Encouraging a Healthy Lifestyle Without Causing Shame

What’s Wrong with Talking to My Child about their Weight?

Focusing on weight, rather than general health behaviors, reinforces the “thin ideal”. It has the potential to shame your child, and may lead to body dissatisfaction. Body dissatisfaction may cause your child to avoid social opportunities and physical activity due to shame about their body and fitness level. Research has found that comments about a child’s weight predict dieting, binge eating, eating disorders, obesity, depression, and low self-esteem.

How Can I Encourage Healthy Lifestyle Behaviors without Emphasizing Weight or Body Shape?

  • Model body positivity; never make comments about weight or the shape of anyone’s body, including your own, your child’s or anyone else’s. Do not let others criticize your own, your child’s or anyone else’s body.
  • Don’t encourage your child to diet, and do not diet with them. Dieting has actually been associated with weight gain in both children and adults. Dieting actually causes long-term weight gain.
  • Get rid of your scales and foods labelled as “diet” specific foods.
  • Be sure to emphasize that a person’s value and worth is not based on their appearance; success and likeability are not dependent on your appearance.
  • Teach your child that perfection is not possible; trying to be perfect will inevitably make you feel like a failure. Instead, encourage experimentation, and give your children permission to fail, promoting learning and growth.
  • Encourage your child to have compassion for others (accepting others despite faults, tolerating others’ imperfections), and encourage them to treat themselves the same way.
  • Encourage physical activity by scheduling family outings or regular walks or hikes, sign them up for sports, and find fun activities your child enjoys. Limit screen time.
  • Be sure there is plenty of healthy food options in the home, and do not purchase snack foods that your child tends to overeat.
  • Provide nutritious meals and snacks. Loosely following a glycemic index based meal plan will ensure health and nutritional needs are met, and will also reduce hunger (e.g. Provide a protein, a fat and a carbohydrate at every meal and snack. Carbohydrates include fruit, vegetables and/or grains).
  • Encourage your child to trust their internal cues of hunger and fullness, and allow them to eat when hungry.
  • Eat as a family and involve your child in food preparation.
  • If your child complains about their weight, tell them you love them no matter what, and they have a lot to offer the world. Add that if they want your support you are willing to help them be more active and eat healthy, but that you won’t focus on weight.

Something to Consider

While weight is an indicator of health, there are much better indicators of health, such as nutrition, amount and type of physical activity, a balance between structured and unstructured time, and opportunities for social engagement. The medical profession continues to use weight as a general marker of health because it is easy to measure. It is much more difficult, and less accurate, to ask you about a wide range of health behaviors each time you or your child come in for an appointment. However, as a parent, you have much more information about your child’s health behaviors. When considering your child’s health, you should be looking at a wide array of indicators, rather than focusing on weight.