“I’m worried that my daughter is overweight, what should I do?”

June 18, 2015

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A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

I get these comments from parents all the time, and I have some strong thoughts about this. 

First of all, I understand your concern.  Our culture has bombarded you with information that fuels fear and paranoia about weight, so of course you want to shield your child from the negative impact. 

Nobody wants to be fat in a world that tells us being fat is practically the worst possible thing that could happen to a person.  In fact, over 50% of girls report that they are more afraid of being fat than being hit by a truck. Sit with that for a minute….it's disturbing.  Look at what we've done.

So, how should you address your concerns about your daughter's weight?  Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – say anything to her about it.  Your concerns are YOUR issue that needs to be addressed, not her issue.  You need to look at your own beliefs about weight, and your own potential weight bias.  I know this is hard to hear.  Please don't get defensive.  This is hard.

NOTHING good can come from talking to your daughter about her weight.  The message she will internalize is that her worth is based on her appearance (even though I know that's not what you meant).  It will reinforce a belief system that says she is more loveable if she is thin.  And is unworthy of love if she is fat.

Your daughter needs love that is unconditional of her body size or shape.

The average girl gains 40 pounds between the ages of 10-16 during puberty.  This is part of normal growth and development, which includes increases in height and body fat.  She will gain an average of another 20 pounds from ages 16-20.  That's a lot of change during the vulnerable teenage years.  She needs to know this is normal and that there is nothing wrong with her body.

The push back I often get from parents and doctors is regarding BMI (cue my eye roll).  BMI is a horrible indicator of health.  Physical health is when your body's organ systems are all functioning properly, not a number on the scale or BMI chart. 

I don't even calculate BMI in adults because it's worthless.  In adolescents the only reason I ever look at BMI is to assess their growth patterns, factoring in both height and weight, which are moving targets.  This produces a "growth curve" that shows the child's natural growth patterns and allows us to predict the trajectory for the future.  We don't label them as "overweight" – over WHAT weight?  Their body will grow naturally at the rate it needs to until we start interfering with it. 

So, how do you deal with a growth curve that's higher than society's standards?  You accept it.  This is your child's normal.  This is where your child's body will be healthy.  That's what you want, right?  Is is worth sacrificing health for the sake of maintaining a lower weight to fit in?  If your answer to that is yes, then you need to further examine your own beliefs weight, health and self worth. 

Loving your child means loving her no matter what her body looks like. 

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