Teen's weight worries parents

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  July 13, 2011 06:00 AM

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My question is about how to address weight, food and exercise with our daughter, who is nearly 15 and about to go into her freshman year of high school.

"Anna" is only about 5 feet tall (likely her final adult height) and is on the verge of being in the "heavy" category, if not already there. (She's about 125 lbs). Her best friends are twigs -- able to eat whatever they want, very athletic and fit. "Anna's" weight seems to be on an inexorable climb upward, given that when she's with her twiggy friends, she eats the world, just like they do. But she doesn't get nearly as much exercise, plus her metabolism is just much slower. Her activities consist of a couple of dance classes a week during the school year, downhill skiing in the winter, and softball in the spring. None of these are exactly aerobic. Anything aerobic she "hates" although she enjoys the little bit of tennis she plays in July. She has gained weight steadily for the past 3 years despite not getting any taller. I know this because I keep having to buy her new clothes due to the old ones becoming too tight.

We managed to get "Anna" through younger childhood without her becoming overweight, but that's when she was still growing and we could control her food. Now, I can't mention food or exercise without getting a strong, negative reaction from her. I get that this is normal, and that I should take pains to ensure her weight doesn't become a power struggle. But her weight is not under control, and I feel it's my responsibility as a loving parent to help her avoid getting to a point where weight becomes a real issue. Her dad and I model good eating and exercise habits, and don't keep junk in the house. We try hard not to harp on the subject. But none of this seems to really help.

Just to be clear, we do not allow TV on school nights, though she does end up watching about 1-2 hours in the afternoon after school. If I suggest she does something other than watch, she goes to the computer, or retreats to her room. There are no exercise/outdoor options that seem reasonable to suggest at her age, and we're at the point where it seems crazy to require her to do a certain sport.

I could use some ideas about how to inspire this strong, beautiful girl to take control of her fitness and her food choices. Thank you so much for any advice you can give.

From: MiddleMom, Chelmsford, MA


Dear MiddleMom,

What you've done so far sounds right on, but I wonder: have you had an adult conversation with her? She's old enough (and presumably mature enough) to hear why you have gone to the efforts you have to keep her eating healthy and getting exercise. It sounds like you've never actually said, "You have a body type that has the potential to be heavy, and that worries us."

* Because she may shut you down in a conversation, consider writing her a letter. Here are some of the points you want to make:

* Being over-weight puts her at risk for health issues, especially high blood pressure and diabetes.

* Being over-weight puts her at risk for social and emotional problems, especially depression.

* You will always love her no matter what she weighs, but because you love her, you want her to be as healthy as possible.

* How she takes care of her body is her decision.

* You don't want to make her life miserable by constantly harping on this, but you want her to know that you are able and willing to help her if and when she wants help to get serious about keeping her weight healthy.

Putting this in a letter (on her pillow) is often easier for a teen to handle because she can read it over time, go back to it, and it's also a way for your love and caring to come through.

Once you've done this, do your research so you have ideas for how she can help help herself. Her doctor might be a good start. But other than that, you may need to just zip up and sit on your hands. It may take her months, if not years, to realize what you are trying to tell her. In the meantime, keep presenting a healthy role model, and keep healthy food in the house.

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24 comments so far...
  1. Thank you for your advice -- I will definitely write the letter. Just to clarify, I have talked with her on an adult level on numerous occasions, saying essentially, "You and I are short and strong and I'm proud of that. But we also have to really watch out for gaining weight, because our bodies like to do that." And then we have a great discussion about how to manage weight and fitness through food choices and exercise. This doesn't seem to have a lasting effect on her behavior, though.

    Posted by MiddleMom July 13, 11 07:41 AM
  1. I wonder if the parents are overly concerned - a BMI of 24.4 is not in the unhealthy range for someone who is otherwise fit. Has the family discussed this with their pediatrician?

    Posted by Sue C July 13, 11 08:11 AM
  1. This relationship needs some growing up.

    Start with a proper primary care physician and a full physical where the daughter goes by herself. Primary care by a pediatrician will soon be cut off anyway--be proactive and help your daughter meet PCP's to choose one.

    Teenagers have a short retention time for lectures on all kinds of "safe" behaviors that also include s*x, dr*gs, alcohol, tobacco, speeding, you name it...Controlling talk is useless. Show them a good example, that will stick for the rest of their lives.

    If you want to help your daughter, get out for an hour's walk with her every evening after her homework is done. CUT THE LECTURE--just walk, that is all that she would ever need to do to maintain a healthy weight. Let her choose different circuits.

    Posted by Irene July 13, 11 10:06 AM
  1. Personally, I would be very very careful about what you put in a letter. It sounds like you've already had these conversations with her and she has a good understanding of what she should be doing -- though, if you haven't already, you might talk to her about how she needs to eat differently from her friends, because of their different activity levels, height and metabolisms. (Also, sometimes skinny friends love to have a not-skinny buddy to compare themselves to, and I would think that she does not want to be that funhouse mirror for them.)

    The thing with a letter is that is really hangs with you loooong after it's been written. That's good in some ways, but poison in others. The negative comments in a letter like that are going to stick like glue. (I am speaking here from personal experience.)

    It sounds like you have had some great conversations with her, and it has to help that you've been able to share your personal struggles. I would think your best ally here is your daughter's doctor. Hearing the tough message from a neutral third party can help. (One of my kids is motivated to keep weight down to avoid glucose blood tests, for example.) The lessons you've already taught her are going to stay with her I am sure. The pressure in teenage years can be very tough, but you've given her the tools to live a healthy life, and I'm sure long term she'll be fine.

    Posted by SandEE July 13, 11 10:23 AM
  1. I strongly disagree with Barbara and agree with Sue C - 125 at 5 feet tall may not be slim, but it's not heavy. If the pediatrician isn't worried, I suggest you may be overreacting, and in this arena, a little overreaction can destroy your relationship with your daughter for life.

    You've already established, in your daughter's mind, that you see her as fat. That hurts A LOT. It's no wonder she's tuning you out. Writing a letter is just going to put down indelibly your thoughts about her body and regardless of your motivations (i.e., her health) she may very well take it as a critique of her appearance. We all know those moms, right? The ones where every time they see you they nitpick about your appearance?

