Help, I Think My Daughter is Fat! How to Help!

body image eating disorders for moms identity weight and dieting Feb 11, 2024
Help, I Think My Daughter is Fat! How to Help!

Today our “Questions” series continues with this SUPER tough one from a reader up north!

Dear Heather:

I have been encouraged by your posts and reminded to look past comparisons and to Christ. However, I’m struggling lately because my daughter is gaining weight and bigger than her friends. Honestly, I think my daughter is fat. I’ve struggled with self image and now it hurts to watch my girl “not” meet the world’s standard of beauty. I secretly wish she was small like the other girls. She is active and we eat pretty healthy—but she has a good appetite and we do enjoy some treats. She is so beautiful but I still worry. I also wonder if I’m putting my own issues on her. It’s hard for me to even share this, I feel like such a terrible mom. Any advice?


K in Michigan


Dear K:

Please don’t feel bad, your question is a common one.

Most women battle body image themselves. (Some studies show up to 90 percent of moms do!) When we look at our daughters how can we help but not place some of our own issues on them? Our beliefs come out–whether we want them to or not. Sometimes we communicate more than we even recognize about value and worth directly to our daughters (and sons!)little girl mom thinks fat

That said. First, we have to put on our own oxygen masks. That’s the best analogy I can use because we have no ability to convince our daughters of anything related to their body image until we reconcile what we believe about our worth in our own hearts. We have to know exactly where our value comes from before we can rightly communicate that to our daughters–and before we can truly relax with the way we look–and the way they look.

  • Do you believe that your value comes from your size and shape?
  • Do you believe that thin is more valuable than so-called fat?
  • Do you believe that meeting this culture’s standard of beauty is important?

I don’t want to trivialize this. These are hard questions rooted in deeply ingrained beliefs most of us have had since we were children.

But, in order to help our daughters not have the same battle we do, we have to stop and separate the truth from the lies in our own minds so that what we communicate to them is pure and right.

Now, as I understand your question, it’s not your daughter who thinks she’s fat–she isn’t struggling with these issues. Instead, it’s you who’s struggling.

Instead of talking about how to help her, in this post, we’ll talk about some practical things for you to think and pray through.

Second: Generally, ask yourself what standard you are using for your daughter’s size. Is the doctor saying she should be thinner or are you just feeling society’s pressure that she must have a certain body type? (Please don’t hear any condemnation in my voice if it’s the latter — but I do think this is an important distinction to make.)

If she really needs to trim down for her health according to the doctor’s standards (and a reminder here -- BMI is not the best measure of health for anyone, yet alone a child!). But incorporating physical activities and different food choices is a different mission than trying to get your daughter to be thinner to meet your standard. If your doctor isn’t concerned, then, I’d encourage you not to be either. If your doctor is concerned, explore this further. Ask what metrics he is using to assess her health. Did he ask about her physical activity? Did he talk to her about how she feels about relationships and school?

One of my children was in the 100th percentile for weight as an elementary school student. The doctor began asking more questions. Does he exercise? Yes, he does a sport 3x a week and plays outside on other days. Does he eat vegetables? Yes, all the time. She deemed that it was nothing to worry about. Though, I saw the look on my child's face during the interrogation and I could see the shame there. I wish the conversation didn't have to happen. The BMI chart is adding more shame than necessary in these areas. And, fast forward a few years, his body looks different. It was a phase.

Hear my story as a cautionary tale . . .

If your daughter does need to make some changes for her health, tread carefully. Offer plenty of healthy choices and incorporate movement that's fun for her and the whole family. Do not single her out. Do not put her on a diet, unless you want her to have an eating disorder later in life.

I’d also encourage you to avoid putting her on the scale at home. You don't need to know her exact gravitational pull unless she's getting medication or anesthesia. 

If she’s still young enough that you are in charge of most of her food choices, then don’t start watching her like a hawk or impose dieting habits or special foods for her. Instead, just gradually work to add more foods that are nutritionally dense that she enjoys!

Make sure you don’t get angry with her for making “poor” food choices or she will soon learn that you want her thin. . .and, again, that’s a set up for future eating disorders.

Third, and most of all, can I just encourage you to give yourself some grace?

This parenting thing is hard and no one has all the answers.

Your daughter needs your love and she needs to know that Jesus accepts her, just as she is!

It’s important that they know we accept them too -but most important is how much Jesus accepts them.

We moms care so, so much. We pour our hearts into making sure that our children are protected from the pain we felt and the pain we see in this world. And, yet, we can’t do that. We have to trust God that He’s got them. And, as they move further and further away from our 24/7 supervision, trusting God is really the only option we have. Right?

We can’t really prevent our daughters from having body image issues. Nor can we do any one thing to ensure that they’ll never be picked on, made fun of, or ostracized– no matter what they look like. But, we can (inadvertently) mute the message that they are unconditionally loved and accepted by the Savior when we say things like, “Jesus loves you just as your are.” And then follow that line with, “Hey, honey, why don’t you lose a little weight…I want you to be like this.”

Can I encourage you to watch for that? Our girls need to know that they are loved no matter what their size, skin condition, shape, or appearance. They need to start internalizing this long before puberty.

The biggest struggle for us moms is feeling and believing that His love is really enough–that it’s not Jesus AND beauty that matter. But, only Jesus. Let me encourage you to work on you and I think as God resolves this issue in your heart it will be easier to parent your daughter from a healthy place on the body image front.

Need more encouragement? Check out Heather's books here, or her online course and coaching program here. You can also give the Compared to Who? podcast a listen, for twice-weekly encouragement with body image struggles from a Christian standpoint, where she explores all the nitty-gritty details we all face when struggling with body image woes and how to get free.


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