fashion designers to dress our bigger girls, tweens, and teens.

Children’s clothing sizes

Children’s clothing is based on age. This assumes a straight growth curve in which the child grows up and out at a standard rate. However, not all bodies are made to be straight. For example, an 8-year-old girl may need a size 12 to accommodate her waist, but a size 12 length is too long.

The hardest time for plus size girls is when they are in between children’s and junior clothing sizes. For example, 10-year-old girl may need a Junior size 2 to fit her waist, but the neck holes, armholes, and length are all wrong. Junior sizes give too much space for breasts, not enough space for tummies, and the length is wrong for most children.

Junior clothing sizes

Kids’ sizes end at straight-size age 12, at which point a girl goes into the Junior’s dept. A 13 year-old plus size teen is not going to be able to wear a Junior’s size 5 or 7. She needs clothes that fit her body shape. Straight sizes assume we grow according to thin beauty standards, however, most of us don’t.

This mismatch happens right as girls are gaining weight for puberty, and their shapes are in transition. It’s as if Junior sizes forget that tweens’ bodies are gaining weight and growing unpredictably. Straight sizes assume a standard chest-waist-hip ratio that doesn’t fit the majority of the population.

Brand sizing

Every brand uses its own sizing chart. This means that a woman may range up to four sizes depending on the clothing brand. This adds significant stress for people living in larger bodies, who already feel incredibly vulnerable in the changing room.

A teen who carries more weight in her thighs may be unable to fit in clothing from one brand. A teen who carries her weight in her breasts may fit that brand perfectly. This happens to straight-size and plus sizes alike.

The variation between brands can be mind-boggling. Here’s a woman trying on the same size in different brands:

girls plus size clothing size comparison same brand
Source: Business Insider

How to shop in the store

To avoid generating body shame and anguish, do some research before going shopping with your child. First, identify whether your child is straight size or plus size.

If your child is a straight size, then you will be able to find clothing for her in most major retailers. But children who are on the large side of straight sizes or are plus size may be harder to fit. You want to minimize the pain of not fitting into the largest size in the store. If your child is plus size, then you will likely have more difficulty finding options at your local mall.

1. Be a Fashion Scout:

It pays to do some scouting in advance. Find out whether your local retailers carry plus size children’s and plus size junior’s clothing. It’s better not to bring your child on your scouting expeditions. It can be frustrating for both of you to see that there are no plus sizes. Save your child from external evidence that there is something wrong with her body. She’s likely already facing that every day. We can’t protect our child from constant reminders that her body does not fit our cultural ideal. But we can protect her from unnecessary exposure to fashion tragedies.

2. Upsize

When shopping for clothes in a retail store, the key is to prepare in advance to “upsize.” This is especially true if your child has recently gained weight or her body has changed.

Upsizing means that you choose multiple sizes of the same item, including one that you are fairly certain will be too large. Try to avoid selecting anything that you are fairly certain will be too small. Have your child try on the clothes from the largest size to the smallest size. Avoid looking at the size label while trying on. This will help her enjoy whatever size actually fits, instead of starting small and trying to force her body into something uncomfortable or despairing over her body’s size.

Encourage her to ignore the size label while she is trying the clothes on, reminding her that every brand does sizing differently, and it’s important to buy things that fit well, regardless of the size on the label. Be careful to avoid bringing any judgment to the sizing process.

3. Don’t praise clothing size

If she fits in a smaller size than you were expecting, don’t praise her for having a smaller body. Just acknowledge that the size fits her well. If she is too large for the largest piece of clothing in a certain style, just remind her that sizing is crazy.

Remember: if the pants don’t fit, it’s the pants’ fault – not her body’s.

Whether the pants fit or not should never mean that you provide praise or disapproval of your child’s body. Remind your child that it is the clothing’s job to fit her body. It is not her body’s job to fit the clothing.

How to make online shopping work

Unfortunately, most of the major retail clothing stores do not provide plus size clothing in-store and if they do, it can be very limited. Some online retailers that carry “Girls Plus Size” clothing include:

Some online retailers that carry “Juniors Plus Size” clothing include:

Many retailers provide plus sizes online. Online shopping isn’t the same as a traditional shopping trip, but your child may prefer it.

1. Over-order

Together you can search online retailers, fill shopping carts and place the orders. If you are able, over-order the clothing with the assumption that you will likely return 30%-70% of the clothing purchased online. If your budget allows, order at least two sizes of every item so there are choices.

2. Take measurements

Over-ordering isn’t always possible! The alternative is to take careful body measurements and consult the size charts for each retailer.

3. Fill the cart

Consider having your child do the “fun” part of adding the stuff she likes to the cart. Consider taking on the hard/frustrating part of figuring out which size to order.

4. Plan a try-on day

Wait until all the packages come in and have a try-on day. This can be a fun replication of the dressing room. Set all of the clothes up in multiple sizes. Lay out different outfits and combinations. Help your child evaluate how well the clothing fits, and have her sit, stand, and run around in it. Make a pile of keepers, maybes, and go-backs. This will optimize your child’s experience and minimize size-shame.