    You provide her healthy food and opportunities for exercise. I'm quite sure her string bean friends provide her with plenty of self-loathing. Step back and let her decide that maybe she'd like to be more fit. This is not a health crisis at this point.

    A positive idea might be to see if she is interested in taking a cooking class or doing more of the cooking. A 15 year old can and should probably be responsible for planning and preparing one family dinner a week. If you watched any of the Jamie Oliver show, part of his outreach is teaching kids to cook healthier meals.

    My mother hounded my sister constantly about her weight (she too was shorter and curvy, especially standing next to me, the family beanpole) and eventually turned her into a person who takes little pleasure in food. That's sad. Food can be a wonderful social experience - trying new and different things with friends and family. My sister is a great cook but rarely allows herself to eat much of what she makes and when she does, compensates with too much exercise.

    Ultimately, you want your daughter to have a healthy relationship with food and exercise. Obsessing about her weight "problem" before it is actually a problem is guaranteed to destroy this.

    Posted by Q July 13, 11 10:25 AM
  1. Hi folks. Thanks for your interest. Yes, her pediatrician started telling her 3 years ago that when a person stops growing taller, the only direction to grow is "rounder" and to watch the food and step up the exercise to be sure that doesn't happen. I never bring up weight in the visit -- the Pedi does. And I did get thrown out of the visit this year, so they've had time to talk without me in the room.

    Sue, I know that higher BMI can be okay depending on body composition -- my daughter is healthy and strong but there is getting to be a pretty high proportion of fat to muscle. That's what has me worried. It's getting worse, not better. And it's also visually obvious.

    Irene, you amused me with the supposition that my daughter would WANT to walk with me every evening after dinner! That makes me chuckle. I could invite her and I do, but she usually says no or gets huffy and sees the invitation as a sneaky way of saying she's fat. Or she doesn't want to get sweaty, or wants to take a shower, or ... the excuses for avoiding "exercise" are myriad.

    Posted by MiddleMom July 13, 11 10:52 AM
  1. I am no expert but this advice just makes me really nervous. I have a few friends that struggled with eating disorders and I really think if all the discussions have already happened then it is time to lay off. Maybe have one last discussion with her letting her know how beautiful, strong, and smart she is and that you love her dearly and are so proud of her and if she ever want to talk to you about weight(because you know a lot of teenage girls go through some body issues) that you are there to talk but otherwise you are going to lay off. You love her no matter what she looks like.
    If her body type is that challenging this will be a life long struggle for her. I can almost promise you that she knows her body is different than her tiny sized friends and she hates it. Having her mom bring it up could be very painful for her even if done in a loving way(their ears just seem to hear criticism not helpful advice). If she does get bigger in the next years than so be it. She needs to learn how to control it on her own and just feel loved and confident through these very tough teenage years. I don't know that is just my gut feeling on this tricky issue!

    Posted by Amy Sidoti July 13, 11 12:02 PM
  1. Please, please be careful with this. My mom was on me about my weight all the time - in the guise of being helpful - and I have never really gotten over my resentment over that or my hatred of fitting rooms. Everything was always looked at with a critical eye. Eventually, all I ever wanted to wear was baggy jeans and sweatshirts. The more she talked at me about exercise, the less I wanted to do it.

    Ask her if there's a class in the area - like zumba or kickboxing or something fun - that she might want to take. If she enjoys dance classes, she might like something like that. I guarantee her twiggy friends are doing some form of exercise. When I was that age, I had friends who biked, swam, walked or ran regularly in addition to their school sports commitments, which is how they stayed so thin.

    It might be helpful to have her pedi or PCP talk to her about her weight and WHY it's important for her to exercise and eat better. Coming from her mother and father it can sound like criticism; coming from a professional care provider it may sound more like health directives.

    I would also remind you that you should tell your daughter you love her no matter what she looks like. It's hard enough to be a pre adolescent and adolescent girl without thinking that your parents think you're fat and ugly.

    Posted by T's Mummy July 13, 11 12:05 PM
  1. I don't understand why the LW is so concerned. She describes her daughter's weight as "out of control" because she has put on weight over the last 3 years. Of course she has! Even if the daughter has stopped growing taller, she is still developing. Guess what, hips and a chest weigh more!

    I'd be concerned that the LW is going to do more harm than good. The daughter is still in the normal BMI range. Just because she isn't stick thin doesn't mean the mom should give her a letter telling her she needs to lose weight.

    Posted by Marie July 13, 11 01:29 PM
  1. I never had weight issues as a child, but I had others that my parents dealt with like this and as a young teen, it hurt and felt like nothing but criticism. Most of my friends who experienced similar felt the same way.

    A letter can easily backfire. If she's already getting huffy and tuning you out, the letter is just going to reinforce to her that you "hate" her and how she looks.

    Leave her alone for now. She knows the health benefits of maintaining a good weight - and you model them by not allowing her to eat junk at home and by maintaining a healthy body yourself.

    Has it occurred to ANYONE that her weight gain and seeming refusal to do anything about it is also her way of defying the parents or authority in general? The more she hears/reads/sees and is nagged at home, the more she may dig her heels in just to give everyone the big ol' middle finger.

    If anything more is said, I would only matter-of-factly tell her that she can buy her own clothes if this wardrobe gets too tight - and that it gets a lot harder to shed the weight when you get older. After that, let it be.

    Posted by Phe July 13, 11 01:30 PM
  1. I agree wholeheartedly with 'Q'. I'm 5'1'' and 135 pounds and although I'm not thin, I'm not "fat" or have a "problem". You might be making a bigger deal of it than it is, and it's very likely you could be hurting your relationship with your daughter if you keep brining her weight up as an issue.

    If you are going to write a letter, tell her how proud you are of her, how much you love her and that you just want the best for her and if she ever needs to talk about anything, you're open to listen. There is a good chance she could come to you with what she's worried about.

    Posted by GS July 13, 11 01:37 PM
  1. I agree you should be very careful with this, because constant harping on this could send the message that you value her weight/appearance more than you value her, which doesn't seem to be what you're trying to do. T’s Mummy is right on with that.

    Have you asked her if she'd like to make changes in her lifestyle? Is *she* happy at the weight she's at? Is *she* concerned about future weight gain? Unless she wants to make changes, nagging won’t help. The best you can do is set a good example, and support her when/if she does want to get more active.

