Talking about Weight: Questions & Answers

Talking about weight is NOT the same as talking about health. We want families to talk about being healthy. We do not want families to talk about weight.

Question: “But weight is what we are here to change! It’s the most important thing, how can we not talk about it?”

Answer: If I ask you, “why are you concerned about your weight, or your child’s weight, what would you say?”


No one ever says, “well, I care about that number on the scale being different.”

Instead, they say, “I am worried about her health. I want her to feel good. I want him to be happy, and I don’t think he is. I just want our family to be healthy.”


Aha! Great! We are on the same page – we want all those things too! It may seem like that number on the scale is an easy indicator of health. Still, our health is very complex, and weight alone, even BMI alone, tells us very little about your child’s health.

HEALTHY LIFESTYLES PRO TIP:

Instead of asking about your child’s weight at your next appointment, take time to reflect on the changes you have noticed in your family. What have you been doing well together? What would you like to do better over the next several weeks/months?


Instead of focusing on weight, try this:

  1. Make a concrete plan for behavior change.

  2. Set a SMART goal.

  3. Track your progress toward your goal.

  4. Use your Healthy Lifestyles appointment to share with your doctor the ups and downs of this process and let them help you recalibrate and keep moving toward your goal of being a healthy family! Remember, the process of behavior change isn’t a straight line and our providers are here to help you keep moving in the right direction.

How we think behavior change happens vs how behavior change actually happens


Question: “We’re just playing around. Kids tease each other. He knows we are just being playful, and we love him. That’s not bad, right?”

Answer: Words matter. You may have heard the old children’s rhyme, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” The fact is, words CAN and DO hurt. Because of the prevalence of weight stigma in our society, being called “fat” is connected with hundreds of negative stereotypes. Even if you or your loved ones would never even think to say, “fat people are unattractive” or “you’ll never succeed in life if you are fat,” those stereotypes are prevalent in our culture. Your child may understand that you are being playful and mean no harm, and he may even laugh along with you. However, the words “you are fat” is still connected with blame, shame, and cultural stereotypes that your child cannot escape. Messages that stigmatize individuals with overweight are everywhere. If you haven’t noticed, start looking out for these messages!

HEALTHY LIFESTYLES PRO TIP:

  • Teach your children that ALL BODIES are good bodies!

  • Tell your family in no uncertain, “we don’t use words like that,” and stop using these words yourself.

  • Encourage your child to love their body by directing their attention to all the incredible things their body does. Our bodies are diverse, just like so many other things. Our skin color, our eye color, our height, our accents…many beautiful things make us unique!

  • Do not make negative comments about your own body or the bodies of others. Our kids learn more from us and how we treat ourselves than we often realize. Give your child the message that you love your body as it is, and they will learn to do the same!

  • Do not allow others to make weight biased comments around your or your child.

Question: “I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I know my child, if I don’t stay on him, he is not going to change. Doesn’t it make sense that if he doesn’t like being teased and picked on, he needs to start making some changes? I feel like that should motivate him. Sometimes I am not even sure if he realizes he is gaining weight.”

Answer: Unfortunately, there is compelling scientific evidence that suggests weight-bias is counterproductive. Not only does feeling shame about weight not help someone change, but it also produces the opposite effect. Individuals who experience weight-related bias are more likely to engage in unhealthy eating behaviors and less likely to be physically active. Even when individuals do lose weight, those who have experienced weight-bias are more likely to regain the weight they lost.

No individual family member sets out with the intention to shame their loved one. We know that! We also know that some of the things that family members say can cause harm, even when that isn’t the intended message. Why? Because the culture we live in is predominately weight biased. This culture influences all of us. And weight bias often goes unchecked in popular culture, news, and social media.

HEALTHY LIFESTYLES PRO TIP:

Feeling good about yourself and who you are, ENCOURAGES you to maintain your health, be physically active, and take care of your mental health. So a positive attitude is motivational! Feeling good about who you are is motivational. If you want to help motivate your son or daughter to be healthier, stop, and ask yourself how you can help them feel good about who they are today.

  • Compliment them and be specific. No one likes to hear a frivolous platitude that doesn’t mean anything. However, a well-timed statement that is specific can increase self-esteem. For example, “I saw you working hard at practice today, I’m proud of you,” can start to chip away at negative messages your child has internalized.

  • Ask what they need. If you have the feeling that your son or daughter wants to make behavior changes, and is struggling to do so, ask them how you can help. Encourage them to talk to the Healthy Lifestyles counselor for some ideas.

Do you have questions about weight-bias or any of the information presented here? We want to provide answers! You can email the counselor at lisa.honeycutt@duke.edu with any of your questions or comments.

Article written by Lisa Honeycutt, LCMHC, LMFT

Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor


Read her bio here!

Contact Us

Rachel N. Fleming

Bull City Fit Program Coordinator

(919) 681-1203

rachel.n.fleming@duke.edu

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