Beauty and Weight and Teen Girls, Oh My!

Dr. G,
My daughter is 14, she is absolutely beautiful full of life and at times too much fire :D. Just recently we had to go to the DR for her for an ear infection and we discovered her weight gain was massive. I had no idea it was that much. Of course I knew she was gaining but had no idea it was as much as what we discovered. She is 5 5” and 171 lbs. Ever since she was 10 she has always been weight conscious, conscious about her image and I have been diligent on keeping a close eye on her so that no bad habit starts. I was fearful of her taking matters into her own hands as her father my now ex-husband would make rude inappropriate weight comments to her which I know crushed her physic. I always told my daughter she was beautiful and we would get through this and no matter what I would help her get rid of the weight.

She has a hard time letting go of what she is not supposed to eat, sweets, sugars, junk food. I have tried to make it fun, by making the presentation in other foods appealing. Since we have started she has lost 10 pounds but she has 20 to go ideally. Dr. G what can I do to help her keep this off because gosh if she could see what a gorgeous girl she would be if she just kept this weight off.

Tracy S.

OK, first let me clarify something about weight and teens. There are women reading this who are thinking “5’ 5” and 171 lbs (dressed), that is not a big deal at all!” For a grown adult, this is only mildly overweight. For a 14 year old girl, this is definitely obese. This BMI plots out as above the 99th percentile for age. That is because teen bodies and adult bodies are different.

Now, Tracy, you have several very understandable concerns. I will do my best with each of them. I hear you worrying about getting her to lose weight, keep it off and, also get and keep a healthy body image. I’m sure that, some days, these must feel like conflicting goals.

First, let’s talk about her weight. You are right that, assuming she has reached her adult height (ask your doctor for a better guess about that), she would be best off to lose another 20 lbs. The ways to do this are with small, consistent changes.

I don’t recommend that she give up sweets, sugar and junk food. When we completely deprive ourselves of foods we really love, that only lasts for a few days or weeks. Eventually, we feel resentful about what we have given up, and usually go back to it and splurge!

So talk to your daughter about choices. How often per week will she have junk food, and how many in a day. Remember that the methods that worked well with an elementary schooler – like making the healthier foods look prettier or be more “fun” probably sound babyish to her now and make her feel like you are insulting her maturity – at least how mature she believes herself to be. Your daughter needs to use her own reasons and methods to make these choices. Only if she thinks of and chooses the lifestyle changes does she have a chance of maintaining them. If you tell her what to eat and how much, she will resist even if she was already planning to do what you are suggesting! It is more important to a teen to feel that she is in charge of her own life than to make good decisions.

Your control is in the purchasing. Make sure that all the foods in the house are healthy ones. ALL of them. In this way, she will have less temptation and she will respect that you send a consistent message. If she wants unhealthy food she will have to use her own money and walk to get it.

As for her body image, this is even trickier. I am certain that your daughter is beautiful, and that you see and appreciate that beauty. It’s possible, though, that she is getting mixed messages. Certainly she is hearing from one parent that she weighs too much and so he values her less. Your comments are mixed as well. You talk about how beautiful she is, but also wish she could see how gorgeous she would be if she lost the weight and kept it off.

Fourteen is an incredibly hard age to be. At fourteen a girl believes that everything she is and does is being judged by everyone she knows all the time! Make sure that what she hears from you is positive and consistent. Her beauty does NOT depend on her weight. Her beauty is inside of her and nothing changes it.

When you want to talk about weight, talk about health. Let her know that you only have a couple of years before your daughter is an adult and you want to do everything you can to help her be as healthy as she can be by that time. Stop judging her choices as best you can, and ask her questions about what you can do to help. The time to think of strategies for her weight loss has passed. With a teen you need to help give her the tools she needs to think of her own strategies.

Weight is a painful, emotional issue for most of us. As parents, when we can see so clearly what our kids should do, it can be endlessly frustrating. In the end, you need her to learn to make healthy choices so that she can take responsibility for her own health as she nears adulthood. This is something you can support, but not force.

I hope you’ll let me know how it’s going. And that readers who have faced this with teens they love will offer any solutions that have worked for them.

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