    One thing to keep in the back of your mind: in some cases, the "twiggy" friends who can eat everything they want *do* have faster metabolisms or are very active. But from my high school experience, several of them also were purging on a regular basis, so if anyone suggested I be more like them because they were thinner, that irritated me to no end (and reinforced the idea that adults are clueless). That’s another reason why your discussion with your daughter should focus on her being healthy and feeling good, not just on her superficial appearance. Her classmates will give her enough superficial judgments without your help.

    Posted by Anon Commenter July 13, 11 01:50 PM
  1. I think Barbara is right on. We are so afraid of speaking about weight issues in this country. We have no problem telling our kids about the dangers of smoking, why shouldn't we tell them about the similar risks that are associated with weight and a sedentary lifestyle.

    I would address this right on as a health issue. I like the way you associated that you have face the same issue. We have had 2 very early heart attacks in my family so I'm very upfront with my kids (15 &13) that healthy eating and exercise will always have to be part of their lifestyle but I always approach it in terms of health not looks.

    Although I wouldn't expect her to walk with you, I know anytime I'm being better about my health my kids pick up some of those habits too. I buy better food so they eat it, we do active things on the weekend so they may come with me.

    How about a Y membership. Ours has a great teen program where they can use the pool, equipment and classes.

    Posted by Jayne July 13, 11 03:15 PM
  1. Just because the pediatrician brings it up doesn't mean she actually has a problem.

    Personally, I think the BMI is a very flawed tool for people who are shorter/stockier/have a more "athletic" build...there are three different kinds of muscle, they weigh differently and proportion people differently...as a mother of two kids who have high BMIs but are, to the naked eye, fit-looking, absolutely not-fat kids, I am tired of hearing from the pediatrician and the school nurse that their BMIs are "borderline."

    As my kids are sitting having their lunches at picnic tables at our swim club this summer, eating turkey and lettuce on whole wheat with strawberries on the side...alongside much smaller kids eating Easy Mac and Cheetos, getting treats from the ice cream machine EVERY DAY at lunch...I get so frustrated. Not because I think MY kids are unhealthy, but because I am sick of hearing about it and defending them (and my parenting - monitoring of their activity levels and food) to their doc at their yearly check ups. He brings it up every time. I know he has to, because our practice follows an AAP script for all patients. Borderline BMI? Mention eating healthier and getting more exercise.

    As for me personally, even when I was at my absolute slimmest, my healthiest weight, taking high-impact 90 minutes exercise classes 4 days per week and walking 60 minutes on the other three days... and only eating from the salad bar in college, I was still a size 10 and needed an eight inch bracelet (standard women's bracelets are a 7). It's just how I'm built. Always bigger, stockier, always "overweight" by those dang charts. And of course my kids are...mine. They have my genes.

    I know too well how this LW's daughter feels.

    Posted by RH July 13, 11 05:08 PM
  1. I get the very strong impression that the LW who asked for "help" has no idea of how she sounds to her daughter's ears. The assumption that her daughter would have the same metabolism and same health problems was a bad place to start. Three years of food being rationed out with constant comments about your mother's problem with weight is eternity in a child's timescale of life.

    The issue here is that the daughter may already feel condemned to a lifetime of being harassed by her mother, and she may have already decided that she can't do anything to please her mother. Food is just the tip of the iceberg. But, so sorry, the motor-mouth can't turn the clock back. You know, the first rule of maintaining a healthy weight is to KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT.

    It would be healthy for the father to invite the daughter to go out for regular walks, or golf, or cycling. He has of course contributed 50% of his daughter's DNA and may have given her some really good genes. He could try offering a new mountain bike after cycling 1000 miles, or working on a set of golf clubs (no cart), or a coral-reef-scuba-diving trip to the Bahamas after swimming 1000 laps, or something that will provide an adult form of achievement and regular physical activity because it feels good.

    Posted by Irene July 13, 11 06:13 PM
  1. For years (I'm 35) my mother has "worried" about my weight and appearance. Regardless of my other accomplishments and concerns, my appearance and weight have always been the foremost things on her mind. I have persistent body issues. Even when told I was gorgeous and stunning in my wedding dress, I could only see how fat I was.

    Don't turn your daughter into me.

    Posted by Wasabiturtle July 14, 11 02:14 PM
  1. Letter writer here. I really do appreciate everyone's input on this. It is such a struggle to figure out whether to say (write) anything more or whether not to. We as parents are being told to get our teens moving! Help them eat right! For goodness sake, there is talk of taking obese kids away from their parents altogether. I cannot figure out how we are supposed to address our kids' weight problems if doing so causes them a lifetime of angst.

    To address those who say 5 ft. 125 lbs can be perfectly fine, I agree. I know that weight is not the defining factor -- I actually debated whether to put it in the letter but decided to offer it to give everyone an order of magnitude (she's not, for instance, 200 lbs and clinically obese). "Anna" has been on the high end of the weight chart since she was born, but she was always extremely muscular and looked very fit. Now, though, she's tipped over into not just WEIGHING on the high side (BMI), let me please stress that she no longer looks fit (definite rolls, obvious cellulite). The weight she gained was not due to muscle, nor height, nor much in the way of extra boobs/hips that she didn't have a couple years ago. It's cellulose. Fat. I know some of you think I am horrible for saying that, but honestly, honestly, it's true. That's why I'm writing -- it's not just the absolute number of pounds. I didn't know how to control my weight as a teen and it was painful. I would love to help her avoid that pain. But how can I possibly help her to avoid it if I don't TALK to her about it?

    She will not bike, not on your life. She "hates" it. None of us golf. She does not like to swim, or run, or basically do anything but walk (not with me). I'm hoping her success with tennis in the past couple of weeks will make her open to doing that on a more regular basis.

    I am going to continue pondering how to talk to her about this as a health issue (like sex and drugs), which is how I've always tried to address it. Again, thanks for your help. I will keep coming back here to read your comments as I feel my way through this difficult issue.

    Posted by MiddleMom July 15, 11 08:22 AM
  1. And the truth comes out. You were fat as a kid and you made a "turn around". Now, you're ashamed of her because she can't do what you did, right? Maybe she makes you worry that you'll never stay thin and that you're just a fat person trapped in a thin person's body, temporarily at least, until the fat person escapes. Or maybe you are still fat and living vicariously through your daughter. This is 100% not about your daughter's body and health. It's about your projecting your own fears and insecurities onto a developing teenager.

