A few days ago, a lady contacted me via my Facebook page to inquire about our programs. During her consultation, I asked the usual first questions.
- Current weight
- Why you want/need to lose weight
- How much you would like to lose and when
It’s always important to understand clients’ expectations so we are both on the same page and I also ascertain if she is a right fit for my program. However, for this client, the inquiry was for her daughter. Knowing fully well how society has cultured us to feel about people who are in bigger bodies or whom we deem overweight, I was more interested in the psychological wellbeing of the child. My foray in the world of weight loss exposed me to how the way we feel about our bodies impact our ability to thrive and in extreme cases mental illnesses – one of the reasons I went on to get trained as a Body Positive Facilitator, get certified in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and ultimately give birth to Beyond A Dress Size Podcast.
Firstly, I made her understand that I would be working with her and her daughter on this program so both of them will be available for all our coaching calls and actively involved. Most importantly for this wonderfully made girl, we will focus on behavioural change not weight loss. The first call will focus on reaffirming her and reminding her that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her. The idea is not to ’fix’ her so we can love her more.
At this age, children are looking for affirmation and a sense of belonging and the best place to get it is at home. If we are concerned about a little girl’s wellbeing; calling her fat and encouraging family members and every passer by to call her fat as way to correct her is absolutely wrong. It is sending a message to the young girl that says ‘I am not good enough and my body is the reason I am not good enough. I will never be good enough for Mummy and my friends, not even my siblings except I ‘fix’ this body’. The sad thing is that as she grows older, she continues to view her merits and demerits in life from the lens of her body not being good enough. For a lot of people, this could lead to depression, drug & substance abuse and various eating disorders including starvation and addiction to diet pills – what I like to call ‘a lifetime pursuit of weight loss’.
Her mum admitted that she is embarrassed at her daughter’s weight, especially when people stare. Believe me, I don’t blame the mum. We’ve been cultured to scorn people in bigger bodies and believe that ‘thinner is better’ until the Kardashians came along so we modified that to be ‘thinner is better with wider hips’. I made her understand that her daughter is doubly embarrassed by her embarrassment. Sadly, she feels she brings shame to Mummy, so she does not feel free to talk about it because she does not want to bring up those bad emotions for Mummy and somewhere in her head she keeps hearing this critical voice saying ‘I’m a bad girl, a very bad girl, I bring shame to Mummy’. I said to her ‘you are only raising a child that will forever be conscious of her body and will filter all her interactions through that lens’. She responded ‘she now has a complex and does not like to mix with people when we go out’
My first goal is to build trust with this darling girl, build up her confidence and teach her to do right by her body from a place of love not to fix or punish the body.
As a parent, if you have a child whose weight bothers you, here a few dos and don’ts.
- Always affirm the child: Let her know you don’t love her any less for her size.
- Lead by example: it becomes a family affair. Children are typical emulators so it makes it easy for you to encourage nutrition and fitness as a positive lifestyle change. Work with a health coach to change the family’s nutrition. Find out activities the children are interested in, apart from regularly playing catch and chasing tires round the house, you may want some structure, I did this with a client who had two girls and while one chose swimming, the other chose karate. I believe that when we make activity – positive body movement – a joyful lifestyle, we do not grow up to see it as a chore or detest it. Remember that for both adults and children, the focus should always be on pursuing health and not weight loss. I talk about that more in my podcast episode ‘Can We ALL Be a Size 6?’ Click here to listen.
- Have an honest conversation about her body (at first with her alone) from a place of concern and compassion: you want to understand how she feels about her body. Is she being bullied cos of her body? Does she feel less worthy cos of her body? This may be hard for you to do on your own especially if you already feel a lot of shame around this. Engage the services of a therapist.
- Whatever change you decide to take on, the child has to be fully engaged and carried along (AT HER PACE). They need to understand – why we are doing this, why it is important to care for our health and how our choices ultimately lead to our outcomes.
- Read books that encourage body positivity in children.
- Don’t make Saturdays about going to eat, plan family tournaments – walking, cycling, running or skipping.
- Never tell a child she needs to lose weight or make snark remarks about her weight with the aim to shame her into reducing her size or eating less. Shaming will only cause her to eat more in secret – it always creates a negative feedback cycle.
- Do not encourage anyone at all to talk about your child’s weight. Every social gathering should not have your child as the agenda. Protect your children and shut them up, right there and right in front of your child. She needs to know you will always protect her.
- Do not make it about Ada. Everyone at home needs to be on board and understand that is of everyone’s benefit. I strongly encourage family therapy. You don’t want a sibling lashing out and saying ‘but Mummy why do we all have to run, is not just Ada that is fat’. The statement will hurt Ada for a very long time because that can be interpreted as ‘oh, I’m stressing my family out’
These are just a few, you can learn more about how the way we feel about our bodies and the messages we receive about our bodies from a very young age influences every aspect of our lives and why pursuing weight loss is never the answer.