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How to Talk to Your Kids About Obesity

Can discussing weight lead to an eating disorder?

Probably not, but parents do need to be careful, says Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., director of the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. "If you talk about dieting, then you're venturing into dangerous territory," says Bulik, noting the difference between a quick fix and hopefully permanent lifestyle changes. "You don't want to plant that bomb in your child's head, especially since we all know diets don't work in the long run." Instead, focus on developing respect for one's body and giving it what it needs. Bulik suggests explaining it in a way your child can understand, such as "Would you feed a plant a soft drink and expect it to thrive?"

Should I get his pediatrician involved?

"Kids aren't one-size-fits-all, so speaking to your child's doctor about how much weight he should lose and how quickly is an important step," says Dr. Dolgoff. Your child is still growing, and you want to make sure he is getting the necessary nutrients. With that in mind, Brock also suggests speaking to a nutritionist to assist you in devising a healthy and well-balanced meal plan for the entire family.

How can I encourage my child to eat right on a daily basis?

It can be hard for tweens or teens to always make healthy eating choices, especially when they're around their friends. "You don't want to be the food police," says Fishman. "While you can't expect them not to want to do what their friends are doing, you can help them set realistic goals, such as eating healthy six days a week. Then one day when they're out with their buddies, they can indulge a little. One afternoon of junk food isn't going to do much harm if they're eating well most of the time." It also teaches them that they can enjoy these foods in moderation.

What if my child doesn't see results right away and gets discouraged?

Weight loss and switching to a healthy lifestyle is a process—it doesn't happen overnight. Still, for a child who is doing everything she is supposed to, it can be frustrating when there isn't instant gratification. "Remember to stay positive, because change takes time," says Stephen Pont, M.D., a pediatrician and the medical director for the Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity at Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas. "Focus more on making small, smart changes that stick as a family and results will follow. She'll likely start sleeping better, have more energy and feel more confident." If you're concerned about the lack of progress, consult a dietician or nutritionist.

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