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How to Talk with Young Girls about Weight

You may think that, because of your own eating struggles, you know how to talk with your daughters (or nieces or granddaughters) about weight. Or, never having had eating or weight concerns, you may not pay much attention to what you say about their bodies or their eating. Either way, here’s the latest research on the subject.

You Can't Talk to Girls About Their Weight by Carleen Wild (LifeZette, retrieved 6/17/16, is based on research by Brian Wansink, PhD, who was inspired to study this subject because he has three daughters. His take home message is that parents need to be extremely careful about what they say to their female progeny about their bodies. “His team found that women who recall comments from their parents about their weight are more prone to being overweight as adults and less satisfied with their weight than other people.” Of course, this is only a correlation, not a cause and effect, because we don’t know if these girls-then-women were more sensitive to body and size image to begin with. The study looked at both how satisfied high and normal weight women were with their bodies. Both sets of women “who recalled their parents’ comments about their weight as youths were less satisfied with their weight as adults.”

Wansink recommends that if you’re worried about your child’s weight (though his study was on girls, his conclusions may apply to men as well), you would do well to “avoid criticizing them or restricting food. Instead”, he recommends to “nudge healthy choices and behaviors by giving them freedom to choose for themselves and by making the healthier choices more appealing and convenient.” And, of course, you can’t get away with making poor choices yourself and expect them to make wise ones. You must model the behavior that you want them to engage in.

The article sites Pat Barone, a certified professional coach, who says that: “..every single client with a serious weight problem has traced their shame about their body back to parental disapproval.” I don’t completely agree with her, but I can state unequivocally that clients I've treated who have body shame, grew up in a shame-based family in which shaming, in general, was alive and well.

My advice: Love your children unconditionally, be compassionate about their (and your!) food and weight concerns, lead by example, and avoid all judgments about weight, size, shape and appearance whether you’re talking about your children, self, friends, family or strangers.