Moms, Take Care When Discussing Weight with Daughters
If you are focusing on your daughter’s weight issues, without addressing your own weight and health, you may be setting her up for disordered eating and other weight-driven unhealthy behaviors, according to a new study.
Many moms are concerned about their daughters’ weight, especially in light of current obesity statistics. The media has done a good job of highlighting the many health issues associated with obesity, and it’s also clear that excess weight can impact quality-of-life issues and be a source of bullying. The challenge is how to express concern and fuel necessary change without instigating problematic feeding or weight loss behaviors in your daughter.
The new study, published in the journal Body Image, reported results from a study of sixth through eighth grade girls, and their moms. The researchers found that daughters who were being encouraged to lose weight, but whose moms avoided talking about their own weight issues, were more at risk for developing eating disorders. The findings were extrapolated from measurements of dieting behaviors and “drive for thinness.” The study actually seemed to suggest that talking less in general, meaning avoiding discussions about daughter’s weight or their weight and daughter’s weight, may yield the best outcomes in your teens’ health and weight.
Commentary: Given the rates of childhood and teen obesity, it may be more effective for parents to use certain strategies and behaviors, and model specific health behaviors. Making a protein-rich breakfast a priority for the whole family is one good strategy. Emphasizing family dinners is another. Being active as a parent and showing a passion for fitness or a specific sport can send a positive message to your child, without the need to verbally prod them to exercise. Scheduling weekend hikes and other physical activities for the family to enjoy sends a clear message, without specifically suggesting to your child that he or she needs to lose weight. You can also take cooking classes as a family or shop and cook together, allowing natural moments of conversation that discuss nutrition. That way the information is shared without singling out your daughter and her weight issue.
Involving a pediatrician or nutritionist to work with the whole family can also improve everyone’s food choices and attitudes about eating, without pointing a finger at your overweight child. These health experts can also safely frame a conversation about weight with less likelihood of instigating extreme dieting or weight loss practices.
Mothers should also avoid disparaging comments about their own bodies in front of their children, especially daughters. Berating yourself, or engaging in severely restrictive eating behaviors or excessive exercising patterns, sends a very strong negative message to your daughter, even if you don’t verbally suggest your unhappiness with your own weight or body image. Use terms like strong or lean rather than skinny to describe your personal goals for your body.
Your daughter is very susceptible to messaging during her middle school and teen years, so be aware and approach weight issues with caution.
Consider also reading: Fitness for Teens
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