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How To Talk To Your Kids About Weight

I have been really wanting to talk about a subject that I think Moms & Dads struggle a lot with. I think that we tend to go through this a lot more with our daughters, but it can definitely happen to our sons as well. And that is about weight. We grew up in diet culture and know what it is like for our parents, family members, or someone else to make a comment about our body!  And some of us are still unpacking that shit! We know how hard it was and how sucky it was! But now… you see your children struggling with the same thing you did or going through it now in their life.  So how do you approach them? How do you talk to them? How do you get through this season in their life and help them feel good about themselves?

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That is where today’s guest comes in! I found Dr. Polack on the GRAM of course! And this is her jam, this is what she addresses and talks about, and I really think that you are going to take a lot away from what she has to say about this subject!

Dr. Noha Polack is a pediatrician and has practiced pediatrics since 1996. Dr. Polack is incredibly passionate about working with families; particularly those with children between the ages of 10-and 18, who struggle with their weight and helping them to reach a healthy state in a way that is sustainable, compassionate, and empowering.

She is a big believer in empowering people to understand that by implementing small and consistent changes, they will see the most benefits and feel their healthiest selves on a physical and emotional level!

What are some of the conversations that you have around someone coming to you feeling like not knowing what to say about weight to their children?
When it comes to someone’s weight, I like to approach it in a different way.  I like to talk about a HEALTH journey instead of a weight loss journey!  When you are on a journey you expect ups and downs. There are no straight lines in that journey. I start by saying, “Do you want to go on a health journey with me?”  I am hopeful that parents can use this term as well. I explain to them that there will be really good times and really bad, so expect both and deal with both equally throughout their journey.

It is so important for the parent or parents to join in with them and ask them if they are ready because some children are not emotionally ready yet to go on that health journey. A parent’s role is not to be the food police, the role is to bring the heathy choices into the house and for the most part keep out the unhealthy choices.

What about that parent that tells you they see their child not making the healthiest choices and they are trying to navigate that narrow tight rope? How do you get them to reach more for healthier snacks and introduce more of that healthiness to that child without feeling like you are punishing them?
Be a role model for them!! They are watching you whether you notice or not.  SoSo, if you are eating junk, they will too!

Availability is another big thing. If chips are in the house, they are going to eat them. If you have more fruits and vegetables, that will be what they reach for. And of course, chips can be a once in a while thing but try to make it so that it is not every day. If you see that, ask them how they feel about themselves, about their body.  Look at their body language when they are trying on clothes, and when they come home from school.  Are they happy or stressed? I like to ask my patients, “How did it go at school?” If I see you sad or upset, I ask specifically.  “Did someone say something hurtful?”

If they are saying someone is bullying them or saying things about their body, that is where I start the conversation!

But there is a point that I would like to amplify in the world of parenting. “Scales do not measure willpower!!” Scales are just numbers.  Being overweight is not a personality flaw or a weakness.  It is just a condition that should be dealt with.  Help them realize that the scale does not mean they do not have self-control.  Because the more you say it, the more they will believe it and they will carry that around with them. If we as parents now say the right things over and over again, that voice will stay in our child’s heads when they are in their 50s and 60s!  Help them feel good, not only on the inside but outside too!  I am hoping to change the narrative by speaking out as much as possible.  Just because you struggle with your health or weight DOES NOT make you weak.

Imagine you as a parent having a conversation with your child and helping them love their body the way it is right now.  Help them to understand that they are not weak! They are still strong. They are capable! If someone says something mean to them at school, IT IS AN OPINION NOT A FACT!!!!!  Help your child differentiate this!  Kids can be mean, so make sure your child knows that opinions are not facts. REMEMBER THIS!!!

Here is my message to my parents.
If you don’t know what to say, go to someone to help you learn what to say!  Your pediatrician should be a huge resource.  Your other resources can be trusted online sites like healthychildren.org.  I want kids to feel good about themselves and their bodies and to help parents guide them into that healthy journey conversation is huge for me.

Here are some of the biggest mistakes we talk to parents about:
1. Are you giving mixed messages? Are you telling children to finish everything on their plate than turning around and telling them they are overweight? Stop with the mixed messages as parents and stop with the food pushing. If your child is full, they are full.   But if they are full now and a half-hour later, they want a snack, there is something wrong with that.  Yes, we want them to eat healthily, and we want to encourage them to eat their vegetables and fruits, but there is a whole way of doing that. (Pushy eating is hard because as a child it is hard to say no to an adult.  But teaching children to be respectful and just say they are full, and they do not want that is the way to go.)
2. Good Food, Bad food.  I hate labeling food as good or bad.  The key here for more is to have your child have a good relationship with food.  If all they have available is healthy food and once in a while there is less healthy food, they are going to eat it and that is okay.  But if the house is full of less healthy food that is all they are going to eat and this is not okay.   It’s all about availability when it comes to children.
3. You are only in control of availability and food restrictions. Some parents swing to the far other side where it is gluten-free, soy-free, sugar-free, and all the fun food is forbidden and any processed food coming into the house is a no-no.  Food restriction is a very touchy subject in pediatrics, and we tread lightly. I think that children should eat everything that they are NOT allergic to.  Not having bread is not realistic because they are going to eat bread somewhere.  We should have a good relationship with food, a variety of food and no good food or bad food. Moderation is a great idea.  But food restrictions can be harmful to children both emotionally and physically.

Our kids will leave our home at some point, and we are not going to be in control at all. So, it is more important for us to help them make good decisions than to make the decision for them.  Our job as parents is to make them not need us to make good decisions. That is our job to work ourselves out of a job!  We want them to grow up to become comfortable, happy adults and we can do this by not controlling them but helping them make good choices along the way.
When starting out with this, kids and many parents will be very overwhelmed if we go to the end first. So, what we do is we start at one habit at a time that we can work on.  We decide on habits they are willing to change.  And with this, I am not going to pick for them.  I don’t take away anything they love because it will not last, and it is not doable. For example, if they drink 3 sodas a day, we bring it down to 1 soda a day and work on that habit of less.

Not every patient or child is going to be the same and everybody has to be treated as an individual and receive personalized care. Sit down and see what you love.  What are you willing to decrease and what are you willing to do a little better?  There is no goal weight.  We are going to get you to a healthy lifestyle, not a certain weight!  These are numbers, and how can we get you to a healthier place. (The goal should not be weight, but we do have to know the weight of the child (and an adult) so we can keep track of what is going on.  We surely cannot avoid the scale in a medical setting, but we cannot obsess over it.

In the end… It is so important how we talk to our kids, how we empower our kids, and how our mindset is so important.  Helping your child differentiate an opinion from a fact and differentiate the scale from their willpower and you have already set them up for success and you have made them resilient.  Keep repeating the right message to try and negate the other messages our children seem to face every day and it will truly help as you move through this journey together.

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