My daughter is 7. She weighs 52 pounds and is roughly 45 inches tall. In my eyes, she is not overweight, but since she has expressed concern about her appearance, we have made a conscious effort to offer low fat, low sugar nutritious meals and snacks for her (and the rest of the family). Even so, there is not a day that goes by that she does not mention feeling “fat”. Her stomach protrudes some (mine did too at her age) which I believe is the source of her obsession. I try to reassure her that as she grows taller, her stomach will become flatter.
I am not making much progress and I fear that her mental well being is beginning to suffer. I am very concerned. How can I pull her out of this downward spiral? I have tried telling her that she looks fine. I’ve shown her pictures of myself at her age and later when I was thin. I’ve talked with her about food and nutrition and why we eat certain foods. I don’t know what else to try. I am in the process of losing weight from a pregnancy 2 years ago. I have about 25 pounds to shed, but I try not to talk about it at home because I fear it will reinforce her negative feelings about herself. I’d appreciate any help.
Have you tried the Healthy Kid Calculator®? Your daughter is short for height (10th percentile) and average weight (50th percentile) for her age. Her BMI is 18.1 (90th percentile), which is a health risk assessment. Normal BMI for her age is 13.8 to 18.3. Your daughter is at a healthy weight for height and age.
Her preoccupation with feeling fat and a round tummy can predispose her to develop anorexia or bulimia. Instead, tell your daughter that she looks healthy and avoid any discussion of her weight or individual body parts. Work to build her self-esteem and self-confidence. I would suggest positive feedback about healthy eating habits instead of telling her she doesn’t eat enough which will encourage her to restrict food.
Is she involved in food purchases or menus? She is old enough to be involved in these food-related activities to get her to understand the concept that eating is healthy. You can talk to her school counselor and ask for suggestions on dealing with body image issues for girls her age. Perhaps the counselor knows of some good books for either you or your daughter to read. You are correct in not discussing your weight loss plan with your daughter as it may create competition for attention.
Actually, children don’t need to eat “low fat” just a healthy amount of fat or approximately 30% of the food she eats can come from fat. Unfortunately, the current focus on eating low-fat foods has fallen on children who actually need extra fat calories to grow normally. Most children should drink 2% reduced fat rather than 1% low-fat milk, not skim and they don’t need the low fat or fat-free versions of food unless they are over the 90th percentile for BMI. FYI, the human body uses fat to produce hormones, including those necessary for puberty which could be delayed if your daughter doesn’t eat enough fat.
Is your daughter involved in sports? If yes, a sport can encourage girls to have strong, muscular, healthy bodies and improve their self-confidence. Ever take a look at Olympic or collegiate female athletes? They have strong, muscular bodies to compete athletically.