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What do you do if your daughter is overweight?

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

A mother only wants the best for her daughter, how do you approach a topic that could possibly scar your daughter and make her feel ashamed, perhaps for life? The ramifications of such a conversation can be so dire that we fear the worst and do nothing at all. Leaving our daughters to fend for themselves. This very act of avoidance, unfortunately, will cause dire consequences anyway, it’s a dammed if you do, and dammed if you don’t situation.

Before we start, I want you to know that this blog was written with immense care and sensitivity. I myself have two daughters. If you are concerned that your daughter is overweight, my goal is to empower you with ways to approach the situation correctly so that she can have a healthy body image and a healthy relationship with food. I strongly feel that this topic is not discussed openly enough, and we leave mothers with little help on how to address a potential problem. Remember that everyone's body is different, and that healthy weight management should always be approached in a positive and in a supportive way.

Before you decide that your daughter could be heading toward an unhealthy weight for her age, consult with a healthcare professional, schedule an appointment with your daughter's paediatrician, and have them do an overall health check and calculate her BMI. It is much better for your daughter to “brace the scale” for the first time in a doctor’s practice which is a neutral and safe space. Her point of reference about the whole conversation will be formed with overall health in mind, instead of mommy wanting to see if I’m fat.

It is also important for you as a mother to be objective, when we struggle with our own weight demons, we cannot be completely objective, and we fear our daughters will carry the same burdens. Therefore, step one, is always to have a medical doctor confirm or deny your suspicions. In many situations, it’s simply a case of having your daughter join an energetic sport and get more active at home. To give you some perspective on the growing concern in South Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children under the age of 5 in South Africa was 13.6% in 2019. This means that approximately 1 in 7 young children in South Africa are overweight or obese. Data from the South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES) conducted in 2012 revealed that the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children aged 6-14 years was 16.5%. The prevalence was higher among girls (18.2%) than boys (14.7%). Obesity in South African children is a growing concern, with many young people facing an increased risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. As a mother, you most likely want to protect and save your little girl from the shame, guilt, and low self-worth that obese weight can create. I never want any girl to struggle with these feelings while growing up because it becomes and shapes their identity and whom they believe they are. Feeling fat, or “being fat” can have catastrophic consequences on mental health and self-confidence in children and then develop into problems in adulthood.

If you ever struggled with excessive weight or obese weight, think about the internal battles which you had/have to confront each day. You can help your daughter and help change her relationship with food before it’s too late and before she suffers years of self-loathing and emotional turmoil. If you have consulted a medical practitioner and your daughter is classified as being overweight, what is the next step?


Having THE conversation.

Chances are, if your daughter is 12 years or older she already knows she is different from her peers at school. She might possibly be bullied already for being “fat”. She may have mentioned it to you, or she might have kept it quiet because of her shame and vulnerability. Children between the ages of 6 and 9 have not yet identified with the concept of weight. Talking about obesity at these ages is a very sensitive topic, they may possibly not “know” that there is something different about them yet. To make this simple, think about the latest crop top fashion trend, your daughter will want to join the revolution and own her own mickey mouse trimmed belly shirt. (My oldest daughter now 8 wanted a crop top.) If she is obese and has the confidence to wear the crop top then she does not yet have a concept of weight or what obesity is. Her body image is still a psychological impression that has to be formed and moulded as she grows older and is more exposed to societal norms about weight. If your daughter does not want to wear the crop top, then she possibly very well already started realising the concept of weight and identifies herself as being overweight. This can sometimes also not be the case as some children do not identify with societal norms, and do not conform to what society displays as “normal”. This blog serves as a guideline to prompt mothers to start talking and addressing these issues with their daughters. Unfortunately, it is not a copy, paste solution or a one size fits all scenario.

The younger ages are the most susceptible to what mommy thinks about me so it’s crucial you manage the conversation in a positive manner. Daughters can easily conclude that they are not worthy in mommy’s eyes because you brought up the topic that there might be something “wrong” with her. Do you see why we avoid this conversation!!


The Conversation with younger ages who do not associate with weight or obesity yet:

You do not want her to be left feeling judged by you in any way. Remember that her identity and self-worth are still being formed by all the evidence her brain receives from the outside world. That includes this very conversation.


Step 1: Find a calm and familiar space where you can chat, uninterrupted. Try a spot in the garden or your favourite park. Avoid having the discussion in her room, she might need to “withdrawal” to process, and she will need her room to be a safe haven. Make time that it’s just the two of you.


Step 2: Ask her some questions. What does she think being healthy means? What does being healthy look like? What is not healthy? And what does someone that is not healthy look like? (P.S. children are not stupid, she might even surprise you with her answers!) How does someone who is healthy feel like? What does someone who is unhealthy feel like? Set the stage for understanding the concept there is a healthy and an unhealthy.

