May: Mother's Day & Mothers lead the way

By Jane Sylvestre, RD - 4/27/2015

…for my daughter

I am always interested in why patients want to lose weight.  One of the most popular answers is that “I want to be a good example for my daughter.”  I don’t want to leave little boys out of the equation here, but little girls tend to be especially hard on themselves as they begin to mature.  Puberty can be a very difficult time for any teenager and it is especially challenging when a little girl is overweight as she transforms into a woman. 

Much of my career (about 10 years) as a dietitian has been spent in the school system teaching children how to feel positive about eating healthy and accepting themselves.  This has been very challenging as kids were dealing with trying to fit in, eating or not eating all the junk their friends were having, dealing with acceptance of different shapes and sizes and starting to be attracted to the opposite sex. 

My daughter is now 12 and I am facing the same challenges with her as I did for so many years with all the children from the different schools that I worked.  My daughter is a little peanut, yet she is concerned that she has some fat on her bones.  I have been working on self acceptance with her.  I try not to talk negatively about my own body.  I focus on good health.  She sees me run every morning or do an exercise video at our home.  I always say, “I am just trying to stay healthy!”  HEALTHY is the key word.  Please do not talk about being fat or disliking your body in front of your child.  I recently read an excellent article on how to talk to your daughter.  This is definitely worth the read:

If you are both struggling with being overweight, consider making a pact to work together to get healthy.  Walk together.  Do exercise videos together.  Play tennis together.  Go for a bike ride together.  Play soccer together.  Play basketball together.  Dance together (I love the Wii “let’s Dance).  Just move rather than sit with your daughter. 

You will be your daughter’s driving force.  She will model the way you talk about yourself, your lifestyle-such as whether you exercise or not- and how you eat.  Even if you think she is not paying attention to you, she is.  Parents have an extremely powerful influence over their children.  Often, as proven in research, a child will resort back to the way they were taught to live (exercise & diet) even if they go off path for a few years.  Teach them right now!  They are never too young or too old to influence! 

You are the role model.  Teach your child to eat healthy, by eating healthy yourself.  Teach your child to avoid soda and cream filled coffees by avoiding them yourself.  Don’t take your daughter to Dunkin Donuts for a Coolata as a treat.  Spend time in the kitchen together with your child no matter what their age.  Teach them how to cook even if you can barely cook yourself.  Learn together by following healthy recipes.   I love for some good, healthy cooking.  Of course, we have the cookbook on our website as well at  Enroll your child in a cooking class.  Check out the recreation department in your town.  Finally, expose your child to many different foods.

If you feed your child hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets and pasta, then that is what they will always want.  If you offer your child healthy food repeatedly, they will eventually accept that is how your family eats.  Believe me; I have one child who always ate everything (my son) and one very picky child (my daughter.)   I always put whatever I made on her plate.  I would add the vegetable and or fruit in very small quantities and she would eat them.  For example, initially, it was one or two tiny pieces of broccoli and eventually she was asking for more.  Don’t give up because they will someday come around.   I think my daughter is now a better eater than my son!

Introduce your child to different ethnic foods as well.  I don’t mean just Mexican and Italian.  Try bringing your child to a Greek restaurant, Persian, Thai or Indian.  You may be surprised how well it  works and that they are willing to try.  Remember Indian children eat Indian food so why couldn’t your child eat Indian food? Maybe just start with the mild spice! 

Remember, you are your daughter’s greatest influence.  Be kind in the words you choose in describing your own body.  Be a good role model by staying active and eating well.  This is a journey for both you and your child as you create your own healthy lifestyle and they continue to develop in a young woman.    

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