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How to Talk to Your Kids About Obesity

My kid is being bullied about her weight. What should I do?

Listen to your child and be supportive, says Charles D'Angelo, a weight-loss coach and author of Think and Grow Thin. D'Angelo struggled with his weight as a young child and teen—at his heaviest he weighed 360 pounds—and was bullied because of it. "Parents have to not only encourage their child to become healthy, but also find where her strengths lie and what makes her feel good about herself," he says. "It can be riding horses, building websites, painting, playing piano. Help your child focus on her strengths, her passions and her ability to take charge of her life." You should also make her school aware of what's going on, have them address the issue and encourage your child to come to you at any time to talk about the bullying.

Is overeating an eating disorder?

Binge eating, where there is a loss of control leading to eating beyond the point of feeling full, is a disorder. Emotional overeating is different. It's when people use food to fill a void or seek comfort. "Unfortunately, it creates a vicious cycle," says Robert Pretlow, M.D., a pediatrician in Seattle and founder of Weigh2Rock.com, an online weight-loss system for kids. "Once a child gains weight from emotional eating, the decrease in self-esteem and the social isolation associated with being overweight cause more depression, anxiety and stress." Parents can offer support by asking their child what causes her to turn to food. Is she anxious about her grades? Is she upset about something at home? Then work with her to figure out how she can take care of her emotional needs without turning to food. And consider seeking professional assistance from your child's doctor or a therapist.

My son doesn't like to exercise. How do I get him moving?

Working out doesn't have to involve jogging around the neighborhood. The key here is making it fun, says Dr. Dolgoff. "Ask your child what activities he enjoys. If he's interested, he's more likely to stick with it." Consider martial arts, biking, skating or renting exercise DVDs from Netflix or the library. Whatever he chooses, just make sure he's really getting a good workout.

What should I do if my child resists making any changes?

"Ask if he's ready to get healthy," says Dr. Dolgoff. "Don't freak out if the answer is no, but don't let his resistance stop you from initiating healthy changes for the family. Just because he's not ready doesn't mean you have to endorse unhealthy habits. You can readdress the issue in three months. Right now, he just might require some time to process your talk and contemplate what needs to be done." Amy Barksdale remained supportive throughout her daughter's journey, which included a stay at Camp Shane, a weight-loss summer camp for tweens and teens. Amada lost 15 pounds there and has kept it off. "That talk was the best thing I did for both of us," says Barksdale. "My daughter is healthy and happy, and for a parent that's all that matters."

Originally published in the June 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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