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Daughter Has Weight Problems
Q: My daughter (13) and I just had a fight because she says I'm watching her weight and it makes her feel bad. She started to cry, and then I started to cry. I think she feels really uncomfortable, and I am feeling really down. What should I do?
A: You are caught in the tension and conflict over your daughter being fat (or getting fat) that tears apart many mothers and daughters. The direct, short answer is for you to stop nagging her or "watching over her" about food, fat, exercise or anything else related to her body size. She is at an age now where she could not be more sensitive about how she looks. She wants to fit in with her peers. She doesn't want to be "the fat girl." Her hormones are running rampant and significantly affecting her metabolism, her sexual development and her emotions.
She is besieged every day, as are all our nation's girls and women, by images of females that tell them they must be thin to be appealing. These images have created an obsessive fear of being fat and an overwhelming number of girls with eating disorders.
Your daughter knows the difference between a Twinkie and a skinless piece of chicken. If she is eating too much junk food or just plain too much food, it's not because she is hungry. She is using food for other psychological/behavioral reasons -- anxiety, self-medication, to combat boredom, as a mindless activity to do while watching TV, etc.
Of course there is a genetic component that plays a role in determining body size, but that factor is not the most significant in determining whether kids are fat or thin. A healthy diet and getting regular exercise are the two most significant determinants in anyone's body size.
I would suggest that you check out your own issues concerning your body size, food, and obesity. Your worries impact your daughter's thoughts, emotions and behaviors regarding her weight. She should not be "at war" with her growing body. You can help her by apologizing for pressuring her in this matter. It does not matter how well meaning your "watching her weight" has been. It has hurt, shamed, and angered her. She needs to know that her size will never affect whether you love her or appreciate her.
Make sure that your home has healthy foods in it but don't make it a "fat-free zone." Model healthy eating and exercise behaviors without drawing attention to yourself in the process. If you feel that your daughter is reaching out to you for help in this area, despite her expressed anger and sadness, simply ask her if there is anything that you can do to support her.
It might be worthwhile for you to consult with a therapist who focuses on these teenage body image/obesity issues. There are specialists in this area who cover all aspects of the problem -- family dynamics, nutrition, individual emotional issues. Please also do a word search on our site as I have written more extensively on this matter and we have provided a list of helpful resources as well.
I am sure that you can heal the sadness and separation that is currently felt. This is an especially sensitive area, as you well know. Be compassionate, listen to her and show her that you love her unconditionally.
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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.