Your dieting daughter: Protecting her from a thinness-obsessed culture

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 7, 2012

Research confirms over and over again the high failure rate of dieting. Dieting often causes far more problems than it solves. Not only do most people gain back any weight they lose, they lower their metabolism, change their hormones so weight loss is even harder and they often end up bingeing as a result of deprivation. So what do you do when your “overweight” daughter comes home crying because she was teased at school? 

It may seem difficult to help your teenager accept her body when there are so many cultural forces telling her she needs to be thin.  How do you help a young girl learn to eat healthy, but not so healthy she becomes rigid and fearful of certain foods like desserts or carbohydrates and even possibly develops an eating disorder?

If you are unsure of where to begin, ask yourself, if what you do with your food and weight is what you would tell your daughter to do. Leading by examples is the best way to teach your daughter healthy living habits. If you wouldn’t send her off in the morning with nothing but a cup of coffee, why would you do it for yourself? If you don’t want her to weigh herself daily, weekly, or ever, why do it yourself? It cannot be said enough that the best thing you can do for your daughter is to treat your self and your body the way you want her to treat hers.

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It makes sense to focus on health, not weight. If weight loss comes as a byproduct of being healthy then so be it, but weight loss as the main focus is geared for failure.

The following is a list of positive things to do regarding food and weight, provided by body image and eating disorder specialist Carolyn Costin.

1. Educate your daughter about nutrition in a general way, so she knows why protein, fat and carbohydrates are all important nutrients.

2. Provide a variety of healthy nutritious food in the house.

3. Focus on what to eat rather than what not to eat.

4. Teach your daughter to respect and respond to her body’s hunger and fullness signals.

5. Be a role model by eating something every 4 hours or so, for an optimal metabolism.

6. Talk about things like artificial sweeteners, diet sodas and trans fats and discuss their place in an overall eating style.

7. Talk positively about food and your body.

8. Make delicious cookies and snacks that provide quality nutrients.

9. Eat things like pizza and ice cream to teach moderation instead of elimination.

10. Demonstrate that food choices should be made from a balance of appetite, desire and nutritional knowledge.

11. Talk to your daughter about comfort eating, stress eating and boredom eating, to help her identify and avoid these behaviors.

12. Teach your daughter the facts that diets don’t work and give examples.

13. Get rid of all scales and discuss how irrelevant they are.

14. Do not pay attention to or talk about weight – remember focus on health instead.

Look for the second edition of Costin’s book, “Your Dieting Daughter,” coming out in February 2013. For more information, visit