    As for avoiding the pain, it doesn't sound like she was in any pain until you started needling her. Now, though, she knows that every conversation with you is going to begin and end with comments about her weight. All her sports or fun activities will be looked at as being in terms of her weight: tennis "helps" so it is "good"; tv "hurts" so it is "bad". Her academic strengths and successes would mean so much more if she just lost those 20 pounds. Gosh, wouldn't she have more friends if she weren't so fat?

    Courts are talking about taking away 200 pound 4 year olds, not 125 pound teenagers. Mirror good eating behaviors, drop a few hints, and leave it at that. The more of an issue you make of this, the more chance you will have of both wrecking her self esteem and destroying any good relationship that you two will have for decades. My wonderful spouse gets to try, every day, to rebuild what little positive body image I have; tells me I'm beautiful even though my mother told me for decades that I was fat and ugly. I hope that your daughter finds someone equally wonderful, since it sounds like you've set her on the same path to self-loathing.

    God help her.

    Posted by wasabiturtle July 15, 11 04:55 PM
  1. Please be careful talking to her. My Mom and Dad always harped on my weight when I was growing up. I was 5'5 and around 125 -135 growing up and loved to eat. I was never too fat, but they saw how I liked food and would worry about me gaining too much. It drove me nuts and led to eating issues later on in my life by eating too much or too little. I never knew what was normal, and to this day still struggle with this. She will figure it out on her own. She sounds like she wants some control over her life so let go of her and she will get there.

    Posted by Jill Ishkanian July 17, 11 08:35 AM
  1. Your condescension and disappointment in your daughter is reading loud and clear in your initial letter and follow up posts.

    First: "nor much in the way of extra boobs/hips that she didn't have a couple years ago. It's cellulose. Fat." Boobs/hips are cellulose/ fat. I think your point is that she is adding fat around her waist or thighs, perhaps, instead of her chest and hips area. Clearly, you are uncomfortable with her carrying any fat on her body.

    Second, you downplay her interest in some very physical activities (dance twice a week, softball and skiing) because "they are not aerobic". Newsflash, dance classes are aerobic. That Zumba class they adverstise at your gym? It's a dance class! So your daughter is getting two hours a week (I'm guessing the classes are an hour each) of intense aerobic exercise which is great (and not to be dismissed). Softball and skiing are both great interval exercises (bursts of intense action followed by slower activity) that burn calories and build strength. I'm guessing you don't actually ski yourself or you would know what an intense workout it is and would be encouraging your daughter to go more often.

    Finally, you say you don't bring it up but her doctor brings it up at each visit. I wonder if you realize that asking your child about her diet and nutrition, her general fitness and activities, and calculating her bmi are standard protocol at an annual checkup.

    I think you need to stop making comments about her weight, her activities or her eating habits. I think you also need to be sure you don't make comments about your own body around her ("I feel pudgy so no dessert for me!"). Just continue to offer nutritious foods at home and keep working out yourself. Offer to have her join you in an activity, but not everytime you go for a walk. Offer to take her skiing more often in the winter. But stop with the comments and don't send her a letter.

    Posted by BubMom July 18, 11 05:11 PM
  1. I think if you write the letter as suggested you will NEVER again have a good relationship with your daughter. As a woman who also struggled with weight issues growing up I was more than aware that I was not the bean pole my friends were. although my mother also took the "health" route it did not help in fact I started hiding food because I didnt want to have a discussion everytime I wanted something sweet. Luckily I never developed a dangerous eating disorder like my college roommate who ended up almoost dying from purging because her mother never understood why she could not be thin like her sisters.

    Posted by ChunkyKid July 18, 11 05:27 PM
  1. Pleeeeeeeeeeease don't write the letter. My mother wrote a million letters to me and my sister growing up, not about weight, but other issues. As adults today, we both have terrible relationships with our mother. We have never forgotten those letters... so please don't write this letter to your daughter.

    Also, I agree with some of the other posters, you're not doing enough to encourage her to engage in more physical activities. Why can't you all go for a walk after dinner as a family? You say she likes to walk, just not with you. So get a treadmill for your home, and let her watch tv as she walks. Or have her go walking with friends.

    And lastly... your snide remark about cellulite is telling. Don't something like 90% of females have cellulite, fat or thin? Sheesh, must be tough having you as a mother.

    Posted by Glad I'm Not Your Daughter July 19, 11 02:38 PM
  1. Wow. Not that anyone is checking this anymore but in case they are, and in case there are other moms out there like me, I have to just say: I'm not writing the letter. Not now, anyway. But also:

    * I really am not the constantly-harping ogre you have mostly decided I am. I'm a regular mom trying to determine if it's POSSIBLE to help her teen choose to exercise and eat better. We are supposed to set a good example by exercising and eating right. My husband and I are doing both. I'm hearing that it's not possible to even mention weight/fitness/whatever even ONCE without turning her into a mess. I don't want that.

    * I did dance, and I do ski, and I have watched countless hours of softball. Let's start with skiing. Skiing is great, but we can only do it on the weekends in winter and it's very expensive. We try to go once a week during the season (about 10 weeks for us, tops), and she comes with us. That's great. I know it can be intense and a good physical workout. And fun! Really fun. I support it fully, as much as our budget can bear. So that's 10 days out of the year. It's a start. As for dance ... I have watched her classes on the monitor in the waiting room (no, I don't watch every week, I have watched once or twice), and I took about a bajillion classes when I was growing up. SOME dance is aerobic. Ballet by and large is not. Nor is Modern. It just isn't, folks. Zumba would be great but that's not what she wants to do. Ballet and modern support grace, strength, flexibility. Aerobic capacity? No, particularly at the intermediate level. This is not "So You Think You Can Dance". Those folks are aerobic!! Wow. Anyhoo, softball. Yup, there are bursts of speed, if you get on base, or if you are in the outfield chasing a ball around. But have you watched a game recently? TONS of sitting on the bench, standing in the field. It's a sport, it's just not one that does a lot for you, strictly talking exercise. That doesn't make it worthless. It's just not really worth counting in terms of exercise. Her DOCTOR actually said so. Her DOCTOR recommended trading it for something more aerobic!

