fitsmiForMoms.com Features Obesity Expert Dr. Kerri Boutelle’s Top Ten Worst Things Parents Can Do When a Child is Overweight

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Parents of overweight kids get expert advice from fitsmiForMoms.com and Dr. Kerri Boutelle just in time for the New Year.

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Dr. Kerri Boutelle, nationally recognized childhood and adolescent obesity expert shares with fitsmiForMoms.com what works and doesn’t work when trying to help your child lose weight. fitsmiForMoms.com is the first social network for parents of overweight kids and teens and provides the specialized support, information, and expert advice that parents need to help their overweight child.

“Parents want to work with their kids. They want to try to help them. And so when they see their adolescent gaining weight, they automatically want to try to intervene. However, it often comes out in ways that don’t really work that well,” explained Dr. Boutelle, Associate Professor at UCSD in Pediatrics and Psychiatry, on a recent fitsmiForMoms.com Radio interview with founder and CEO of fitsmi.com and fitsmiForMoms.com, Linda Frankenbach. To hear the entire podcast, go to fitsmiForMoms.com.

According to Dr. Boutelle, the top ten mistakes parents should try to avoid and what to do instead, include:

1. Nag. All parents worry about their overweight child, and they often remind their child about eating and weight issues, either consciously or unconsciously. It never works, yet parents continue to do it. So the next time you open your mouth to say, “Don’t you want to eat a better breakfast?” or “Geez, get off the couch already!”: STOP. Change direction by biting a raw carrot or going outside for a brisk walk yourself.

2. Ignore it or deny it, and hope it goes away. Also does not usually work. And kids can continue to gain weight, which makes it more difficult to lose later on.

3. Motivate with guilt, i.e. say things like, “Can’t you control yourself?” “If you cared about me, you would stop eating!” Guilt is usually not productive, and it can lead to negative feelings and emotional overeating. In addition, when teens feel guilty, they often do the opposite of what you want them to do.

4. Offer money or prizes. Money is a good motivator as long as the teen needs it and as long as it continues. I do not recommend this unless you want to pay your teen forever, and at increased rates to keep them motivated over time. And what happens when they leave the nest?

5. Remind your teen to reduce food intake during dinner, or, during an overeating episode. When emotions are high, teens can’t listen to advice and parents are not good at giving it. Take a deep breath, say nothing during the moment, and address it at another time when both of you are calm.

6. Talk to your teen about their weight in front of other family members or friends. Some parents use this strategy, especially when they feel that they are running out of good alternatives. But this can lead to feelings of embarrassment and/or anger, leading to emotional overeating (see #3).

7. Ask other people to talk to the teen about their weight. Might work sometimes, but almost guaranteed to annoy or anger your teen, who will resent your visible interference. Plus, any success will be attributed to the influential other, not to you or your teen.

8. Talk to teen in a directive, face-to-face manner. You may think that you need to grab your teen by the shoulders and sit them down for a serious, life-changing encounter, but this is often a recipe for disaster or shut-down. Try casual, spontaneous conversations, ideally triggered by something the teen brings up herself. I’m a big fan of talking in the car, which takes away some of the confrontation because you can’t stare at each other face-to-face.

9. Be the food police. You may think it’s imperative to eliminate all processed foods and whip your family’s tastebuds into whole-grain, high-fiber, and low-fat shape, but teens like to make their own choices. If you’re too dictatorial, it may backfire, and you may find your teen hoarding Snickers bars under the bed or secretly stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way home from school.

10. Worry too much about damaging their self-esteem. Most teens already know they are overweight, and are eager for someone to give them some hope and a path towards a better future. Any “damage” has already been done by the thin-obsessed culture around them – your bringing it up in a gentle, respectful, practical way is only going to make them feel loved and, hopefully, curious about a healthier life ahead.

fitsmiForMoms.com, a web community for parents of children struggling with their weight, is a separate companion site to fitsmi.com. fitsmi.com is a web community where teen girls struggling with their weight (ages13-18) can go to feel good about themselves, set goals and stay on track by using fitsmi.com’s Change Machine, get reliable information, laugh, build friendships, and find support.

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Susan S. Raisch
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