The Toughest Talk You’ll Ever Have
By Winnie Yu
The toughest talk you’ll ever have. For a few years — OK, maybe more than a few — I worried that my daughter Samantha was getting fat. After all, she was consistently in the 95th percentile for her weight, and I knew that a BMI (body mass index) between the 85th and 95th percentile meant a child was at risk for being too heavy.
It’s easy for women to get a little crazy about their weight, so it’s no wonder that we become a bit unhinged when it comes to our kids. Our pediatrician reassured me that she was fine because she’d been in the 95th percentile since she was a toddler and had a naturally muscular build. And today, at 14, her BMI is normal, so perhaps he was right.
Still, I couldn’t help but be concerned — especially when I saw her chomping down her fourth slice of pizza or noshing on candy with reckless abandon. Telling her I was worried about her weight felt cruel, a remark that could spawn body image issues and trigger an eating disorder. But staying silent seemed equally wrong, as if I were giving her permission to pack on the pounds.
Clearly, being appropriately concerned yet not overly neurotic was going to take some restraint. Turns out I’m not the only parent who feels uncomfortable discussing these matters. A recent survey found that most parents would prefer to talk about sex, drugs and alcohol than chat up their kids about weight.
So rather than get embroiled in a complicated conversation about BMI and calories, I chose to keep it simple and focus on one thing: good health. And rather than zero in on Samantha, I made these weighty discussions a family affair that included her thin-as-a-rail sister, Annie. We talked about trying to log an hour of exercise every day, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and limiting — but not necessarily omitting — junk food from our diets. My friend did the same thing with her three boys.
Teaching my kids portion control was a little trickier. To rein in their temptation to overeat — the root of the nation’s weight problem, I think — I told them to try putting off until tomorrow the second helping you want today. “After all,” I said, borrowing a line from Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day.”
It was a simple lesson — one that my kids got right away. “Guess what, Mom?” Samantha said to me one day. “I didn’t take the second cupcake today because I remembered what you said about there always being another time.”
Inside I cheered. But will these lessons stick? Will they succumb to the freshman 15? Will they keep it off as adults? Only time will tell.
She has two daughters (Samantha, 14, and Annie, 12) and is the author of seven books, including New Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding and What to Eat for What Ails You. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Woman’s Day, AARP Bulletin, Prevention and WebMD.com.