    * We have a treadmill. With a TV. She does not use it. I do sometimes, and her younger brother chooses to sometimes (while watching the Simpsons). I mention it's an option every now and again if she happens to mention that she wants to take a walk. Yeah, you can guess her reaction to that.

    * We women all have cellulite. I know that. I've had plenty, still have plenty, can't do anything about that. The issue is not that she has it. It's that she has more and more of it. It's the INCREASE, not the existence, that I would like to help her avoid.

    * Just in case anyone wondered ... we have bikes and ride them. She hates bikes, doesn't want to ride hers. We don't have a pool or access to one.

    So anyway. I'm not That Mother. I'm not Your Mother. I'm just a regular mom struggling with how to implement "set an example and encourage her" in a way that inspires her instead of alienates her.

    Thanks for listening.

    Posted by MiddleMom July 28, 11 12:20 PM
  1. I can relate to this from your daughters perspective. As a child I was healthy when my parents were in complete control of what I ate. As I entered my teens my weight started to climb upward. I knew about the health risks and that I was bigger than I wanted to be. Bless my Mum she would talk to me about weight and food and encourage me to lose weight. However for me that made things worse. She was trying to encourage me but I didn't need her telling me that I needed to loose weight because all that did was crush my self esteem and cause me to binge in secret. I think had she told me once and left it at that I'd have felt more self secure and been able to tackle my eating habits and my weight. Ironically, her encouragement was of more detriment to my self esteem than my weight and only served to worsen the problem. 11 years on I am still trying to heal the psycological effects of her support and address my weight in a more positive manner.

    Posted by The Chubby Child February 12, 12 06:45 PM
 
24 comments so far...
  1. Thank you for your advice -- I will definitely write the letter. Just to clarify, I have talked with her on an adult level on numerous occasions, saying essentially, "You and I are short and strong and I'm proud of that. But we also have to really watch out for gaining weight, because our bodies like to do that." And then we have a great discussion about how to manage weight and fitness through food choices and exercise. This doesn't seem to have a lasting effect on her behavior, though.

    Posted by MiddleMom July 13, 11 07:41 AM
  1. I wonder if the parents are overly concerned - a BMI of 24.4 is not in the unhealthy range for someone who is otherwise fit. Has the family discussed this with their pediatrician?

    Posted by Sue C July 13, 11 08:11 AM
  1. This relationship needs some growing up.

    Start with a proper primary care physician and a full physical where the daughter goes by herself. Primary care by a pediatrician will soon be cut off anyway--be proactive and help your daughter meet PCP's to choose one.

    Teenagers have a short retention time for lectures on all kinds of "safe" behaviors that also include s*x, dr*gs, alcohol, tobacco, speeding, you name it...Controlling talk is useless. Show them a good example, that will stick for the rest of their lives.

    If you want to help your daughter, get out for an hour's walk with her every evening after her homework is done. CUT THE LECTURE--just walk, that is all that she would ever need to do to maintain a healthy weight. Let her choose different circuits.

    Posted by Irene July 13, 11 10:06 AM
  1. Personally, I would be very very careful about what you put in a letter. It sounds like you've already had these conversations with her and she has a good understanding of what she should be doing -- though, if you haven't already, you might talk to her about how she needs to eat differently from her friends, because of their different activity levels, height and metabolisms. (Also, sometimes skinny friends love to have a not-skinny buddy to compare themselves to, and I would think that she does not want to be that funhouse mirror for them.)

    The thing with a letter is that is really hangs with you loooong after it's been written. That's good in some ways, but poison in others. The negative comments in a letter like that are going to stick like glue. (I am speaking here from personal experience.)

    It sounds like you have had some great conversations with her, and it has to help that you've been able to share your personal struggles. I would think your best ally here is your daughter's doctor. Hearing the tough message from a neutral third party can help. (One of my kids is motivated to keep weight down to avoid glucose blood tests, for example.) The lessons you've already taught her are going to stay with her I am sure. The pressure in teenage years can be very tough, but you've given her the tools to live a healthy life, and I'm sure long term she'll be fine.

    Posted by SandEE July 13, 11 10:23 AM
  1. I strongly disagree with Barbara and agree with Sue C - 125 at 5 feet tall may not be slim, but it's not heavy. If the pediatrician isn't worried, I suggest you may be overreacting, and in this arena, a little overreaction can destroy your relationship with your daughter for life.

    You've already established, in your daughter's mind, that you see her as fat. That hurts A LOT. It's no wonder she's tuning you out. Writing a letter is just going to put down indelibly your thoughts about her body and regardless of your motivations (i.e., her health) she may very well take it as a critique of her appearance. We all know those moms, right? The ones where every time they see you they nitpick about your appearance?

    You provide her healthy food and opportunities for exercise. I'm quite sure her string bean friends provide her with plenty of self-loathing. Step back and let her decide that maybe she'd like to be more fit. This is not a health crisis at this point.

    A positive idea might be to see if she is interested in taking a cooking class or doing more of the cooking. A 15 year old can and should probably be responsible for planning and preparing one family dinner a week. If you watched any of the Jamie Oliver show, part of his outreach is teaching kids to cook healthier meals.

    My mother hounded my sister constantly about her weight (she too was shorter and curvy, especially standing next to me, the family beanpole) and eventually turned her into a person who takes little pleasure in food. That's sad. Food can be a wonderful social experience - trying new and different things with friends and family. My sister is a great cook but rarely allows herself to eat much of what she makes and when she does, compensates with too much exercise.

    Ultimately, you want your daughter to have a healthy relationship with food and exercise. Obsessing about her weight "problem" before it is actually a problem is guaranteed to destroy this.

    Posted by Q July 13, 11 10:25 AM
  1. Hi folks. Thanks for your interest. Yes, her pediatrician started telling her 3 years ago that when a person stops growing taller, the only direction to grow is "rounder" and to watch the food and step up the exercise to be sure that doesn't happen. I never bring up weight in the visit -- the Pedi does. And I did get thrown out of the visit this year, so they've had time to talk without me in the room.

    Sue, I know that higher BMI can be okay depending on body composition -- my daughter is healthy and strong but there is getting to be a pretty high proportion of fat to muscle. That's what has me worried. It's getting worse, not better. And it's also visually obvious.

