My 10-year-old daughter has befriended another girl at school who happens to be morbidly obese. The girl has spent the night at our home a few times, and I’ve been learning about her eating habits at home.
Her mother feeds her fast food for dinner nearly every night, and we’re not talking kiddie meals. This girl’s never given anything less than super-sized meals. She’s also allowed endless junk food snacks, like chips, cookies, snack cakes, etc. Her parents, as you can imagine, are also morbidly obese.
At my house, I’ve been sneaking her healthy foods, like raw vegetables and lean protein. Though we keep some junk food in the house, I hide it when this girl comes over.
She’s told me that other kids make fun of her, and she’d like to lose weight. But as a 10-year-old, she doesn’t yet have the ability to make her own food choices at home. How can I express this to her parents without hurting their feelings, since they’re also obese?
— Worried About the Fat Kid
As a former fat kid, I think I know where your daughter’s friend is coming from. At her age, I was eating entire sticks of butter and polishing off giant bags of Cheetos in a single sitting. I also helped myself to two full dinners every night (one after school at a friend’s house and another one later at home).
I weighed over 100 pounds in the fifth grade. In fact, I weigh around the same now at age 29 as I did at age 9. However, my parents didn’t share my negative eating habits. In fact, my dad’s the one who warned me that I was getting pretty chunky. So I put myself on a healthy eating plan (with a little help from my mom).
The problem with your daughter’s friend is her parents. Talking to them directly may hurt their feelings, so maybe you should first try helping them through their daughter.
The next time she spends the night, plan a fun activity focused on healthy foods — maybe a build-your-own-salad night or healthy pizza-making (low-fat or no cheese, heavy on the veggies) session. Arm her with the information to teach her parents how she’d prefer to eat. Hopefully, they’ll take heed and buy the girl some carrots and tofu as opposed to Big Macs and French fries. As their daughter improves her eating habits, maybe the parents will follow suit.
Give that a few weeks and ask her to tell you how it's working. If the parents continue to shove trans fats down her throat, then you may need to have a come-to-Richard-Simmons talk with them. But keep the focus on their daughter’s obesity, not theirs. Calling them fat may just piss them off and cause them to rebel from any of your suggestions.
Let them know that their daughter is being made fun of at school, and share stories about how she likes to eat at your house. You could even offer to go shopping with them to assist them in making healthier choices. And don’t forget about exercise — suggest they enroll their daughter in team sports or maybe a kid-centric workout class.
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