We all want to do what’s best for our child — after all, we’re their ultimate support system and role model. Our actions during their development, can greatly influence their well-being.
Based on a personal experience of mine, I wanted to share the connection between a healthy weight and self-esteem. How is it that they’re connected — and what can you personally do to support your child, ensuring that they are happy, healthy, and able to express self-love?
I, too, am a mother…
Like so many of you, I am a proud mother. I understand the pressure you feel when aiming to make the right decision. In order to potentially help you and your child, I’d like to press the rewind button for a quick moment…
Over a decade ago, my daughter was ten years old. I began to realize that she was, in fact, overweight. Unfortunately, at this present time, approximately 1 out of every 3 American children are considered overweight or obese. Meaning, this is an issue that far too many children, and their parents are facing.
If you can relate, like you — I was looking for answers and support. As I began to discuss my concerns with friends and family, they all encouraged me to do the same thing. For many, it’s the obvious choice — “speak to her about weight loss” they would say.
I think this was a critical moment for both myself and my daughter, because I chose a different path. Instead of cutting back on calories, weighing her on a weekly basis, and pointing out the obvious, I took a much different approach. I emphasized two things:
The importance of optimal nutrition in order to stay healthy. I began to introduce nutrient-rich foods that supported her well-being, focusing on education, rather than ridicule.
The importance of self-confidence and why she had every right to believe in herself.
Today, my beautiful daughter is healthy, slim, and confident. I am convinced that there’s a connection between my approach and the results we achieved. In contrast, I truly believe that if I would have listened to my relatives, fixating on weight loss, she would still be overweight and would not display the level of self-confidence she does today.
How Does Self-Esteem Influence Weight?
No one knows your child better than you, which is also why you need to watch for any warning signs. Whether you’re concerned about their physical or mental health — sometimes, they’re not independent of one another. In fact, our mind-body connection has been well-established, as our emotions affect all aspects of our health.
Unfortunately, low self-esteem as a child, may fuel obesity well into adulthood. Within one key study, published in BMC Medicine, researchers found that children who struggle with emotional difficulties and low self-esteem, are at higher risk for obesity throughout the course of their lives.
After studying 6,500 participants from the 1970 British Birth Cohort Study, who at 10 years of age were assessed in relation to emotional issues and self perceptions, a clear connection was found. At the age of 30, these participants reported their BMI — and those children who expressed lower self-esteem, were more likely to gain weight and suffer from obesity. They also found that girls were slightly more affected in comparison to boys.
Of course, researchers concluded that early intervention is optimal, helping children develop into healthy individuals who feel as though they’re in control of their emotions and overall lives. Although this study focused on weight gain across a 20 year period, it did not address the current issue in which society and parents are facing.
At this time, within the United States, a shocking 1 in 3 children are overweight or obese. From 1971 to 2011, childhood obesity has tripled — now becoming a significant public health concern. Although issues such as diabetes and heart disease are being examined, the psychological effects are just as damaging.
So, the question remains — does low self-esteem influence weight gain? And if so, how does that continue to affect their self-esteem, and more importantly, their future weight?
Unfortunately, it appears that we may have a vicious cycle on our hands. After all, our self-esteem is an intimate experience — something that builds within our core being. Regardless of what others think and say about your child, if they express low self-esteem, that is how they feel about themselves. For a child, this can be an overwhelming and traumatic experience.
Interestingly, it may even alter the brain. Within one MRI study, published in Physiology and Behavior, 83 teenage females were studied. What they found, was that weight gain was related to lower gray matter volume in regions associated with control and behavioral inhibition. Significantly increasing the risk of future weight gain. Meaning, this condition becomes self-perpetuating. The sooner you intervene, the better.
Of course, childhood obesity is largely based on unhealthy eating patterns and not enough physical activity, but researchers say that there’s another hidden cause — emotional eating. As children feel stressed or sad, they often develop this unchecked habit of using food to cope. In fact, experts now say that up to 75 percent of overeating is caused by negative emotions.
Good News, There’s Something That You Can Do
If you’re concerned about both your child’s weight and self-esteem, don’t assume that they’re unrelated. As mentioned earlier, this cycle can be like throwing fuel on a fire. Once a child is overweight, this cycle can continue to take over their psychological and physical health.
At this point, it’s up to you to provide guidance — you need to model a positive example. Children are just as capable as adults to relearn certain behaviors, in order to make healthier choices surrounding negative emotions and increasing levels of stress. In fact, they’re generally more receptive than adults, especially when you get involved.
Here are just a few tips to help you and your family get started:
If you feel as though overeating is an issue, teach your child to better recognize and express whatever it is they’re feeling. Both you and your child need to better understand triggers that promote unhealthy eating patterns. Intervene, developing healthier, more sustainable habits.
In order to help them better balance their emotions, teach them key self-regulation techniques. This will help them better inhibit their impulses and effectively calm them down when they become upset. There is no better time to teach your child how to overcome stress.
Reduce their sedentary time — taking part in physical activities as a family. If you too are overweight, actively work with your child to encourage one another. Do what’s right for family, wether it’s playing soccer or jumping on a trampoline. Your child may be feeling lonely and defeated. You need to show them that they can do whatever it is they put their mind to — and you’ll show them the way. This will also be crucial in terms of nutritional choices.
At the end of the day, your child wants to know that you’re there for them. Although you will want to ensure that they reach their health-related goals, also remind them that no one is perfect. They should never compare themselves to others, because they are their own unique and special being.
On that note, I’ll leave you with a quote from the author, L.R Knost — “Every day in a hundred small ways, our children ask, ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do I matter? Their behavior often reflects our response.”
Let them know that you do see them, hear them, and that they certainly matter. You can begin to influence their psychological and physical well-being in ways you may have never thought possible. Begin today, in order to help them become successful tomorrow, and continue this momentum well into the future.
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Rachel Fink is a writer and mom of 7 kids. She keeps her sanity by keeping a stash of chocolate and coffee nearby.