How to Talk to Your Child about Weight Loss and Nutrition
Regardless of age, the topic of weight and weight loss is always tricky to navigate. Obesity is the most common chronic disease that affects children and teens and has only increased since the pandemic.
As providers, we know that instilling healthy eating and fitness habits early on helps prevent things like heart disease, diabetes, and joint issues in adulthood, but the cultural stigma of being overweight is closely tied to mental health that can lead to eating disorders or negative self-esteem.
To support parents navigating conversations with their child around weight and nutrition, Dr. Shweta Chawla, a pediatrician at ACCESS Plaza Family Health Center, offers helpful tips below to shift the conversation from losing weight to creating healthy habits and a positive attitude:
Don’t tease your child about their weight and create a safe space. It is an unfortunate reality that children may be bullied for their weight by their classmates or peers. While it is hard to protect your child entirely from those experiences, you can create a safe, supportive space in your home that promotes positive and healthy habits. Avoid terms like “fat,” “overweight,” or “obese” as that will have a negative impact on your child’s self-esteem and outlook on healthy habits.
Avoid labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Labeling foods or body types in moral terms like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ associate weight with guilt or shame. Foods are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’, they simply vary in their nutritional value. A helpful tip is to aim for 80/20. This means 80% of the food you take in should have a high nutritional value such as fresh vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains. The remaining 20% can be reserved for treats that may not have as high of nutritional value but allow you the flexibility to have an occasional sweet treat. For example, eat the birthday cake but have a glass of water or milk instead of a sugary soda or juice.
Promote a positive self-image, instead of focusing on weight. Instead of focusing on the number on the scale, shift the attention to the amazing things our bodies do for us like allowing us to ride bikes with friends, swim and play on the playground. Giving thanks to our body changes the relationship we have to it and creates a positive self-image.
Instill healthy habits for the entire family and model those habits. Creating healthy habits can be isolating if you’re doing it alone, so bring along the family! Stocking your home with nutritious foods helps avoid temptation and taking a walk together is a great way to spend time with your loved ones.
Find fun ways to get active. Chicago is cold most of the year and sometimes it may not be an option to go outside to get some exercise. Try learning a TikTok dance for 20 or 30 minutes a day or follow along to a YouTube dance video. Adding some activity into things you likely already do is an easy way to make small changes in your routine.
Set realistic goals. Start off by setting up small and simple goals for yourself and your child to attain. Some attainable and simple goals could include drinking two big water bottles a day, getting 30 minutes of exercise each day, or having one serving of fruit each day. Using a chart to track the goals is a great way to visually show progress toward goals. A reward at the end of the week will also help the child focus as well.
Parents and providers can work together to change the conversation about weight so that our children can grow into thriving adults with healthy habits and a positive relationship with their bodies.
How We Can Help
ACCESS has a network of resources to support your child’s health including pediatricians and registered dietitians. To schedule an appointment at any one of ACCESS’ 35 Chicagoland locations, please visit achn.net or click the link below to schedule.
Posted September 11, 2023