    Irene, you amused me with the supposition that my daughter would WANT to walk with me every evening after dinner! That makes me chuckle. I could invite her and I do, but she usually says no or gets huffy and sees the invitation as a sneaky way of saying she's fat. Or she doesn't want to get sweaty, or wants to take a shower, or ... the excuses for avoiding "exercise" are myriad.

    Posted by MiddleMom July 13, 11 10:52 AM
  1. I am no expert but this advice just makes me really nervous. I have a few friends that struggled with eating disorders and I really think if all the discussions have already happened then it is time to lay off. Maybe have one last discussion with her letting her know how beautiful, strong, and smart she is and that you love her dearly and are so proud of her and if she ever want to talk to you about weight(because you know a lot of teenage girls go through some body issues) that you are there to talk but otherwise you are going to lay off. You love her no matter what she looks like.
    If her body type is that challenging this will be a life long struggle for her. I can almost promise you that she knows her body is different than her tiny sized friends and she hates it. Having her mom bring it up could be very painful for her even if done in a loving way(their ears just seem to hear criticism not helpful advice). If she does get bigger in the next years than so be it. She needs to learn how to control it on her own and just feel loved and confident through these very tough teenage years. I don't know that is just my gut feeling on this tricky issue!

    Posted by Amy Sidoti July 13, 11 12:02 PM
  1. Please, please be careful with this. My mom was on me about my weight all the time - in the guise of being helpful - and I have never really gotten over my resentment over that or my hatred of fitting rooms. Everything was always looked at with a critical eye. Eventually, all I ever wanted to wear was baggy jeans and sweatshirts. The more she talked at me about exercise, the less I wanted to do it.

    Ask her if there's a class in the area - like zumba or kickboxing or something fun - that she might want to take. If she enjoys dance classes, she might like something like that. I guarantee her twiggy friends are doing some form of exercise. When I was that age, I had friends who biked, swam, walked or ran regularly in addition to their school sports commitments, which is how they stayed so thin.

    It might be helpful to have her pedi or PCP talk to her about her weight and WHY it's important for her to exercise and eat better. Coming from her mother and father it can sound like criticism; coming from a professional care provider it may sound more like health directives.

    I would also remind you that you should tell your daughter you love her no matter what she looks like. It's hard enough to be a pre adolescent and adolescent girl without thinking that your parents think you're fat and ugly.

    Posted by T's Mummy July 13, 11 12:05 PM
  1. I don't understand why the LW is so concerned. She describes her daughter's weight as "out of control" because she has put on weight over the last 3 years. Of course she has! Even if the daughter has stopped growing taller, she is still developing. Guess what, hips and a chest weigh more!

    I'd be concerned that the LW is going to do more harm than good. The daughter is still in the normal BMI range. Just because she isn't stick thin doesn't mean the mom should give her a letter telling her she needs to lose weight.

    Posted by Marie July 13, 11 01:29 PM
  1. I never had weight issues as a child, but I had others that my parents dealt with like this and as a young teen, it hurt and felt like nothing but criticism. Most of my friends who experienced similar felt the same way.

    A letter can easily backfire. If she's already getting huffy and tuning you out, the letter is just going to reinforce to her that you "hate" her and how she looks.

    Leave her alone for now. She knows the health benefits of maintaining a good weight - and you model them by not allowing her to eat junk at home and by maintaining a healthy body yourself.

    Has it occurred to ANYONE that her weight gain and seeming refusal to do anything about it is also her way of defying the parents or authority in general? The more she hears/reads/sees and is nagged at home, the more she may dig her heels in just to give everyone the big ol' middle finger.

    If anything more is said, I would only matter-of-factly tell her that she can buy her own clothes if this wardrobe gets too tight - and that it gets a lot harder to shed the weight when you get older. After that, let it be.

    Posted by Phe July 13, 11 01:30 PM
  1. I agree wholeheartedly with 'Q'. I'm 5'1'' and 135 pounds and although I'm not thin, I'm not "fat" or have a "problem". You might be making a bigger deal of it than it is, and it's very likely you could be hurting your relationship with your daughter if you keep brining her weight up as an issue.

    If you are going to write a letter, tell her how proud you are of her, how much you love her and that you just want the best for her and if she ever needs to talk about anything, you're open to listen. There is a good chance she could come to you with what she's worried about.

    Posted by GS July 13, 11 01:37 PM
  1. I agree you should be very careful with this, because constant harping on this could send the message that you value her weight/appearance more than you value her, which doesn't seem to be what you're trying to do. T’s Mummy is right on with that.

    Have you asked her if she'd like to make changes in her lifestyle? Is *she* happy at the weight she's at? Is *she* concerned about future weight gain? Unless she wants to make changes, nagging won’t help. The best you can do is set a good example, and support her when/if she does want to get more active.

    One thing to keep in the back of your mind: in some cases, the "twiggy" friends who can eat everything they want *do* have faster metabolisms or are very active. But from my high school experience, several of them also were purging on a regular basis, so if anyone suggested I be more like them because they were thinner, that irritated me to no end (and reinforced the idea that adults are clueless). That’s another reason why your discussion with your daughter should focus on her being healthy and feeling good, not just on her superficial appearance. Her classmates will give her enough superficial judgments without your help.

    Posted by Anon Commenter July 13, 11 01:50 PM
  1. I think Barbara is right on. We are so afraid of speaking about weight issues in this country. We have no problem telling our kids about the dangers of smoking, why shouldn't we tell them about the similar risks that are associated with weight and a sedentary lifestyle.

    I would address this right on as a health issue. I like the way you associated that you have face the same issue. We have had 2 very early heart attacks in my family so I'm very upfront with my kids (15 &13) that healthy eating and exercise will always have to be part of their lifestyle but I always approach it in terms of health not looks.

    Although I wouldn't expect her to walk with you, I know anytime I'm being better about my health my kids pick up some of those habits too. I buy better food so they eat it, we do active things on the weekend so they may come with me.

    How about a Y membership. Ours has a great teen program where they can use the pool, equipment and classes.

    Posted by Jayne July 13, 11 03:15 PM
  1. Just because the pediatrician brings it up doesn't mean she actually has a problem.

    Personally, I think the BMI is a very flawed tool for people who are shorter/stockier/have a more "athletic" build...there are three different kinds of muscle, they weigh differently and proportion people differently...as a mother of two kids who have high BMIs but are, to the naked eye, fit-looking, absolutely not-fat kids, I am tired of hearing from the pediatrician and the school nurse that their BMIs are "borderline."

