Sometimes it feels like it’s easier to talk to a wall than to your teenage daughter! When it comes to tricky topics like her weight, you might not even know where to begin. But as her mother, you are responsible for showing her how to take care of herself. Evelyn Resh shares six proactive and loving ways to help you talk to your teen about food and exercise that will help build lifelong healthy habits.
Childhood obesity rates are at an all-time high. This is the first time in our history as a country that childhood and adolescent obesity has been highlighted as a public health crisis. Kids and teens in the United States are facing lifelong health problems because they’re overeating and underexercising.
The onus of responsibility for helping kids eat well and stay slim is ultimately on their parents. We know changes in family habits can go a long way with kids. And, as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. But, what if you already have a teen girl who is tipping the scale way above her recommended weight? The horse is out of the barn by this time, and parents, especially mothers, often feel completely hopeless in this situation. Mothers’ responses can vacillate between trying to shame their girls into eating less and exercising more or becoming so prescriptive that they create a police state around food at home. The truth is, neither of these approaches is likely to be effective.
As a healthcare provider to teens, I suggest you take a proactive but behind-the-scenes approach to helping your daughter gain a better relationship with food and exercise. Parents need to keep in mind they are personae non grata for teens. Adolescent girls are in the process of becoming their own people, so the strategies that work for kids won’t necessarily work for teens. Plus, being right “up in someone’s business” about something they’re having difficulty managing is annoying at any age. Teen girls need a kind-of MapQuest intervention from parents. Here are some examples of ways you can be helpful when you’re daughter is desperately trying to beat the battle of the bulge.
First: Eat out less often
Americans used to go out for meals only on special occasions. Not anymore. There are folks who eat out two and three times a day! Not only is this costly, but the portion sizes are always too big, and as patrons, you lose control over what you’re actually eating. Cooking and eating meals at home is less expensive and leads to less consumption.
Next: Never shame your daughter or call her names
Referring to your daughter as my “chubby little cherub” or my “plump little hen” is a mistake. Remarks like these will lead your daughter right to her favorite cookies for comfort—or possibly to something worse, like an eating disorder. You need to be complimentary toward your daughter and help her establish a friendly relationship with her flesh and reduce her feelings of “body as enemy or point of mockery.”
Next: Eat as many foods as possible that don’t have an ingredient list
Have you ever really read the ingredients in Cheetos or Oreos? You practically need to be a chemist to understand them. Apples have one ingredient—apples. Stop buying and eating stuff you can’t understand; keep it out of the house. If you crave cookies, make them yourself and limit the frequency and quantity to one batch per week—for the whole family.
Next: Make healthy snacks easily available
Teens often snack and graze versus sitting down to meals. So mitigate possible damage by keeping healthy snacks in the house. I’m not talking about unadorned pieces of celery—nobody wants to eat that. But fruit and string cheese is far better than a granola bar. There are myriad options for healthy snaking available.
Next: Encourage exercise in your daughter’s life
When your daughter starts a new semester or there is a change in season, ask her what sport or physical activity she’s planning to participate in. If none of those offered at school appeal to her, sign her up at the local gym, adopt a dog for her to walk (pay her to do this, if necessary) or take a yoga class with her.
Next: Be a shining example
As I’ve said before, your daughter is always watching and taking things in, which means that your view of health and wellness is important. Make it clear to everyone in your household that interfering with your fitness time is a crime punishable by death and that if you don’t exercise, you’ll be a witch to contend with.
Helping girls lose weight and keep it off is difficult—especially when your daughter is keeping you at a distance. But the process may feel less daunting if you change your perspective and think of this problem as a puzzle to solve. And remember, we need to partner with our daughters with an eye on health, not skinny. And if you do all this and your daughter remains a bit full-figured—so what? People can be healthy, even when they’re not lean.
Evelyn Resh is director of sexuality and relationships programming for Miraval Resorts in Tucson. She is a certified sexuality counselor and nurse-midwife and continues her practice in both fields in Tucson and Western Massachusetts. She has taken care of teens and women of all ages in OB-GYN and primary care settings for more than 20 years and specializes in working with women 25 and under. She is also the mother of a 19-year- old daughter. Evelyn speaks all over the nation on topics related to women’s health and sexual satisfaction and is the author of the new book The Secret Lives of Teen Girls: What Your Mother Wouldn’t Talk about but Your Daughter Needs to Know published by Hay House Publishers.