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Learning to accept young daughter's weight

Carolyn Hax, Advice Columnist

Updated: Sunday, October 1, 2017, 3:01 AM

Question: Ever since my now-tween daughter was a toddler, she has been a little chubby. I routinely found hidden food wrappers under her bed, under the couch cushions, and shoved in her closet. Yes, at 3, she had the wherewithal to find food and hide her eating.

I read about appropriate food control and thought the most useful suggestion was to provide a ready plate of fresh fruit. It would be completely gone before her brother even knew it was available. It didn't seem to matter what she was eating as long as she was eating.

As she got older, I showed her how to read nutrition labels and find portion sizes. I showed her how to measure food with a measuring cup. I even bought premeasured snack bags for her school lunch. Her weight continues to increase. She is 12 and 165 pounds.

Her doctor takes little notice and even chastised me for asking about it in front of my daughter. She will not discuss my concerns, falling back on a speech about children's needing healthy nutrients, that as long as she is growing height-wise, she is not concerned about her weight.

My daughter gets high marks and succeeds tremendously at her musical instrument. But now in middle school, she is withdrawing socially. She says all she is interested in is her schoolwork, but I wonder if it isn't also that kids are more interested in sports, school dances, and appearance. She has become frustrated when she points out a store where a friend shops only to realize it doesn't carry her size.

This is another issue. It is very difficult to find clothing to fit a 165-pound 12-year-old that's fashionable and age-appropriate, and I have to take the brunt of why we can't shop at XYZ store. Not to mention the constant cost of new clothes as she grows out of them.

We have always been an active and involved family. Many of our vacations revolve around outdoor experiences. I learned how to cook with real food at a young age and continue doing so for my family. We are not on an "American" diet of convenience foods. Our son is thin and active, I am a long-distance runner, and my husband gets out and does what he can at the gym. We've signed her up for various rec sports over the years, but she gets frustrated and has no interest in being uncomfortable. At the same time, she feels left out and left behind.

I am so sad and worried for her. She gets out of breath quicker than she should, carries her weight bulkily, hates going shopping, and hides further and further in her schoolwork. What can I do for her? What can she do for herself? I am worried her mental health will suffer as much as her physical health. Do I have to watch idly as she self-destructs?

Answer: It appears to me there's one thing you haven't yet tried: accepting her weight.

As a crucial element of accepting her.

As a crucial element of her accepting herself.

As a crucial element of not layering an emotional struggle on top of physical and societal ones.

In your careful and well-intentioned way, you have drawn thinness as the only path to a good life.

So what is your daughter to think when her body won't take her there? Her life is bad?

Let's take a moment to parse the idea of where her body "won't" take her, too. There's always someone ready to argue that any fat person can be a thin one through some set of choices or another. OK. Sure.

But bodies differ in the way they burn (or store) fuel. One person can drop weight doing X, but another has to do X, Y, and Z to drop the same weight. So it's not a matter of "I did X, so she can do X, too," but, instead, recognizing that you might have been her size at 12, too, if you'd had to fight yourself as hard as she does to be otherwise.

So stop fixing and start supporting. Find a pretty-clothes source and keep them coming. Internet = no excuses. Teach your son about nutrition labels, too, and let your daughter see you do it. And learn what you're really saying when you give your kids different messages - or when your message, even unspoken, is "fat is so expensive/upsetting/terrible."

Find a physical activity you can enjoy together. Yoga via YouTube is free, private, and as good for heads as for hearts.

Enjoy your daughter's company. Work harder to meet her where she is.

Talk privately with her doctor about your girl's comprehensive health: feelings, friends, food choices, activity levels. Doc was right to call you out: What "chubby" American needs another shaming message? From Mom?

And read Lindy West - copiously. Get thoroughly entertained as you rethink what you think you know about weight.

tellme@washpost.com. Chat with Carolyn Hax at noon Fridays at washingtonpost.com.

Carolyn Hax, Advice Columnist

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