    As my kids are sitting having their lunches at picnic tables at our swim club this summer, eating turkey and lettuce on whole wheat with strawberries on the side...alongside much smaller kids eating Easy Mac and Cheetos, getting treats from the ice cream machine EVERY DAY at lunch...I get so frustrated. Not because I think MY kids are unhealthy, but because I am sick of hearing about it and defending them (and my parenting - monitoring of their activity levels and food) to their doc at their yearly check ups. He brings it up every time. I know he has to, because our practice follows an AAP script for all patients. Borderline BMI? Mention eating healthier and getting more exercise.

    As for me personally, even when I was at my absolute slimmest, my healthiest weight, taking high-impact 90 minutes exercise classes 4 days per week and walking 60 minutes on the other three days... and only eating from the salad bar in college, I was still a size 10 and needed an eight inch bracelet (standard women's bracelets are a 7). It's just how I'm built. Always bigger, stockier, always "overweight" by those dang charts. And of course my kids are...mine. They have my genes.

    I know too well how this LW's daughter feels.

    Posted by RH July 13, 11 05:08 PM
  1. I get the very strong impression that the LW who asked for "help" has no idea of how she sounds to her daughter's ears. The assumption that her daughter would have the same metabolism and same health problems was a bad place to start. Three years of food being rationed out with constant comments about your mother's problem with weight is eternity in a child's timescale of life.

    The issue here is that the daughter may already feel condemned to a lifetime of being harassed by her mother, and she may have already decided that she can't do anything to please her mother. Food is just the tip of the iceberg. But, so sorry, the motor-mouth can't turn the clock back. You know, the first rule of maintaining a healthy weight is to KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT.

    It would be healthy for the father to invite the daughter to go out for regular walks, or golf, or cycling. He has of course contributed 50% of his daughter's DNA and may have given her some really good genes. He could try offering a new mountain bike after cycling 1000 miles, or working on a set of golf clubs (no cart), or a coral-reef-scuba-diving trip to the Bahamas after swimming 1000 laps, or something that will provide an adult form of achievement and regular physical activity because it feels good.

    Posted by Irene July 13, 11 06:13 PM
  1. For years (I'm 35) my mother has "worried" about my weight and appearance. Regardless of my other accomplishments and concerns, my appearance and weight have always been the foremost things on her mind. I have persistent body issues. Even when told I was gorgeous and stunning in my wedding dress, I could only see how fat I was.

    Don't turn your daughter into me.

    Posted by Wasabiturtle July 14, 11 02:14 PM
  1. Letter writer here. I really do appreciate everyone's input on this. It is such a struggle to figure out whether to say (write) anything more or whether not to. We as parents are being told to get our teens moving! Help them eat right! For goodness sake, there is talk of taking obese kids away from their parents altogether. I cannot figure out how we are supposed to address our kids' weight problems if doing so causes them a lifetime of angst.

    To address those who say 5 ft. 125 lbs can be perfectly fine, I agree. I know that weight is not the defining factor -- I actually debated whether to put it in the letter but decided to offer it to give everyone an order of magnitude (she's not, for instance, 200 lbs and clinically obese). "Anna" has been on the high end of the weight chart since she was born, but she was always extremely muscular and looked very fit. Now, though, she's tipped over into not just WEIGHING on the high side (BMI), let me please stress that she no longer looks fit (definite rolls, obvious cellulite). The weight she gained was not due to muscle, nor height, nor much in the way of extra boobs/hips that she didn't have a couple years ago. It's cellulose. Fat. I know some of you think I am horrible for saying that, but honestly, honestly, it's true. That's why I'm writing -- it's not just the absolute number of pounds. I didn't know how to control my weight as a teen and it was painful. I would love to help her avoid that pain. But how can I possibly help her to avoid it if I don't TALK to her about it?

    She will not bike, not on your life. She "hates" it. None of us golf. She does not like to swim, or run, or basically do anything but walk (not with me). I'm hoping her success with tennis in the past couple of weeks will make her open to doing that on a more regular basis.

    I am going to continue pondering how to talk to her about this as a health issue (like sex and drugs), which is how I've always tried to address it. Again, thanks for your help. I will keep coming back here to read your comments as I feel my way through this difficult issue.

    Posted by MiddleMom July 15, 11 08:22 AM
  1. And the truth comes out. You were fat as a kid and you made a "turn around". Now, you're ashamed of her because she can't do what you did, right? Maybe she makes you worry that you'll never stay thin and that you're just a fat person trapped in a thin person's body, temporarily at least, until the fat person escapes. Or maybe you are still fat and living vicariously through your daughter. This is 100% not about your daughter's body and health. It's about your projecting your own fears and insecurities onto a developing teenager.

    As for avoiding the pain, it doesn't sound like she was in any pain until you started needling her. Now, though, she knows that every conversation with you is going to begin and end with comments about her weight. All her sports or fun activities will be looked at as being in terms of her weight: tennis "helps" so it is "good"; tv "hurts" so it is "bad". Her academic strengths and successes would mean so much more if she just lost those 20 pounds. Gosh, wouldn't she have more friends if she weren't so fat?

    Courts are talking about taking away 200 pound 4 year olds, not 125 pound teenagers. Mirror good eating behaviors, drop a few hints, and leave it at that. The more of an issue you make of this, the more chance you will have of both wrecking her self esteem and destroying any good relationship that you two will have for decades. My wonderful spouse gets to try, every day, to rebuild what little positive body image I have; tells me I'm beautiful even though my mother told me for decades that I was fat and ugly. I hope that your daughter finds someone equally wonderful, since it sounds like you've set her on the same path to self-loathing.

    God help her.

    Posted by wasabiturtle July 15, 11 04:55 PM
  1. Please be careful talking to her. My Mom and Dad always harped on my weight when I was growing up. I was 5'5 and around 125 -135 growing up and loved to eat. I was never too fat, but they saw how I liked food and would worry about me gaining too much. It drove me nuts and led to eating issues later on in my life by eating too much or too little. I never knew what was normal, and to this day still struggle with this. She will figure it out on her own. She sounds like she wants some control over her life so let go of her and she will get there.

