One of the hardest things to discuss with your child is weight. To most parents, commenting about their child’s weight comes naturally. It’s harmless and may even be part of mealtime conversations. But their comments turn out to do more harm than good. According to a study in Eating and Weight Disorders, children, particularly daughters, are more likely to feel unhappy about their weight if their parents often comment about it. In the study, women between 20 and 35 years old with a healthy body mass index (BMI) were less likely to recall parents commenting about their weight than overweight women.
Conversations and comments about weight are a popular topic on social media as well. But the discussions focus on its negative effects. Many social media users voice the dangers of commenting on someone’s weight, as it’s insensitive and could trigger an eating disorder. But fitness and health professionals feel that it is their responsibility to encourage a healthy weight in people, and they’d like to fulfill that without being labeled a body-shamer. Parents feel the same way. It can be harder for parents because their children expect sympathy and support from them, not shaming.
However, any comment you give your child about their weight can have the opposite effect. So how will you inspire them to get back in shape without sounding derisive?
These dos and don’ts may help you:
DO: Talk about Body Image
Instead of blurting out that your child seems to be gaining weight, open up about body image in general. Ask how they feel about their body, and listen to what they say without interrupting. If they have negative feelings about weight or body type, acknowledge and validate those feelings. Share some insight if you have similar experiences about negative body image. Explain that every person has a different body type, making them unique and perfect just the way they are. And don’t forget to reassure your child that you think they’re beautiful, no matter the size and shape they’re in.
DON’T: Put them on a diet
We understand that you’re concerned about their health. But putting them on a diet won’t help unless it’s a choice they made, and the diet is sustainable and healthy.
Even suggesting that they lose weight or go on a diet can be harmful. So avoid depriving them of the food they like or limiting their portions. Similarly, avoid prohibiting them from eating certain foods, like sweets. Restricting a child’s diet and then rewarding their good behavior with indulgent food or more portions increases the likelihood of a negative body image. Overall, don’t interfere with their diet unless they have a chronic or autoimmune disease that requires a specific diet.
DO: Plan the Whole Family’s Meals
If your child can’t stop making unhealthy food choices, compensate for that by making their meals at home healthy. The whole family should eat the same meals for your child to not feel excluded or deprived. By cooking healthy meals, you limit their temptations to go and grab an unhealthy snack.
Planning healthy meals will also allow you to learn about the contents of each food. You’d learn how to reduce calories without sacrificing flavor or portions. And you yourself can be healthier, too.
DON’T: Play the Blame Game or Force Them to Workout
Even if your child’s weight gain results from their eating habits and lifestyle, avoid pointing fingers at them. Nobody likes being unhappy with their bodies, but it just happens. So don’t shame or tease them about getting bigger; they’re already aware of their size. Don’t force them to work out and promise rewards if they do it. Let them get back in shape at their own pace.
DO: Consider Becoming Their Own Trainer
Becoming a fitness expert yourself can be the ultimate key to helping your child become healthier. With substantial knowledge, your child can turn to you for expert advice about diet and weight loss. You can create health goals together and make achieving them fun. Being a fitness trainer is a rewarding career, though it takes commitment, persistence, and skills. If you think that career is right for you, check out the costs of a personal training certification from esteemed online trainers like Fitness Education Online and the like. If you nail your job, you may even encourage your child to follow your career path and become a health and fitness advocate like you.
However, getting certified as a personal trainer, health coach, or anything alike isn’t an excuse to comment about your child’s weight or restrict their diet. It just makes you a credible source of advice and a qualified trainer. The best way to encourage your children to be healthy is to teach them to love themselves. With self-love, they’ll naturally take care of themselves and manage their health and weight on their own.