Q: No matter what I do, I seem to fight with my daughter about her weight. She’s angry with me because I’m thin and she gets mad at me for just wanting the same thing for her. I work out and I eat healthy. She’s overweight and refuses to exercise. I know she blames me for her weight issues even though I’ve only ever tried to help her with being healthy. How do I not feel guilty about being healthy while also helping her do better?
A: Cara, thank you for your question. This is a very challenging situation, and there are a lot of layers to this very important concern. Let me see if I can help on a more general level, and feel free to reach out if you have more questions.
We know from good research that fighting with your child about their weight and health does not lead to better weight and health outcomes, so you’re right to be concerned about this dynamic.
Let me start by asking you to look inward and reflect about your own body image, weight and food relationships.
Each of us has a unique relationship between food and our body. Some relationships are healthy, peaceful and easy. Some are tumultuous, painful and difficult. Our kids pick up on our “stuff” even when we try and keep it from them.
- How do you feel about your body when you look in the mirror?
- How is your relationship with food?
- Do you eat with joy and ease or with little to no emotion attached? Or does food bring anxiety and fear and struggle?
- Do you exercise or move for physical and emotional health? Or do you move to burn calories and control your weight?
Just being aware and conscious of your own food and body beliefs is a good start.
The next step is to consider what messages you’d like to send your daughter.
For example, what’s important to you about your her health and weight?
I’m guessing that your answer begins with your hopes for her future — and that those hopes have something to do with her experiencing happiness, peace and joy in her life.
How might she go about feeling those things when it comes to her body? How can you support her in reaching the hopes you have for her?
You might focus on encouragement that helps her to feel empowered, at peace and positive about her body, weight and food choices.
This means avoiding negative judgments, restrictions and food rules.
It also probably means staying away from things like bribery or coercion for exercise.
The truth is, being a teenager means she’s moving towards making all of her own food and movement decisions. We want her to enter into her adult life with ease and peace around food, not fear, anxiety and struggle.
So, I strongly suggest that you stop fighting with her about her health and weight. You might find the Satter Institute’s concept of “division of responsibility” helpful. For example:
- You get to make decisions about what food you serve in the home, when you serve the food and where you serve it.
- Your daughter gets to decide how much and if she eats the food you serve.
This approach can be very effective at quickly reducing tension and helping each member of the family “stay in their lane” when it comes to making food choices. Simply giving your daughter clearly defined responsibilities and ownership for her choices can help both of you reframe this situation much more positively.
Again, this is a complicated scenario, so please reach out if I can be of further help.