    Posted by Jill Ishkanian July 17, 11 08:35 AM
  1. Your condescension and disappointment in your daughter is reading loud and clear in your initial letter and follow up posts.

    First: "nor much in the way of extra boobs/hips that she didn't have a couple years ago. It's cellulose. Fat." Boobs/hips are cellulose/ fat. I think your point is that she is adding fat around her waist or thighs, perhaps, instead of her chest and hips area. Clearly, you are uncomfortable with her carrying any fat on her body.

    Second, you downplay her interest in some very physical activities (dance twice a week, softball and skiing) because "they are not aerobic". Newsflash, dance classes are aerobic. That Zumba class they adverstise at your gym? It's a dance class! So your daughter is getting two hours a week (I'm guessing the classes are an hour each) of intense aerobic exercise which is great (and not to be dismissed). Softball and skiing are both great interval exercises (bursts of intense action followed by slower activity) that burn calories and build strength. I'm guessing you don't actually ski yourself or you would know what an intense workout it is and would be encouraging your daughter to go more often.

    Finally, you say you don't bring it up but her doctor brings it up at each visit. I wonder if you realize that asking your child about her diet and nutrition, her general fitness and activities, and calculating her bmi are standard protocol at an annual checkup.

    I think you need to stop making comments about her weight, her activities or her eating habits. I think you also need to be sure you don't make comments about your own body around her ("I feel pudgy so no dessert for me!"). Just continue to offer nutritious foods at home and keep working out yourself. Offer to have her join you in an activity, but not everytime you go for a walk. Offer to take her skiing more often in the winter. But stop with the comments and don't send her a letter.

    Posted by BubMom July 18, 11 05:11 PM
  1. I think if you write the letter as suggested you will NEVER again have a good relationship with your daughter. As a woman who also struggled with weight issues growing up I was more than aware that I was not the bean pole my friends were. although my mother also took the "health" route it did not help in fact I started hiding food because I didnt want to have a discussion everytime I wanted something sweet. Luckily I never developed a dangerous eating disorder like my college roommate who ended up almoost dying from purging because her mother never understood why she could not be thin like her sisters.

    Posted by ChunkyKid July 18, 11 05:27 PM
  1. Pleeeeeeeeeeease don't write the letter. My mother wrote a million letters to me and my sister growing up, not about weight, but other issues. As adults today, we both have terrible relationships with our mother. We have never forgotten those letters... so please don't write this letter to your daughter.

    Also, I agree with some of the other posters, you're not doing enough to encourage her to engage in more physical activities. Why can't you all go for a walk after dinner as a family? You say she likes to walk, just not with you. So get a treadmill for your home, and let her watch tv as she walks. Or have her go walking with friends.

    And lastly... your snide remark about cellulite is telling. Don't something like 90% of females have cellulite, fat or thin? Sheesh, must be tough having you as a mother.

    Posted by Glad I'm Not Your Daughter July 19, 11 02:38 PM
  1. Wow. Not that anyone is checking this anymore but in case they are, and in case there are other moms out there like me, I have to just say: I'm not writing the letter. Not now, anyway. But also:

    * I really am not the constantly-harping ogre you have mostly decided I am. I'm a regular mom trying to determine if it's POSSIBLE to help her teen choose to exercise and eat better. We are supposed to set a good example by exercising and eating right. My husband and I are doing both. I'm hearing that it's not possible to even mention weight/fitness/whatever even ONCE without turning her into a mess. I don't want that.

    * I did dance, and I do ski, and I have watched countless hours of softball. Let's start with skiing. Skiing is great, but we can only do it on the weekends in winter and it's very expensive. We try to go once a week during the season (about 10 weeks for us, tops), and she comes with us. That's great. I know it can be intense and a good physical workout. And fun! Really fun. I support it fully, as much as our budget can bear. So that's 10 days out of the year. It's a start. As for dance ... I have watched her classes on the monitor in the waiting room (no, I don't watch every week, I have watched once or twice), and I took about a bajillion classes when I was growing up. SOME dance is aerobic. Ballet by and large is not. Nor is Modern. It just isn't, folks. Zumba would be great but that's not what she wants to do. Ballet and modern support grace, strength, flexibility. Aerobic capacity? No, particularly at the intermediate level. This is not "So You Think You Can Dance". Those folks are aerobic!! Wow. Anyhoo, softball. Yup, there are bursts of speed, if you get on base, or if you are in the outfield chasing a ball around. But have you watched a game recently? TONS of sitting on the bench, standing in the field. It's a sport, it's just not one that does a lot for you, strictly talking exercise. That doesn't make it worthless. It's just not really worth counting in terms of exercise. Her DOCTOR actually said so. Her DOCTOR recommended trading it for something more aerobic!

    * We have a treadmill. With a TV. She does not use it. I do sometimes, and her younger brother chooses to sometimes (while watching the Simpsons). I mention it's an option every now and again if she happens to mention that she wants to take a walk. Yeah, you can guess her reaction to that.

    * We women all have cellulite. I know that. I've had plenty, still have plenty, can't do anything about that. The issue is not that she has it. It's that she has more and more of it. It's the INCREASE, not the existence, that I would like to help her avoid.

    * Just in case anyone wondered ... we have bikes and ride them. She hates bikes, doesn't want to ride hers. We don't have a pool or access to one.

    So anyway. I'm not That Mother. I'm not Your Mother. I'm just a regular mom struggling with how to implement "set an example and encourage her" in a way that inspires her instead of alienates her.

    Thanks for listening.

    Posted by MiddleMom July 28, 11 12:20 PM
  1. I can relate to this from your daughters perspective. As a child I was healthy when my parents were in complete control of what I ate. As I entered my teens my weight started to climb upward. I knew about the health risks and that I was bigger than I wanted to be. Bless my Mum she would talk to me about weight and food and encourage me to lose weight. However for me that made things worse. She was trying to encourage me but I didn't need her telling me that I needed to loose weight because all that did was crush my self esteem and cause me to binge in secret. I think had she told me once and left it at that I'd have felt more self secure and been able to tackle my eating habits and my weight. Ironically, her encouragement was of more detriment to my self esteem than my weight and only served to worsen the problem. 11 years on I am still trying to heal the psycological effects of her support and address my weight in a more positive manner.

    Posted by The Chubby Child February 12, 12 06:45 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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