40-Somethings - Advice for talking to kids about dieting?

07-19-2013, 07:29 AM
Hi 40-something's,

First up a confession that I am not quite a 40 something yet - crossing that big line in November - but from reading these posts you feel like my people so I hope you won't mind my intrusion :-)

I have only just joined 3FC - have made a commitment to losing weight but still working out how to do it. One of the biggest things I am struggling with is how to talk to my kids about it. They are primary school age and both have a naturally large build, plus the extra weight that comes from being raised by people who don't have good eating habits. I have worked hard at giving them positive messages about body shape and size but don't know how to explain that despite all that I want to change MY body! I really value being honest with my kids - not least of all because I think kids have amazing bullshit detectors, so if I'm not honest about my motivations I think they'll know I'm fudging.

Any thoughts about how to explain this stuff to them?

07-19-2013, 09:36 AM
Welcome to 3 FC!!

I 100% believe in honesty and trustworthiness with children also. My son is 14, will be 15 next month. We have an excellent relationship. I am a single mom, my ex-husband left when I was pregnant (another story), and this I feel as made my son and I a stronger team then some some parents and children are.

I decided to honestly tell him that I was not really happy with the fact that I was overweight. But I focused more on the fact that I had health concerns because of the fact that I was overweight and not doing some of the things I should be doing to be healthier. I told him that I really needed to focus more on eating healthier (we already ate rather healthy), learning proper serving sizes, and getting in a lot more exercise.

I have never been one for being selfish and taking time for myself. I told him I felt that this might be a good time to be selfish. I told him I wanted to be around, and as healthy as can be while around, for him and my future grandchildren...if there are any. I told him I was not being fair to myself or him.

He has become my biggest supporter. On his own he has chosen that he should eat healthier and get in more physical activities. He enjoys helping chose meals and looking up new fun recipes. He gives me gentle nudges when I need it and tells me to rest when he feels I am pushing too hard.

With your children being younger, I would let them know that mommy is going to start looking different but often reassure them that you are the same mommy. For younger children, it can be scary to see the changes in look. I cared for one little girl that would bawl when I took off my glasses.

Let your children be a part of your journey. Enjoy playing active games together, taking walks and hikes together, etc. Let them join you in the kitchen.

You do not need to tell them anything about wanting them to eat healthier or being more active. They will because they see you doing it.

Is your husband on board? That could be the hardest part. If he is not joining in, this will give the children mixed signals and will confuse them.

07-19-2013, 09:51 AM
My children were in 4th & 6th grade, both boys, and we have a very honest relationship, along with DH. I didn't really tell them anything since there really wasn't anything to tell. When it came up, I just talked about being healthy, and that, yeah, losing some weight was a natural consequence, but that my focus was on my health and being able to lead the kind of life I want as I get older. All true.

Now that it's 55+ pounds, and DH has lost 20+, we do talk more about diet, but again in the context of choosing food that will serve our bodies well. The boys do a lot of eye rolling, but in the end what choice do they have? They've learned to eat less meat, a lot more vegetables, and whole grains since that's what I prepare.

Best of luck to you, and welcome!

ETA: both my boys are on the low side of healthy weight, so *their* shape and size was never a factor, but that doesn't change my advice. We are still emulating good habits so when they eventually stop growing, hopefully they have good habits to fall back on. My older DS, now 14, did say recently that he thought it was normal for people to put on weight once they are adults -- which is exactly the pattern we want to break.

07-19-2013, 09:52 AM
Obesity may not always cause poor health, but it can be a health risk. It can also cause respiratory, mobility, strength and flexibility problems. It can make strenuous activity difficult, uncomfortable, or even

Children as young as 5 can understand most of this. Overweight children probably don't even have to be told, as they've probably noticed.

I've been obese since kindergarten and only a small fraction of my fat hangups were caused by my parents dealing with the issue inappropriately. Even their mistakes did not impair my self-image or self-confidence much.

I do wish my parents had not put me on weight loss diets as a child, but I don't think my obesity should have been ignored either. Children are not safe from weight-related heart disease, joint damage, and type II diabetes. Type II diabetes can no longer be called adult onset diabetes, because it's showing up in young children.

Weight management isn't bad for children, but I think the focus needs to be health-based and on preventing rapid gaining, rather than on loss whenever possible. For morbidly obese children, weight loss may be appropriate, but a slow, low pressure approach would be best in my opinion.

Unless they're home-schooled and have no friends and playmates, they've probably been teased about their weight. They may even have tried to diet on their own without telling you. Doing so is quite common, even in thin children, especially girls, but boys are not exempt.

I see no harm in being honest with your children about the potential benefits of eating healthier and becoming more active, or the disadvantages and potentially negative consequences of carrying excess weight.

I think it's more important to present weight management, healthy eating, and exercise as a positive, even fun and interesting experience.

07-19-2013, 11:07 AM
Thanks Aspen, Newleaf and kaplods for these ideas - they are very helpful. Love to hear of anyone else's experiences and ideas too.

