Healthy ways to talk to children and teens about their weight

Claire Turnbull was recently interviewed by the NZ Herald on this very tricky topic. As mentioned in the article, we come across this all the time at Mission Nutrition and we know how challenging it can be. There is no one size fits all answer, but alongside the points in the article, here are some extra things to think about if this is something you are worried about with your child.

1) HOW WELL IS YOUR CHILD SLEEPING? - This might sound like an odd place to start, but so often issues we see and hear about involve kids with undiagnosed or misdiagnosed sleep issues. Having adequate sleep is VITAL for your child’s health and a consistent bed and wake time is helpful. Inadequate or poor quality sleep can make it much harder to regulate appetite and also mess with your gut microbiome. For more on how many hours sleep your child needs, check here.

2) LOOK FOR THE WHY - If you feel your child is eating/drinking more than they need, why might this be?

  • Boredom? Loneliness?

  • Comfort? Punishment? That might sound odd, but eating can also be a form of self-abuse rather than feeling ‘comforting’.  There is nothing comforting about eating a block of chocolate and feeling terrible about yourself afterwards. Claire personally used food as a form of self-abuse for years and years.

  • Habit associated with another activity e.g. gaming or watching TV.

  • Unaware of appetite cues?

    There can be so many reasons here, these are just a few examples, the point being that overeating can often be a symptom of a deeper issue and when that is identified and worked through, overeating can be better managed.

3) HOW’S YOUR EATING? - Children pick up more about food from what you are doing than what you are telling them to do. Be mindful of the behaviour you are modelling. Often when we are working with parents to help them with their kids’ eating, we end up supporting them to review their own relationship with food too.

4) WHAT’S YOUR LANGUAGE? - Be careful with your words and aim for neutral language. Food is not good or bad and avoiding using food as a bribe or a reward is super important.

5) DIVISION OF RESPONSIBILITY - The model we use a lot in this space is that known as the ‘division of responsibility’ by Ellyn Satter. As the adult you control what and when a child eats, the child controls how much. So often these days kids have free access to all food, pick and nibble much of the day with no or little structure around eating which can cause problems.

6) MANAGE YOUR FOOD ENVIRONMENT AT HOME - The easier food is to access, the more likely you are to eat it. What foods are the easiest to access in your house? Now is a good time for a review. Make it easier to access foods that you (and you want your child) to have more of, and harder to access those foods that aren’t for every day. 

7) TAKE A FAMILY APPROACH - There is a lot you can change indirectly to help you and your children eat better without having to have conversations that single one child out.

If you have kids or grandkids, how do you find their eating habits and behaviour around food?

Need personalised nutrition advice?  Our team can help, if you have health insurance you might be able to claim back the cost too.




Published By

Claire Turnbull



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