It is normal, especially as a parent, to worry about your teenager’s weight. However, an obsessive focus regarding a number on the scale can be unhealthy. Too much negative attention to weight can harm a growing teen, whose body and mind are both developing and easily influenced in adolescent years. It is common to have questions about how best to support your teen, and it is even okay to wonder about ways that you can help to model healthy habits as a parent.
Focus on health and not weight. Don’t tell your teen they need to lose weight. The bottom line is that when it comes to a teen’s weight, parents should respectfully discuss concerns, talk about and model healthy habits, and avoid focusing on weight as they aim to assist a teen in finding what works for them individually. While weight can be a challenging topic to discuss, learning how to communicate concerns and model habits to help your teen is worth investing time and effort in.
Read on to discover simple tips for discussing weight-related topics with your teen in a helpful and encouraging way.
How to Talk to Your Teenager About Their Weight
First and foremost, it is important to find out how your teen feels about their own body. If they view themselves as “too big” or “fat”, it is crucial to learn where those thoughts and feelings are coming from. Common sources prompting negative thoughts and feelings can include (but aren’t limited to) bullies, feelings of embarrassment, thoughts of comparison, family pressures, and influences of the media. The following are helpful aspects of any talk about weight that can be important to keep in mind.
Be Patient & Mindful of Your Teen’s Pace
During the process of weight management and as you and your teen learn to discuss sensitive topics, it is key to have patience. Each teenager will grow and change at different paces and so it is good to remember that diet and weight are just a part of health as a whole. It may be normal for some teens to be bigger and others smaller as they go through different times of growth and development. That’s okay!
Be Direct & Present With Your Teen
When the topic of weight comes up, it should be addressed directly, openly, and immediately (or as soon as possible or appropriate to do so). Validate your child’s concerns while assuring them that if their growth, eating, and activity for their age is normal they should not be preoccupied with size and weight. On the other hand, if they are overweight, assure them that there are healthcare professionals trained to help, in addition to family and friends that love and support them as well.
Should My Teenager Go on a Diet?
Without clinical evidence (signs and symptoms) of underlying conditions causing weight changes, it is generally not recommended that teens go on a specific diet or restrict a certain type of food. If you think your teenager is experiencing changes in weight due to an underlying root cause, it’s important to bring these concerns to your teen’s healthcare team. Ask specific questions about what you as a parent and your family can do to help encourage healing and recovery. This can help the professionals identify the cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan to act on.
Check out my post How Can I Tell if my Teen is Overweight? for more tips
Tips for Helping Teens Reach a Healthy Weight
The following tips and techniques can help you to approach the topic of weight management with your teen in a productive and healthy way:
- Encourage open discussion
- Share similar experiences when helpful
- Listen to and acknowledge that what they feel is real
- Discuss how people come in all shapes and sizes
- Tell your teenager you love them regardless of their weight
- Explain that weight fluctuates during certain stages of life
- Don’t make or encourage negative comments
Is it Healthy for a Teenager to Lose Weight?
Depending on your teen’s overall health, it can be healthy for a teenager to lose weight. However, due to today’s culture surrounding diets there are children as young as 6 years old that are expressing concern about their body or weight. While weight loss can be healthy, it should not be encouraged as the only method of weight management or as the ideal tool for a goal body image. Weight issues require special attention, careful navigation, and serious concern. Be sensitive, you don’t want to encourage your teen to develop unhealthy food habits or an eating disorder.
Talk to Your Teen’s Healthcare Team
If you are unsure whether weight loss is a healthy method of weight management for your child, ask the health professionals, usually a pediatrician/physician and a dietitian. It’s important to speak with the professional privately and to mention specific concerns about your child’s growth pattern before having an open dialogue and taking action with your teen. Be sure to schedule follow-up appointments and attend them regularly to make sure you and your teen are still on a healthy growth trajectory.
If Your Teen is Overweight
When a child is overweight, it is especially important to understand the impact that weight loss may have. Weight loss can interfere with a teenager’s ability to grow and develop properly and so meeting with a dietitian and physician is absolutely crucial. These professionals can help you to identify specific changes to focus on that can meet your teen’s needs while simultaneously fitting into your family’s routine.
- Limiting sugary beverages and soda
- Limiting processed foods and fast foods
- Switching to lowfat dairy products
- Keeping healthy snacks accessible and ready to grab-and-go
- Increasing physical activity as a family
- Encouraging more healthy meal prep as a family
How Parents can Support Their Teenager During Weight Management
Talking about weight, it is okay not to know all the answers. Show your teen it is alright to go beyond you and involve their healthcare providers when seeking advice about managing weight and maintaining healthy habits. Ultimately, you want your teen to develop into an independent individual who can thrive with these skills and live a healthy life as a young and older adult. You can be an integral and influential part of that process.
