Never Say ‘Lose Weight’ When Discussing Health With Teens

When discussing health topics with your teens, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that you never say they need to lose weight. A recent report from the AAP indicates that the words “lose weight” causes more eating disorders and unhealthy eating patterns than discussing overall family health.

“The focus should be on a healthy lifestyle rather than on weight.”

The report lists some basic recommendations for discussing health with teens, such as not joking with teens about their weight, even with affection, and less encouragement from doctors about diets or suggestions to lose weight.

Pediatrician Dr. Christine Wood, from California, warns parents against extreme dieting plans or discussions about how they can lose weight.

“If the kid sees a lot of dieting behaviors around their parents, it can unfortunately lead to [thinking] this is sort of the norm and that we put a lot of value on body image. For young teens this can become an issue, and many of the kids that we see with eating disorders, it starts with sort of a body image issue.”

College student Brenndon Goodman recalls his teens when he weighed over 300 pounds. According to CBC News, he said that repeatedly discussing his weight drove a wedge between him and his family. The diets his doctor recommended only lasted a few days and did little to help him lose weight.

Wood says that an unhealthy lifestyle is the problem, not the weight.

“Pushing an agenda on a teen about food and how much weight they should lose can spiral into the wrong behaviors from the child.”

The AAP reminds parents to be mindful of their teen’s self esteem.

“Understanding that poor body image can lead to an ED [eating disorder], parents should avoid comments about body weight and discourage dieting efforts that may inadvertently result in EDs and body dissatisfaction.”

American Academy of Dietetics spokesperson Kristi King told CBS News that she agrees with the AAP report on not pushing teens to lose weight.

“I frequently find in practice that when families and/or a pediatrician is very weight-focused, the child or teen tends to become very fixated on reaching a certain weight point. Most of the time, it is a weight point that they think sounds ‘good’ and isn’t necessarily what may actually be healthy for their height, age, activity level, etc. This can lead to very unhealthy lifestyle habits in order for them to reach that weight point.”

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Since healthy weight is important, King suggests other methods for discussing weight loss with teens, such as emphasizing the food groups’ importance in healthy diets and asking teens how they feel about themselves without giving them a negative opinion about their bodies. She says parents should never use words like “goal weight” and “fat.”

“Focusing on weight – even little comments such as ‘Ooh, I see a little tummy pouch there’ – can be damaging.”

King gave a few suggestions for handling the topics of healthy eating and ways to lose weight with teens.

  • Include teens in cooking and grocery shopping. If you are learning new recipes or lack certain culinary talents, bring in your child and learn together. You can make lifelong memories and teach them skills they will need when they are on their own.
  • Work family exercise time into your weekly routine. Take hikes or bike rides, or go for walks or jogs as a family. It sets a good example for your teens, and it helps your entire family be healthier and lose weight.
  • Plan for one meal with your entire family every day. Whether it is breakfast or dinner, it serves the same, health promoting purpose. Also, leave fresh, ready-to-eat veggies and fruits easily accessible to promote healthy meal choices.
  • Remove your teen’s TV from their bedroom. Kids love to watch TV and snack in their rooms while doing homework or relaxing after school. Taking out the TV will promote more time together as a family and curb the amount of time they spend watching TV.

[Photo by John Moore/Getty Images]