This is very much like the traditional shopping trip but in the comfort of home. Once you have piles based on how well the clothing fits, you can evaluate your budget and return what doesn’t fit.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate eating disorder recovery and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Protecting our kids from diet culture and fatphobia as they recover from an eating disorder, and what to know about dieting during recovery, an interview with dietician Alex Raymond

Q: In our society, it’s impossible not to receive incorrect, fat-phobic diet and nutrition messages all day, every day. Our kids hear them at school, read them in magazines, social media, TV and on billboards, and talk about them with friends. What is your advice for parents who want to counter-balance all of the misinformation about diet, nutrition, and body size that their kids encounter?

Alex Raymond: Yes, it always amazes me the volume of messages kids receive about diet culture and fatphobia. But then again, I guess it shouldn’t amaze me since the diet industry is a 60 billion dollar one! The best advice I can give to parents is to truly be a role model for your child. Be sure to accept people of all different shapes and sizes, and more importantly, accepting yourself. Kids hear enough fat-shaming at school and through the media, they definitely need to hear positive messages at home.

Avoid making any sort of comment about your body or other people’s bodies. And avoid labeling food as “good” or “bad.” This can perpetuate a child feeling guilty or shameful after consuming certain foods, which can then perpetuate disordered thinking. It’s important to model to your child that all foods can fit into your diet. You may also want to have a conversation with your child that health comes in all different shapes and sizes and is based on so much more than the number on the scale.

Q: How much do parents and family members need to adjust their eating style, especially if they are dieters, during a child’s eating disorder recovery? What changes do you recommend? How do you help parents make these changes?

Alex Raymond: I strongly encourage parents to avoid dieting, dieting behaviors and purchasing “diet-y” foods while their child is recovering from an eating disorder. It is important parents take an “all foods fit” approach to eating to demonstrate to their child that no food is off limits. I assure you, healthy eating can be achieved by the “non-dieting” approach, and in my opinion, eating without dieting is way healthier than eating on a diet.

One way to set up the home environment for success in terms of recovery would be to purchase less “dieting” foods. I recommend avoiding purchasing foods that say “light,” “fat-free,” “reduced/low sugar,” or other terms along those lines. Of course, this guideline can have variations to it. For example, a bag of almonds might say “low sugar” on it, but that is because almonds are naturally low in sugar. If you have specific questions about what to purchase at the grocery store, I encourage you to reach out to your child’s dietitian. She or he can support you in developing a list. Also, depending on how old your child is, you may want to ask your dietitian if you can have a session just for yourself if it’s okay with your child. I will do this with parents because there are so many questions that come up on how to best support their loved one.

I encourage parents to explore their own relationship with food and how their own thoughts regarding food may be influencing their child. Of course, they do not have to do this alone. In some cases, it might be a good idea for the parent to see a dietitian as well as a therapist.

How do you help parents navigate their own food and weight biases while supporting their child’s recovery?

Alex Raymond: This is such a great question, but it is also a tough one! For many of us, weight biases have been imprinted on us since we were very young and these biases can be extremely difficult to overcome. I find myself spending time educating my clients, as well as their loved ones, about the idea of health at every size and the non-dieting approach to eating. I encourage parents to have an open mind throughout their child’s recovery process and ask permission to send parents resources on health at every size. I find parents are open to exploring ideas and concepts that will support their child’s recovery process. Many times, when I am speaking with my client about his/her meal plan, I invite the parents in as well. This way, mom and dad can ask me questions. I will often meet with them separately if that’s okay with my client.

Q: Many people in recovery – and the people who love them – gain weight during recovery. How do you talk about this with them? How do you help them accept weight gain? 

Alex Raymond: Body image and accepting bodily changes is such a difficult part of the recovery process. Something I do often with my client is help them make a list of all the positives of recovery. I ask questions like: What are things are going well that may not have been going well during the eating disorder? What are some new, enjoyable things you’ve tried? How are you feeling now vs. a few months earlier in your recovery? This helps my client to focus their energy on the positives of recovery.

I also encourage my clients to practice compassion and the idea of being kind to yourself. Some of my clients have such negative self-talk, in which that eating disorder can thrive on. I ask my clients to say kind words to themselves.

Lastly, I tell my clients I do not expect them to love their bodies right away. In our society, there is a huge movement for “loving your body.” Don’t get me wrong, I think this is amazing! But, for many clients struggling with an eating disorder, this can be extremely difficult. It okay to start with feeling “neutral” toward your body and accepting it for what it is… a body. Next, I ask my clients to move toward appreciating their body and what it does for them. One activity I enjoy doing with my clients is having them write a thank you note to their bodies.

Alexandra Raymond

Alex is a Registered Dietitian at the private practice Courage to Nourish in Howard County and College Park, Maryland. Alex’s goal is to assist her clients in discovering a life-long healthy relationship with food and their bodies. Alex is a proud and passionate anti-diet and Health At Every Size © advocate. Outside of counseling clients, Alex enjoys cooking (especially Italian foods), journaling, hiking and exploring Washington, DC. Website

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When your child is overweight – what to do, what to say, how to feel, by Tracy Brown, RD

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

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.