Step 3: Now bring the conversation closer to home. Ask your daughter does she think we (everyone in the family) are healthy or unhealthy. Try and make this part light and filled with humour. Do you think mommy is healthy or unhealthy? Finally, you can ask her, does she think she is healthy or unhealthy. Hopefully, at this point, she will feel it’s okay to discuss with you anything that might be upsetting her. Then you can continue that part of the discussion and ask how does that make her heart feel?

If your daughter did not come to a solid understanding on her own that healthy people look healthy in these ways, then she is not ready to discuss weight and obesity. You can then help the situation by implementing the following tips and habits at home:

  • Encourage healthy habits: Encourage your daughter to eat a balanced and nutritious diet, get regular exercise, and limit sedentary activities like watching TV or playing video games.

  • Lead by example: Model healthy behaviours yourself by eating well, staying active, and avoiding negative body talk or weight-related comments.

  • Focus on positive reinforcement: Rather than criticizing your daughter's weight or appearance, focus on positive reinforcement and encourage her to take pride in her accomplishments and abilities.

  • Create a supportive environment: Create a supportive and positive environment at home that promotes healthy habits and encourages your daughter to feel good about herself.

The Conversation with older ages who know they are overweight and are possibly bullied at school:

It's important to approach the topic of weight with sensitivity and understanding and to avoid making your daughter feel ashamed or embarrassed about her body. Destructive relationships with food and food addiction can be formed in the early childhood years. Children experience complex emotions which they do not have words for and for which they don’t have the ability to unpack (talk it through and understand). To soothe anxiety or negative emotions which they don’t understand, children may reach out for comfort, and they will seek this comfort in food. The serotonin surge they get from eating temporarily makes them feel better and they believe they can cope. However, learning to cope with stress, anxiety and negative emotions in this self-destructive way will lead to weight gain and a lifelong dependency on food.


Step 1: Find a calm and familiar space where you can chat, uninterrupted. Try a spot in the garden or your favourite park. Avoid having the discussion in her room, she might need to “withdrawal” to process, and she will need her room to be a safe haven. Make time that it’s just the two of you.


Step 2: The aim is to get her to bring up the weight topic herself, you do not want to plant the seed into her brain. So, ask open-ended questions. Never do we want them to feel we as mothers “also” think or believe them to be overweight. Ask her if she is happy with her friends at school? Is there something different about her and the other girls at school? If she is being bullied for her weight she will have the answer to this question, whether she will be vulnerable and share it with you depends on your mother-daughter relationship. Be gentle and reassure her that it is okay you only want to support and help her. If she then mentions that she is bullied for being overweight on her own, you can continue to step 3.


Step 3: Identify body image. With more open-ended questions ask your daughter what makes her body different from other girls. How does she want her body to look and feel? At this point we also have to address healthy weight and encourage that not everybody can look the same, each person’s body is different, and that is OKAY. Every physical body can be a healthy body, even if it looks different.


Step 4: Identify suppressed emotions. How does it make her feel when she is bullied about her weight? This part is where you follow that gut feeling. What do these emotions from being bullied make her do? Then hold a comforting safe space for her to express her emotions. Physical touch and closeness will help her to process and open up her suppressed emotions. Then let her talk them all out, all you have to do is listen.


Step 5: Develop an action plan. Offer her a lifeline, in such instances when children do not have the answer and skills yet for active problem solving it’s best to model the behaviour for them. Create a challenge or a secret plan for the two of you to embark on a get healthy journey (weight loss) but use words such as healthy and strong, instead of losing weight and weight loss. Then do it together, she is much more likely to commit to eating better and using better ways of coping with anxiety when she has a wingman. Then incorporate the tips mentioned earlier.


Step 6: Incorporate booster activities. Teach her how to cope with anxiety by using healthy techniques instead of reaching out for food.


There are many activities that can help boost serotonin levels naturally without eating. Here are some examples:

  • Exercise: Physical activity, particularly aerobic exercise, has been shown to increase serotonin levels in the brain. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise per day.

  • Exposure to sunlight: Sunlight exposure can increase serotonin levels, particularly during the morning and midday hours. Try to spend some time outside each day, particularly in the morning.

  • Meditation and yoga: Mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga can help reduce stress and boost serotonin levels.

  • Socialising: Spending time with friends and loved ones can boost mood and increase serotonin levels.

  • Engaging in hobbies: Doing activities that you enjoy, such as reading, painting, or gardening, can help boost serotonin levels and promote relaxation.

  • Listening to music: Listening to music that you enjoy can increase serotonin levels and boost mood.

  • Getting enough sleep: Adequate sleep is important for serotonin regulation. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

These activities can be effective in naturally boosting serotonin levels and improving mood, also keep the conversation going. Don’t stop talking about healthy bodies, repetition is crucial for the brain to cement cognitive thinking. However, daunting the topic and situation can be, it is better to address it and try to install better habits and food choices from an early age. It will help your daughter in the long run and will boost her confidence.


Should you at any point become troubled about your daughter’s mental health and wonder if she is possibly suffering from depression then it's important to speak with a healthcare professional. If you are in this situation and you feel you need more guidance then reach out and talk to one of our Sprezzatura Mind & Body Coaches.



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