Here are some tips for parents dealing with an overweight teen:
Remind Your Teen it is an Inside-Out Job
One of the best ways to help your teen is to model for them healthy behaviors and appropriate motivations. Help equip them with an internal drive by reminding them that fad diets or outside influences like bullies at school aren’t what define their health. Explain and encourage the idea that healthy eating and exercise habits start first with the thoughts and feelings that begin inside them. Help teens to draw connections between healthy lifestyle choices and the positive results they will see if they sustain healthy changes over time. If your teen learns healthy habits now, it will benefit them forever and they will never have to worry about dieting.
Make it a Family Affair
Make sure ALL parents, caregivers, and involved relatives are on the same page. Mixed signals can send messages of blame, bribery, threats, or punishments that ultimately tell your teen that their weight is a direct measure of who they are as a person. Be sure to clearly define boundaries that your teen sets about their weight, and involve them in the process of asking family members and relatives to respect their wishes. Instead of making comments about weight loss or body image, help family members by encouraging them to give compliments or point out positive changes by saying things like, “You look so happy and healthy!” or asking the teen about what skills and habits they have implemented.
Invite Your Teen to Invest in the Process
Hands-on activities such as inviting your teen to help with the food planning, shopping, and preparation process can assist them in developing deeper understanding. Making healthy food can teach a teen that there are long-term as well as immediate benefits, including better performance in sports or extracurricular activities, more energy, enhanced concentration at school, improved mood, and even more.
Allow Your Teen to Approach You
Instead of telling them what to do, allow your teen to approach you. Be receptive and attentive, and welcome questions. Inquiries can be an important window into what your teen is wondering or worrying about. Let your teenager be the one to initiate conversation, and be available to listen and learn with them along their weight management journey.
Modeling Healthy Habits
In order for your teenager to view weight in a healthy manner, it is key that you talk about food, weight, and eating in a way that is positive and helpful. Your teen may mirror your habits when it comes to weight, so one of the best ways to encourage healthy weight management is to manage your own weight in a healthy way. It can also be helpful to cook or exercise with your teen so that they don’t feel alone in their goals. Shame and blame should never be motivators, for you or your teen.
The best example for your teen to learn from is you! Your teen will have a harder time getting to a healthy weight and accepting their size if they see you following fad diets, worrying about what you eat, restricting food or desserts, excessively exercising, or complaining about your own weight and size. Make it a joint effort to adopt healthy habits.
A great rule of thumb for chatting with a teenager about health is this: focus on health instead of weight. The big picture is what is important, and the more healthy habits you try to develop as a family, the more likely your teen is to find their appropriate pace and meet their healthy growth trajectory. Your teen’s weight journey, and the ways your family evolves, will grow and change in positive ways over time until everyone ends up where they need to be. Trust the process and encourage your teen by using these tips when talking about weight.
What is the Best Age to Start Losing Weight? Weight management efforts should begin in the adolescent period if growth trends are concerning. It’s never too early to start adopting healthy habits for longterm health. If you develop healthy eating habits as a teen, you’ll never have to diet as an adult.
How Can I Motivate My Daughter to Lose Weight? If the “worried about your weight” talks have already begun and haven’t been good, the best thing you can do is to stop talking about your teen’s weight! Your teen will be more likely to develop healthy habits if you stop bugging them about it. Instead, do your best to create healthy habits for the whole family– fill the pantry with healthy snacks, involve family members in meal prep, do more physical activity together as a family, don’t talk about dieting and your own weight and size, etc. The best thing you can do is to be a good example and model healthy habits. Be sure to take your child into the pediatrician regularly as well to see if there are any underlying health conditions affecting weight.
What is the Best Diet Plan for a Teenager to Lose Weight? The best way for a teenager to lose weight is to follow a balanced diet, learn to listen to their hunger cues, replace soda with water, limit processed foods, and get enough sleep and exercise.
How Do I Tell My Teenager to Lose Weight? You don’t! You can talk to your teenager about being healthier, but not about weight. If there are weight concerns you can discuss the specifics with your child’s pediatrician and dietitian in private. Involve your teen in a conversation discussing positive health changes afterward. You can tell your teen that their overall health is concerning, but not their weight. The weight isn’t really the problem, but it’s the effects the weight will have, so focus on health.
Why is my Teenager Gaining so Much Weight? Your teenager can gain a lot of weight during or between growth spurts as their body is changing. It’s okay! It might be normal for them. Don’t worry about little spurts of weight gain. If your teen gains more than 10 pounds in a short time, it might be time to evaluate the real reason. Teens can also gain weight from excessive food intake, lack of exercise, and underlying health problems. Be sure you are checking in with their pediatrician regularly to follow their growth patterns and catch any worrisome trends.
- What Causes Weight Gain in Teenage Girls?
- How Can a 16-Year Old Lose Weight Fast?
- Best Lunch Boxes for Teenagers – Dietitian Recommended
- What are the Best and Worst Foods for a Teenager to Eat?
- What is a Healthy BMI for a Teenage Girl?
Ellis E. How to Encourage Kids to Embrace Healthy Eating. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2020. Accessed at eatright.org.
Wolfram T. How to Talk to Kids about Weight and Obesity. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2019. Accessed at eatright.org.
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