So many of us know the emotional pain of being overweight and the struggle to lose weight. While we can just about manage this ourselves, it can be very worrying to have a daughter who is overweight as there are both physical and psychological consequences that can have a lasting effect.
When working with children I am struck by how open they are to change and eager to take action. They don’t yet have the years of baggage and psychological struggles that adults with weight issues do. My approach to helping daughters lose weight is very practical and doesn’t focus on food at all, instead the emphasis is on what they think, how they eat, and most importantly their food environment.
This approach is incredibly effective and children love it as it is not presented as a diet, so they do not have to undergo any deprivation. This is key, as if it isn’t easy and enjoyable, it just wont last.
1. Focus as a family on seeing this as a positive lifestyle change as opposed to putting your daughter on a diet.
Everyone in the family should be involved in the new healthy eating approach. So banish all processed foods. This may sound dramatic, but processed food is really the enemy when it comes to obesity. Not fat, sugar or carbohydrate. Its artificial ingredients that our bodies cannot process and therefore store as fat, that are the biggest culprit in the obesity epidemic. Look at the back of packets, if the food has more than a few ingredients, or anything which you cannot pronounce, don’t let your daughter eat it! The whole family should adopt this way of eating. It will benefit everyone and will change the food culture of the home. This is key and doesn’t mean the whole family are on a diet! Instead the whole family is learning how to eat well and enjoy good quality food.
2. Make food fun! Talk about and plan meals together and let your daughter help with the cooking.
Food can be delicious as long as you buy the best quality ingredients you can afford. The flavours of real food will speak for themselves, so no need to get caught up making elaborate dishes. Discover together what foods and flavours your daughter likes. By letting her become involved in the cooking and allowing her to have an active part in what she is eating, you will find that your daughter will be more open to experimenting and trying new things. You could also have a day a week where you discover dishes from around the world to help expand their food repertoire. The key here is to make it enjoyable and fun!
3. Shrink her portion size.
We all tend to eat far too much, and just by reducing the amount your daughter eats you will see their weight fall away. Its important to do this without her feeling deprived. So shrink down the families plate and bowl size. When serving food the portion won’t seem as small on a smaller plate. Behavioural research has shown that reducing the serving dish size significantly reduces the amount we eat. This goes too for sweet treats. They should not be banned, instead use the rule of half. Instead of having the whole piece of cake encourage your daughter to just have half. With sweet treats and indulgences, as long as they are unprocessed and eaten in moderation (using the rule of half) then they are absolutely ok.
4. Teach your daughter how to use the hunger scale.
Your child should only eat when her stomach sends her a message that she needs some fuel. Food is nutritious and enjoyable fuel. We should only eat when we need to, not when we see something we like or because it is a specific meal time. So teach her how to tune in to her stomach. Every time she goes to eat something, ask her “Are you hungry right now? Do you need this or do you just fancy this?”. If she’s hungry, then she should eat! If she’s not hungry, then give her something else. Have a chat about something together, go for a walk, play a game, put on some music, or watch some funny clips on youtube. Interrupt the “I want to eat’ thought and distract her from the impulse to eat. Importantly, let her know that as soon as she is actually hungry she can eat. Simply asking these questions before she eats will really help her lose weight and keep it off. Now you do not want to wait until she is starving!
Think of a hunger scale: Your child should should reside between hungry and pleasantly satisfied. Never allow her to get to starving or to stuffed! This is easily achieved by teaching your child to listen to their body. The more they tune into it, the more they will hear it. Check in with her on an hourly basis to see where she feels she is on the hunger scale. Once she notices that she is feeling slightly hungry, its time to eat!
5. Encourage your daughter to enjoy her food.
When she is hungry, she should sit down at the table and always use a knife and fork. Encourage her to mentally prepare herself to eat and recognise that it is a pleasurable process. Encourage her to smell the food, chew each mouthful and contemplate the taste. When your child is eating, it is important that they be present in the moment and focus on the food they are eating. She should take the time to smell it, anticipate it and savour it. Importantly, encourage her to chew each mouthful, try getting her to chew it initially twenty times (depending on the age of your child you could make this a bit of a game). We are so used to gobbling down our food that we don’t give our bodies time to recognise we are full, so it is essential to eat slowly and artfully, enjoying, savouring and chewing every single bite. In doing this your child’s stomach will have time to send a message to their brain that it is full. This usually takes 20 minutes. Remember every meal or snack is an opportunity to feel happy and pleasurable, not guilty and stuffed.
These simple steps are all about making positive changes. The focus shouldn’t be on weight loss, it should be on helping your daughter change her relationship with food. Instead of food being this negative thing that induces guilt and dissatisfaction, it should be a source of pleasure, curiosity and fun. Diets do not work, so start to teach your daughter some positive behaviours which will help her to change their relationship with food and their body. Weight loss will be a joyous consequence.
If you would like to know more about the Eating Approach, sign up for my free mini course here.
If you have a daughter who is really struggling with her weight and all the emotional difficulties that come with it, and you would like my professional help, then do get in touch by emailing me, firstname.lastname@example.org