Friday, June 28, 2013

Real Talk With Rachel: Extra Weight On Your Shoulders

by Rachel Kurzius

Dear Rachel,

Recently, my daughter returned from college for the summer.  I was stunned when I saw her because she had gained what looked like 40 extra pounds. She was always a little overweight but this time she looked unhealthy and uncomfortable in her own skin.  She seems to be obsessed by food.

I really want to let her know how concerned I am but I don't know how to go about it.  What would you suggest?

Concerned Parent

Dear Concerned Parent,

Your intuition is good here, Concerned Parent. The inclination to think long and hard about how to approach this delicate situation, rather than blurt out your surprise or concern off the bat, will serve you well.
Because let’s face it -- even though you might be worried about your daughter’s health and wellbeing, conversations about weight can quickly spiral into something else entirely.

I say this as someone who, as a pre-teen, would turn my mother’s requests that I take runs with her into diatribes about how she must be calling me fat. Did those entreaties to jog have something to do with my exercising habits, or lack thereof? Probably. Were they passive-aggressive stabs at my weight? My mother maintains no. But “not exercising” means more than how often you run or how you feel. It’s also about how you look. How you look, and how others perceive your looks, is something that young women in particular must constantly wrestle with as we determine how we can take up space in this world.

So it’s complicated. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk to your daughter, though. A weight gain of 40 pounds, like a weight loss of 40 pounds or any other kind of significant bodily change, says quite clearly that something is going on. What precisely it says -- I don’t know.

Going off to college often means that a teen has unlimited access to all of the tastiest (read: greasiest, least healthy) food. That plus new or increased nights of drunken revelry could account for the weight gain. It could be thyroid issue. Or your daughter could be masking any number of deeper-seated issues by eating. These are some of the first things that come to mind, but certainly not the only potential reasons.

It also might not be either/or. It could be a bit of the first reason, a smattering of the third and something else entirely mixed in. While your daughter is almost assuredly aware of her weight gain, she may have less of an understanding as to why, because that would involve spending time stewing over something unpleasant. But you can help by beginning a conversation that can get at these questions and chart a journey towards a healthier future.

When you talk to your daughter about her weight gain, you should phrase it in the way you did in your letter to me. This isn’t about aesthetics. This is about helping your daughter cultivate a healthier lifestyle for herself.
You need to frame it that way.

Your daughter is wise, I am sure, as almost all young women are, to what might lie between the lines of the phrase “healthier lifestyle,” blurring the distinction between being in good shape and being skinny. You must be patient and steadfast. Deny that your discussion is about weight but do not lie to her that she has gained weight. She cannot trust you if you lie. There is a way to tell the truth without judging her.

This conversation will be difficult. There is no question of that. You do not mention a spouse or partner. If you have one to whom you can share your concerns, do so if you haven’t already. You should discuss which of the two of you might be better situated to discuss this with your daughter.

Part of being a parent means bringing up what no one else will for the benefit of your child. It doesn’t mean that you will know how to bring up difficult topics. All you can do is arm yourself with the complexities of the situation and the love you so clearly feel for your child.

All my best,



Rachel Kurzius revels in giving advice, and has provided counsel both as a columnist and a friend. She lives in Washington DC, where she works as a news producer. Real Talk with Rachel is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv,, on Wednesdays. Need advice? You can write to Rachel via or advice @

No comments:

Post a Comment