Talking to your teen about being overweight is a conversation that most parents would rather avoid. We don’t want our teen to feel self conscious about how they look. We don’t want our teen to feel defined by their weight and looks. But most of all, we don’t want our teen to feel judged by the person who is suppose to love them unconditionally no matter what.
As parents we have two choices.
#1 Ignore it and hope they grow out of it.
#2 Have the uncomfortable conversation.
As teens grow, they naturally bulk up right before they grow. My kids ate a shockingly huge quantity of food right before they grew. Sometimes teens will actually grow out of the extra weight. However, if your teen’s habits are unhealthy, then the extra weight is a clear sign that your teen needs to create some new healthier habits. Below are the exact steps I use when approaching this sensitive topic with my teen clients. These strategies inform and motivate your teen to take action towards improving their habits in a way that is nonjudgmental and supportive.
Show your teen the BMI Scale. This way they can see for themselves exactly how much extra weight they are carrying. While this scale isn’t perfect, it gives your teen a sense of how their weight compares to the average person of a similar height. (A teen who carries muscle weight or has a larger frame might be placed in the overweight category unnecessarily.) Your teen can use this information to help them decide on a healthy target weight for their body type. When I work with teens who are motivated to lose weight, we chose a target weight that makes sense for them even if it puts them in the overweight category.
Maintain Current Weight
If your teen is just a bit heavy and is still growing, then a great goal is to maintain their current weight. Discuss with your teen that it is always easier to maintain a current weight than it is to lose weight. If a teen gains 10 pounds a year, they will be 40 pounds overweight when they graduate from high school. If they do a little today, they can avoid having to do a lot later.
Whether your teen’s goal is to maintain or lose weight, starting small so that they have success right away is important when establishing new healthy habits. It is best to pick around five action steps that feel doable for your teen to work into their day. For example, one of my clients drank no water unless she was thirsty while playing sports, so drinking 8 oz of water at breakfast was one action step, drinking 8 oz of water at lunch was her second action step and drinking 8oz of water at dinner was her third action step. This was less water than she needed, but because she received positive feedback every time she drank water, it was easier for her to make progress and keep up the habit. In comparison, if the action step had been to drink 24 oz of water a day, she would have come up short several times and been less motivated to continue.
It is also important to keep a record of the wins. This way, there is a clear picture of what your teen has actually accomplished. I create an accountability chart in a Google Document for all my clients. Then at the end of each day, they text me their wins, and I record them in the chart. You could use this exact strategy with your teen. (They could just tell you instead of texting of course) This check in also gives you an opportunity to support and encourage your teen to reach their goals on a daily basis.
Weekly Check Ins
If your teen struggles with their weight, then it can be helpful to weigh them weekly. I always make sure that the weight is viewed as information to help make decisions moving forward. Be sure to remind your teen that everyone’s weight fluctuates a couple of pounds from day to day. (If your teen stresses about this or feels badly about themselves, then I would skip it or do it once a month.)
Sit down with your teen and celebrate all the action steps that were completed successfully throughout the week.
If your teen has not been following through with one of the action steps, looking at the chart together is a non confrontational way to show them what they have not been doing.
Work together to tweak the action steps so that your teen can have more success the following week. For example, if they consistently forgot to drink water at lunch, you take that off the chart and add larger quantities of water at breakfast and dinner.
Having your teen working on incorporating healthy habits into their day like drinking more water, snacking less and exercising are great examples of habits that will help teens maintain or lose weight. However, often times teens who are overweight use food to soothe the stress that arises in their life which throws them into The Chronic Stress Loop. If this is true for your teen, they need a go to strategy to soothe the stress when it arises in their life (and it will), so they can manage expectations better, experience more success and be happy and healthy in school and beyond. To help your teen find the perfect tool for their life, grab a copy of my Stress Less Guide here.
Originally published at www.claireketchum.com