By Real Moms: Guest Blogger Elyse Falk, MS, RD and Laura Cipullo RD, CDE
Real Mom Question: How do I help my 13-year-old daughter who is overweight?
Real Moms Answer: For females, there are a lot of hormonal prepubescent changes that happen around this age. The body is getting ready for menstruation and womanhood. Weight gain is normal during this time. Don’t get overexcited by this increase in weight or body fat. This is normal and necessary.
If your daughter is sensitive to her recent weight gain or her body image, sit down and have a heart to heart conversation with her. Recognize she may want to try different diets at this point in her life. Many tweens or teens choose to try vegetarian intakes around this point (See our article in the Publication Tweens and Teens). For us, as women and especially as mothers working in the field of eating disorders, the word diet conjures only negative feelings such as deprivation, restriction, sadness, failure, and being “bad” when you “cheat” on the diet, etc. The list goes on and on. There are too many girls and moms that feel badly when they eat a food that would be forbidden on a diet. Therefore, at all costs, discourage your daughter from dieting. Instead, help to foster body acceptance, balanced eating and lifestyles changes if and when needed.
75-90 % of the Time, Eat Healthy
Teaching our children, tweens and teens to eat in a healthy and balanced way is of utmost importance. What do we mean by healthy? Eating when one is physically hungry and recognizing when one’s stomach feels full; Not eating for emotional or behavioral reasons like many tweens and teens do. The idea is to eat foods that help our physical body work properly and prevent disease while eating adequately and varied to encourage mental wellness. A healthy attitude is to eat the foods that help our body about >/=75 – 90 percent of the time; the other 10 – 25% percent of our intake can include the foods that Elyse calls “yum yum” foods or Laura calls “sometimes” foods: ice pops, candy, baked goods, fried foods etc..
Make it a Family Affair
It’s important for our tweens and teens to have positive role models for eating and movement. Parents and caregivers have a great influence on this, so think about how you eat and exercise. Think about how your family eats and moves? The goal is to have the entire family eating a varied intake of everyday foods and moving regularly for fun and for heart health. Be sure to try for family meals, plan family activities such as walks, bike rides and even hikes. If your teenager always wants to snack, keep fresh fruit, veggies, lean proteins and low fat calcium foods in the house at all times. A whole grain low sugar cereal with low fat milk is always a great option as well. Don’t try to control or restrict your child. Rather provide food and active opportunities and let them make the choices
Forget the Scale
Be aware of your 13 year old’s behaviors and mood. If your teenager is skipping breakfast, it can lead to an over-hungry state, which can result in overeating later in the day. It can also lead to mood swings. Talk to your daughter about behaviors and mood swings but never say you are fat, too heavy or need to lose weight. And please never put them on a scale.
Recognize, sometimes your daughter may feel bad about eating “too” much after having restricted all day. Then this guilt results in future restriction, meaning skipping meals or eating very little calories over a long period of time. Again, this only leads to being over-hungry and then over eating again likely binging. Unfortunately, this has the potential to turn into vicious dieting cycle.
Prevent Skipping Meals
To help prevent your daughter from restricting her food intake be sure to keep fast and easy breakfast options in the house: an organic yogurt smoothie with extra protein powder, ¼ cup almonds and fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs with a toasted pita, low sugar protein/nut bars, pbj sandwiches, whole grain waffles topped with nut butter and bananas are all great options to start the day. Ensuring breakfast is eaten will help to guarantee meals are not being skipped and the day is heading in a proactive direction.
Encourage Internal Self Regulation
Make a conscious effort to see if your teenager is eating regularly for physical reasons. Educate them to adhere to a feeding schedule for meals and snacks to prevent restricting and binging. Eating every 3 to 4 hours is normal and helpful. If you feel that your child is eating immediately after a full meal, encourage her to use a hunger fullness scale to identify internal cues for portion control. Maybe she is eating because she feels stressed, anxious, or nervous. If this is the case, help your daughter learn new coping skills and or offer hugs and your listening ear when she needs you.
Eat for Physical Hunger
So the message is avoid having your daughters diet regardless of your concerns or your daughter’s concerns for her body weight. Allow her body to go through puberty and encourage all foods in moderation and moving for energy. Provide varied foods and a safe place to talk about food and body. Avoid judging your daughters body and instead focus on behaviors and moods. If weight loss is needed, lifestyle behavior changes and eating for only physical reasons usually helps to make your teen grow into the body they were born to have.