How to talk to kids about weight is one of the most common questions I get.
The question, more often than not, is really about how to help a child lose weight for their ‘health’ without causing body image issues.
The answer is always this; you can’t. As soon as you suggest a child lose weight, you are almost certainly going to cause harm. I’m pretty staunch on that idea.
Harm happens for two reasons.
ONE: we have no protocol for weight loss that is sustainable over time for more than 5% of people. For the other 95% there will be initial weight loss and then long term weight gain – which often leads to trying again and again and again. And in the process of losing and gaining, heartache, mental health issues and body image hell can set in. We also know that 5% of eleven-year-olds that start a diet end up with a clinical eating disorder, regardless of what size they are when they start that diet. Those aren’t good odds whichever way you spin them.
If health is what you’re really after, having robust body confidence and maintaining a stable weight (at any size) is more healthy in the long run than weight cycling.
TWO: suggesting your child needs to lose weight, even if you’re couching it in ‘health’ terms, sends the message very clearly that you don’t think their body is ‘good’. Your child will have been shown message after message from the moment they are born that bigger bodies are bad and smaller ones are good. The instant you suggest they need to be smaller is the instant they know you think their body is wrong. That can set them up for a lifetime of struggle.
But please, if you’ve already tried to help them lose weight – I want you to cut yourself a break. You were doing the very best you knew how. There is no shame in making mistakes – the power is in acknowledging you have and moving forward. You are a legend, being here, reading this, so please, be kind to yourself. All the information I provide is designed to help you restore the natural sense of ease in their body you’re child once had even if they have currently lost it. So keep reading, you’re in the right place.
Here are three ways to help them treat their body with respect, regardless of their size.
Make sure any message you give your child about their body conveys to them that you think it’s a good one.
They’re alive! They’re experiencing the world around them (only possible if you have a body) and that is something to celebrate and cherish.
If there’s any part of you that feels like their body is wrong or should look different or would be better if they did lose weight, do the very hard work of:
a) forgiving yourself for thinking this way (it’s so bloody deep in our culture it’s 100% understandable) and
b) figure out a path for learning to see their body as nothing short of miraculous no matter what they look like or the state of their health.
How can you do that? I’m offering an online seminar on Sept 9 called Master Healthy Body Talk And Raise a Happier Family. You can find out more about that here.
Talk to them about why kids can be mean to each other about how they look and set them up to feel empowered if that happens to them. I’ve written about that here.
Start noticing the language you use around bodies and stop using terms that pitch one size as being better or more desirable than another.
Here are two terms you can stop using:
Over-weight. Over which weight? We don’t say under-height and over-height and make people stretch or stoop to fit the normal bell curve of human size. We simply describe their height. Short. Medium. Tall. Try using slim, medium and big or super big as descriptors of size (many people are reclaiming the word fat to describe themselves and I’m looking forward to the day fat is a common descriptor that our culture no longer shies away from).
Obese. This term medicalizes size. It makes it seem that as soon as you are over a line, you are sick. This is not the case. There are perfectly healthy people who live in large and super large bodies. There are very sick people in thin bodies.
In the Master Healthy Body Talk seminar, we will go into this in more depth and help you find words that lead to better body confidence.
I look forward to seeing you there!
The Body Confidence Coach
Like what you’ve just read? Sign up below for the free 10 Principles of Raising Body Confident Kids PDF, plus weekly-ish coaching emails.