Weight Gain in Adolescence: How to Talk to Your Daughter About Her Changing Body

As talk about our nation’s “Obesity Epidemic” is on the rise, it’s only natural many feel compelled to make weight gain and body fat the enemy. But what if we told you weight gain and fat is a good thing? Puberty in girls typically begins between ages eight and 13, and can last as long as four years. While you might think that your daughter is fully grown, it’s perfectly normal for her body to continue to change, and yes, gain weight, well into her teens. During this time, a girl’s body will increase in fat, muscle, and bone, as she begins to transition to womanhood.

This (what might seem like a sudden) spike in body weight and body fat is necessary for the body’s hormone balance, menstrual cycle, and preparation for procreation. And while your instinct might be to raise concerns, limit calorie intake, or increase exercise, the most important thing you can do during this time is help your daughter (or granddaughter, niece, or loved one), feel accepting of her body, no matter the size or shape. Now to answer the question: How do we do that? We’ve turned to the pros, and asked our favorite dietitians to weigh-in.

Step Away From The Scale

“I was one of those girls, and have one of those girls. I know what it’s like. I never weigh my daughter, and always emphasize that the number on the scale doesn’t matter. And, I always stress that it’s more important to nourish the body she has, to love it, and to be kind to it, rather than comparing it to friends or celebrities.”  - Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, owner of www.NutritionStarringYOU.com

Set The Stage

“As I've been working with women to improve body image, I've realized just how strongly moms influence their daughters with their body insecurities. If you talk about dieting, your 'trouble spots,' your desire to lose weight, or whatever negative thought you have about your body, your daughter will remember this and think it's normal. My biggest recommendation to moms is to be mindful of how they talk about their own bodies in front of their kids.” - Rebecca Clyde MS, RDN, CD

Validate the Confusion and Discomfort

“Validating your daughter’s feelings is as important as teaching them about body positivity. It is a balance of giving them room to talk about their internal conversations while modeling body positivity. Try saying something like, your body is changing and it may continue to change for a few more years. It can be confusing, awkward, and uncomfortable at times. I want you to know I understand and am listening. Being emotionally available can increase your child's resilience towards negative body messages.” - Grace Wong, RD, MSc

Teach Positive Self-Talk

“Having your child focus on their positive (non-physical) attributes through positive self-talk can be extremely powerful. Have them verbally express their best attributes, like strong, loyal, kind, and considerate. Teens are in need of empowering language to get started on the path towards body positivity.” - Jill Castle, RDN

Focus on Feelings

“Girls and women are often taught to worry about how they look, instead of how they feel. Help your daughter find activities and foods that make her feel good. Allow her to explore and encourage inquisitiveness by asking her open ended questions such as, “How did you feel during soccer practice?” or “Did you have fun riding your bike to school today?” These subtle questions will help your daughter find what works for her and make it easier for her to develop, and stick with, healthy habits for the rest of her life.” Jessi Haggerty, RDN, CPT

Do you think you can implement one of these strategies with your daughter? Let us know which one resonates with you the most in the comments below!