“Diets can further complicate an already stressful relationship with food and could trigger continued problems with eating for your child,” says Crawford. “Diets are the #1 risk factor for developing eating disorders. Instead of putting your child on a diet, the goal would be to work toward normalizing eating behavior, ensuring that they are getting the most or all of the necessary nutrients they need in a day, and getting in touch with the body’s natural hunger and fullness cues.”
“Always keep the focus on health, rather than weight,” says Hayes. “Losing weight is incredibly difficult and it is not the only measure of success. If your family starts eating better and moving more, your children may “grow into their weight” as their height increases,” she says.
“Try to make healthy food choices whenever possible, such as a baked sweet potato instead of fries, water instead of soda, etc.” suggests Chadwick. “But don’t point out your choice or make a big deal out of how you’re choosing the healthy version. Kids will tune that out quickly.”
Remember to show that all foods can be enjoyed in moderation. “Have a treat and enjoy it,” suggest Chadwick. “Show kids that everything – pizza, cheeseburgers, hot fudge sundaes – has a place in a balanced approach to healthy living. When you choose to have a treat, do it mindfully and let your child see you enjoy it. Proclaim it “treat night” and don’t say one word about how it’s going to your thighs or how you shouldn’t be eating it Just enjoy!”
BE THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER
“Getting your teen involved in meal planning and physical activities can be a big help, and you can do it without a lot of talking about the problem.” Get your teen involved with meal planning, creating healthy grocery lists and the grocery shopping, suggests Mehta.
“Get involved in exercise activities with your teen, i.e., kickboxing, martial arts, biking, walking, jogging, tennis, rock climbing or dance aerobics,” suggests Mehta. “Join a health club together or do dance/exercise DVDs together. This can help with bonding and is a win-win situation,” she says. “You get to spend quality time together, get exercise together, and show how you really care about your health and your family’s health.”
KNOW WHEN TO CONSULT AN EXPERT
If you want to be as informed as possible before you talk to your child or her doctor about your concerns, it can be helpful to call an eating-disorder specialist first, suggests Crawford. Inform him or her of your child’s weight gain/loss, current symptoms, health problems or any other concerns you might have.
It’s always best to have an open line of communication with your child if possible. “If you do express these concerns to your child, indicate that your primary concern is for her health instead of focusing on the weight or the food she may or may not be eating. Be prepared for her to be defensive,” says Crawford.
Your child’s primary-care doctor can be a great first step because 1. your child is already familiar with this person and 2. an appointment can be scheduled without too much resistance from your child generally, especially if it’s incorporated into an annual check-up or well-visit.
Make the doctor aware of your concerns in advance of the appointment so that he or she can plan to ask your child the necessary questions, run the appropriate blood and lab tests and make a referral for recommended treatment.
But don’t put all your eggs in one basket, Crawford stresses. It’s common for parents to take their concerns to a pediatrician who may not be familiar with eating disorders and, thus, may not take the appropriate steps. If your pediatrician dismisses symptoms and you still have concerns, follow up with an evaluation by an eating-disorder specialist, he suggests.
Also, make sure your pediatrician knows that you endorse a non-diet approach and that you do not want them to focus on the number on the scale or discuss a need for weight gain/loss in front of your child, Crawford advises.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help. Don’t be offended if someone else is able to get through to your child more easily than you are. “Often a teenager that continually shuts down when confronted by a parent will respond more openly to the concerns when they are expressed by a doctor, school counselor or even a friend,” says Crawford.