A Fourteen Year Old Overweight Daughter
anonymous Asks ...
My daughter is 14 and she is overweight. It breaks my heart to see her struggle with this and I know it affects her deeply. I have tried to model healthy eating and no one else in the family is overweight so I do not really understand where it comes from other than the fact that even from a young age she always liked reading and coloring and watching movies more than she liked sports or playing outside. I am trying to help her lose weight. Sometimes she seems to be on board with what I am trying to do for her but about half the time she is resistant and she will purposefully eat more junk food right in front of me just to provoke me. I am not pressuring her and we are only talking about healthy exercise habits and nutrition. I am intentionally not talking about calories or looks. Although sometimes it feels like there is a big pink elephant in the room when I omit these subjects from the discussion. How can I help her without having her turn this into a power struggle where she uses food and her health against me – and by definition, against herself as well?
David Johnson Says ...
I'm impressed you've asked the question. Many parents muddle through this difficult topic without help and a wide range of outcomes.
By the age of 14, your daughter is her own person. She has learned most every basic coping mechanism. She relies on you primarily for economic and emotional support. She will decide on her own what her goals are, and work at them on her own, seeking support and help as needed. If it all goes wrong, she will seek emotional support somewhere. That is your role, the safe, non-judgmental adult she can talk to. She needs you to be someone who will listen, respect her opinions and only tentatively offer their own.
You see, you can't set a goal for her to lose weight. She has to do that herself. She has to decide that she's going to do the work. Within the next couple of years with all the peer pressures and unfolding puberty, she will likely do so. You can offer her your opinion on rare occasions, offer supportive comments, express interest and curiosity in her life, and be the safe source of support when it all seems to go wrong. Then you can encourage, nurture, and tentatively express an opinion. "Could it be?" "Maybe..." "I had that trouble once..." NOT "when I was your age...." That always feels like a putdown. Be gentle, respect that her opinions, priorities and goals are hers. Never try to impose your perspective, just respectfully disagree and let it go. Suggest she see a doctor to get started. Let her shop around for a doctor she likes.
Of course you will need to set age appropriate limits for her freedom and privileges. But do so in a nurturing way, never with anger or the dreaded "disappointment". Save that for the really big issues and pray that never happens.
But no, you really can help her lose weight. Not unless it's her goal and she manages how you help.There may be a few ways you can help without being too obvious. Limit how much junk food you buy and store in the house. Role model healthy eating and regular exercise. Organize family activities that burn calories. But never admit it's for her. Part of being a role model is that you'd do it anyway, even if she is not looking or participating. I wish you both all the best.