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Q: My daughter was diagnosed as obese the last time we went to the doctor. I knew she was heavy but not obese. She is 16 years old and I can control what she eats for breakfast and dinner. We are basically on a low-fat diet at home. We use low-fat foods and eat beef only once or twice a week. We eat a lot of broiled chicken and vegetarian stir frys. What else can I do about diet and how can I motivate my daughter to get some exercise?
A: The last thing your daughter needs to hear from you or anyone else is that she is OBESE. Your doctor was well-meaning in telling your daughter that she would be healthier if she weighed less, but for a 16-year-old girl to hear she is, in essence, abnormal, is very demoralizing. The fact is that this country's kids are way too heavy and way too inactive. This combination is usually a good predictor of a child growing into an overweight, inactive (unhealthy) adult.
Don't center the life of your daughter around dieting and losing weight. Don't let her self-image become shattered because of this doctor's pronouncement. Continue to cook healthy foods and serve reasonable portions. She probably won't participate in any physical activity on a regular basis unless she takes some enjoyment from doing it. Can the two of you start taking walks together three times a week to kick off some activity? How about a recreational, non-competitive sports league at the YWCA? Please ask her some open-ended questions about how she would like to handle this part of her life, indicating that you'll support her 100 percent.
It' a lot easier to tackle reshaping your body and exercising if you do it with someone else. As she reshapes her body and makes it more fit and strong, don't have her focus on the scale. Focus on staying active, making gradual progress in the areas of aerobic and anaerobic activity. A consultation with a supportive female nutritionist and exercise specialist might be a good beginning. Don't ever let her fall into the trap of believing her worth is measured by her body size. Focus on the health aspect, not the sex appeal. How you and other family and friends treat food and their bodies exerts a strong influence on her. Good luck. Keep me posted.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.