Encouraging teengers to be healthier can be tricky, especially if they already have issues around food and overeat or comfort eat. So how do you approach the subject with your daughter without causing more damage?
We asked fitness expert Laura Williams to shed some light. She says: “As you’ve already identified, this is a very delicate issue. Naturally, you want what’s best for both your daughter’s physical and mental health, but treading this line carefully is key if you’re to avoid compounding an existing issue, or creating a new one.
“There are a few simple steps that should help you to get started…
“Make it a family affair. Try and get the whole family on board when it comes to diet. Create a cooking night and take it in turns to rustle up something simple and healthy. It can be helpful to create a new context for food, something that’s a bit creative, and takes the emphasis away from the waistline aspect.
“Get on board with some exercise. Moving enough is an equally important aspect of weight management, but again, trying to create non-aesthetic goals will help to form a really healthy habit. Enter a charity race together and investigate local exercise classes – find something different each week until you find a fitness community you can both settle into, and then make that your weekly fitness night. Getting the whole family into an event like Parkrun will give your new exercise routine some structure, and a goal to strive for, outside of your daughter’s waistline.
“Gradually reduce treat food in the house. This one’s tricky… While you don’t want to purge your home of every tasty titbit for family members, removing temptation isn’t the same as forbidding foods. It’s a big ask if you’re trying to stay on track when cakes and biscuits, high-cal, easy-to-prepare food like pizza and oversized bags of crisps are readily available. Reduce the treat stash gradually, replacing with tasty and lower-calorie items like fruit; dips such as salsa and tzatziki, and higher calorie options that are less moreish, such as seeds.
“Avoid demonising any food too much, as this can contribute to setting up boom/bust dieting scenarios – you want to focus on words like ‘tasty’ and ‘nourishing’ instead. Appeal to other cosmetic factors too – highlight the fact that fruit and veg, seeds, fish and plenty of water can have wonderful effects on the skin, hair and nails.
“Avoid linking food and comfort. Food is an intrinsic aspect of family life, so we naturally associate it with comfort, and rightly so. The trick is to confine the comfort part to the creative aspect – the preparing and eating together, and away from any habit that’s been formed around seeking solace in large portions or lots of extras low in nutrients. Invest time (and money, if possible) in other comforting and distracting activities if morale is low, like shopping, cinema, bowling and theme-park trips.”