Straight Talk Advice

Jul 01, 2009

Girl piles on pounds, parents at a loss

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: I’m concerned about my 14-year-old daughter. She is rapidly gaining weight and is now 130 lbs at only 5’1”. She eats obsessively, sometimes hiding food in her room. I’ve asked if she is hungry when she’s randomly snacking and she usually isn’t, explaining that “cheese is tasty”. I’ve stopped buying full-fat cheeses and other processed foods but am unable to control what she eats. My husband and I are extremely active and exercise daily while eating the correct foods. We encourage her to exercise, even participating with her, but she generally declines. She doesn’t seem to notice herself getting larger. How do I even approach this subject without giving her a complex or saying something damaging? — Mom in Medford, OR

Farren 21, Redding, CA Ask me a question

It’s good you’re being sensitive. While it may seem like your daughter doesn’t notice, everyone cares what they look like, especially 14-year-olds. Overeating is usually a coping mechanism, so find out if there is an emotional root to her habit. Is something going on at school or elsewhere that you don’t know about? I also recommend having a doctor test her hormone levels and rule out conditions like hypothyroidism or polycystic ovarian syndrome, to name a few. I can’t stress the importance of testing for these things even if they don’t run in the family. Do your online research, get second opinions, enlist a nutritionist to develop a food and exercise program. As you look into all these factors with your daughter, let her know it is because you are worried and want to help.

Brie 18, Ashland, OR Ask me a question

Sit down and tell your daughter the facts of what being overweight will do to her (heart disease, diabetes, self-esteem issues, etc.). Try to get her involved in a sport because that is a fun way to work out while spending time with friends.

Jessie 17, Ashland, OR Ask me a question

Usually when somebody has an eating problem, either something psychological is going on or there is a chemical imbalance. Ask her if something is wrong, and if she won’t discuss it, have her see a counselor. At the same time, educate her on the dangers of overeating and obesity. Maybe she doesn’t fully realize the risks.

Ashley 21, Auburn, CA Ask me a question

Does your daughter have emotional problems? Could she be pregnant? Can you talk to each other about things like this? You definitely need to, but don’t trip out and tell her she looks fat. Usually if you set a good lifestyle example kids will follow, if not in high school, then later.

DEAR MEDFORD: The panel is correct that emotional issues and/or chemical imbalances are the root of most overeating habits. I also wouldn’t rule out pregnancy or sexual abuse. The latter can compel a girl to overeat to make herself unattractive and “hide” her shame.

An honest, proactive approach is best (you are the parent after all, and obesity is deadly), but weight-control is hugely emotional and demonstrative love and affection MUST accompany your actions. Then, tough as your questions, doctor’s appointments, and boundary-setting might be, your daughter will know she is loved. I want to “pound” this home because many parents reject their children when they are ugly, fat, or unmanageable, and this not only leads to personal guilt, but will undermine your actions and, ultimately, your relationship. The antidote is to be demonstrative in your affection, even when you don’t feel it. Extra-long hugs from you, regardless of your daughter’s progress, are the “food” you both need.

Nutritionally, the healthiest diet regimen, even for overeating, can be found among the traditional whole-food diets discovered in living use by Dr. Weston Price (see www.westonaprice.org and our column JUN 10). If your daughter’s overeating is emotionally driven, I also recommend private counseling and/or Overeaters Anonymous to address the problem at the root.

Editor’s Note: We get a lot of mail from both parents of overweight teens and overweight teens themselves. Aside from girls writing in about relationship problems, it is our most common form of mail. — Lauren

  1. By Katrina, 16 , age , from Collinsville, OK on 07/01/2009

    Try enrolling her in dancing or sports. It’s a fun way to exercise.

    Reply to this comment

  2. By James M, age , from Fort Lauderdale, FL on 08/17/2009

    I would suggest, if you are at a loss, to get some good mental health help from outside mental health counslers who specialize in teen issues.
    Almost all teen girls are sensitive to weight issues, and this sort of behaviour is going to have a big impact on her teen life and later life.

    Time to get help NOW. Go to your county’s mental heath department and ask. Most counties have a few programs aimed at teens, both with individual and peer counseling. Mot of the time it is fee or very low cost, depending on your income and need. (Much cheaper than private counseling for teens)
    I think the others are right, The over eating is not the underlying problem but a symptom of another problem. As parents it is unlikely that if she has not already told you that she will tell you, so go to outside help and keep trying until she finds someone she want\’s to confide in and whom she believes has her interests at hart. You may have to work through several mental health counslers before you find one that really clicks and who gives your daughter confidence to overcome her issues.

    Reply to this comment

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