To answer Aspen's question - I am lucky that my partner is very supportive - both of this adventure and of me and my life more generally so I know that he will be backing me up. He is a healthy weight so fortunately sets a good example for me - and the nights he cooks are the ones we eat the healthiest so it won't require much change on his part to be on track.

It was really helpful to hear your comments kaplods. My older daughter (8) talks of wanting to lose her fat and wanting to be skinny. There have been a couple of comments recently that make me think she has probably been given grief at school but she can be a bit of a closed book sometimes so I am cautious about pressing her for details she doesn't want to share. I feel quite paralysed when she talks about it because I so don't want to add to the "thin is beautiful" messages she is receiving all day everyday and contribute to her being unable to love the naturally voluptuous body nature has given her, but at the same time I want to help her be healthy and happy. And I also know that my ability to think rationally about food and body image is practically non-existent, so what chance do I have of helping her wade her way through this quicksand???

I think the bit I struggle with the most is that the healthy part is only part of the picture. It is, when I get to the bottom of it all, really the most important bit, but wanting to fit into pretty clothes is still a pretty significant driver! When my girls talk about "fat" they sometimes speak of it as being about health and sometimes they talk of it as being about looks. If I gloss over the aesthetics and then they see my delight in my new look won't it all look a bit fake to them? But how do I explain I'm doing this, in part, because I want to look different, without sending a damaging message about how they look now???

Aargh - as you can see this twists me up in knots.

07-19-2013, 04:38 PM
Everyone in my immediate family is normal/healthy sized except for me, so my new focus on losing weight and being more active is completely public knowledge around here, lol.

My children are elementary and soon to be middle school aged. We have been eating healthier as a family since I focused on my own weight loss starting about 4 months or so ago. They are still young enough to really get enthusiastic about new family routines, which is a huge help. They have both told me there are proud of me :) :)

I let them "pick your green" vegetable (Quelle horreur!!) at dinner at night to make it kind of a game. They also get to choose which fruit serving they want once per day. I buy water bottles weekly at the grocery store - I take a Sharpie and write their name on a bottle and that's the bottle they sip out of from the refrigerator. I also have a big shallow fruit dish that I have stocked with different types of breakfast and granola bars, graham crackers, etc., and we call it the healthy snack basket. We do a formal "last snack" about an hour before bed where they get to pick out a healthy snack themselves. I know all of this is rather elementary, lol, and I don't even know if I'm doing things right, but I'm trying to introduce an element of their making their own choices about healthy food. I'm really hoping these routines will help them later in life!

My daughter is definitely at that age where I want to strengthen, not weaken, her self esteem and self worth as she gets close to entering her teen years. What I tell her is that she is beautiful and her diet is fine, but let's ramp up the movin' and groovin'. I'll push them out the front door to ride bikes, or take them to swim at the pool, or just run around at the park. A decent diet plus an active childhood will take care of any size concerns over time. I feel absolutely no need to harp on her for what she eats. I do not comment on her physical appearance ever in a negative way. I'm just keeping her busy as well as having designated meal times to keep her from eating out of boredom.

I live in a smallish town in the midwest, and the majority of people and a large percentage of children are obese. While not a great situation, obviously, the upside is that children who are chubby aren't uncommon at all. There isn't a lot of teasing about weight because it's almost considered pretty much normal.

I also have taught my children sensitivity about obese people. I tell them loveable people come in all sizes, like me, lol, I'm their obese Mom! Whenever they create an avatar of me for fun on their various video games or gaming systems, they always make me uber girly and pretty :) So very sweet. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes is something else I teach them.

07-19-2013, 08:25 PM
Thanks TooWicky for sharing your experiences and thoughts. The focus you have on choice within a range of healthy options sounds like a good one! I have been starting to think about what meals to cook once I start properly dieting (I am following the Becks Diet Solution which has two weeks of 'getting yourself ready' before actual dieting) and am being quite confronted by how few healthy things my kids are likely to be willing to eat. At the moment we have an approach at meal times of "you have to try it but if you don't like it you can make yourself a sandwich instead" but I have been worrying that if I cut out lots of the meals they do like (many of which have lots of dairy and fat) that they will be eating mostly PNB sandwiches.

But you have got me thinking that I can be offering them a healthy alternative - something like a ham sandwich with some vegies on the side. Might also lead into them getting a bit more involved in decision-making about meals. My older daughter talks about wanting to eat healthier so maybe all I actually need to be doing is help her work out what that means and guide and support her in making better decisions.

This has been really helpful. Suddenly realising that my older girl has actually been asking for this for a long time. Wonder why I wasn't listening before?

07-21-2013, 12:05 AM
I would urge you to read "Intuitive Eating," especially the chapters on how to address children and adolescents who are overweight. I wish my parents had followed the advice in that book.

07-21-2013, 09:09 AM
Thanks KittyKatFan. I will check it out.