According to the CDC the childhood obesity rate has tripled since the 1970’s leaving 1 in 5 school age children to shoulder this deadly problem. How do you encourage a child to have a positive attitude about weight loss and fitness without it taking a toll on their self esteem? How much a person weights and how they feel about the image they project to the world is a very personal and sensitive topic and it should be handled with love and concern. It’s important that we help our children navigate this difficult landscape by giving them the correct tools to manage their weight and overall health. We should be helping them develop the right attitude long before weight and fitness become potential problems.
Watch your words
The way that you speak about your body or those around you will become the internal voice that your child develops. If you are constantly talking about dieting or using words like “fat” or “overweight” to describe yourself or others, it is very likely that your child will start thinking the same about themselves. Growing up my best friend’s mother was always hard on her about her weight and it took a major toll on her self esteem. By the time we were in middle school my friend had already tried dozens of crazy diets to lose the “baby fat” her mother always complained about but with little progress. To this day my friend still struggles with her weight and so does her mother. It saddens me because I know this family well and I know that the mom had good intentions. She loves her daughter and wants the best for her but unfortunately her approach to weight loss harbored criticism and self esteem issues instead of the loving encouragement that she was looking for.
I feel like the best approach is not even making weight an issue, instead of talking about calories and pounds we should be talking about healthy eating and fitness goals. We shouldn’t talk about weight in such a way that it makes our children feel like they need to engage in a weight loss strategy. Adolescents and teenagers should not participate in dieting unless recommended by their doctor and in such instances they would be placed under the care of a dietician. The psychological effects of dieting for them are too risky, so if health is not an issue then their weight isn’t either.
Don’t make weight loss about a number
This isn’t easy to do. I feel like I have always been conditioned to look at weight as being that perfect number or fitting into the right size of jeans but honestly this is a very dangerous view to pass along to your children. I feel like this view of weight loss leads to unrealistic expectations, depression, unhealthy dieting, and a low self-esteem. Demonstrate an attitude for your child that is about your overall health and wellbeing.
I like to think of weight loss in terms of toning, building muscle, increasing endurance, keeping my heart healthy, and challenging myself; these are ideas I hope to pass along to my children. Yes there are times when weight loss does need to be about a number. For instance, my husband who is 5’7” tall was pushing 200 lbs this winter so he has been exercising to lose weight but he is also training to run his third marathon. He has a realistic weight loss plan of getting his weight to 160-165 and he is following a training schedule to be marathon ready by the fall. It’s not just about the number on the scale and it is teaching my children that if you want to reach a goal then you have to work hard for it.
When you Diet
If you go on a diet or your child’s pediatrician recommends that they be placed on a diet, make sure that you stress healthy habits and don’t support crash diets or dieting fads. Very few kids need to diet and children and teens should not be placed on a diet unless recommended by their doctor. In fact even using the word diet can cause negative emotional and psychological consequences. Most experts suggest making weight loss a whole-family approach by making simple changes in your family’s diet that support healthier food choices.
Encourage an active lifestyle
There are so many fun ways you can be active and it can be even more enjoyable when it’s a family activity. When we are active our brain is releasing endorphins which help us feel good and maintain a more positive attitude. My husband and I love outdoor activities and we are always encouraging our children to come along. Whether it’s playing sports, hiking, running, biking, or walking we are always trying to get outside to do something fun.
It’s so important to appropriately model a healthy attitude about weight and weight loss for our children not only for their self-confidence but also to help establish understanding. If they are not learning these skills from you, they may be picking up harmful ideas from their peers. Teach your children that self confidence trumps public opinions. It doesn’t matter what the scale or others say, if they are happy about their weight and they are healthy then nothing else matters. We need to teach our children to not allow other voices to quiet their own; they need to let that inner voice of love and reason shine. Teaching your child self-assurance and love for who they are is a gift that will guide them out of the dark lows of life.
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