My daughter is 16 and is gaining weight. My wife and I are on board with what needs to be done - and there's a lot to do.

But as to talking to her about her weight, we are at a loss. She's an ultra liberal feminist, so any discussion about her weight has and will inevitably lead to accusations of "fat shaming" and make things worse; we've been there already. She points to celebrities who are fat and successful.

The last argument about her weight she pointed to the medical profession's opinion that "a little" overweight isn't the worst thing in the world. And she points to us - her parents - who are also slightly overweight. Perhaps she's right, and perhaps there's a middle ground. And perhaps, she's living under our roof and so our rules? I suspect we need to choose the right time and the right words - this is where your advice is needed.

Some background: She's not obese, but she's about 25 lbs (11 kg) over her ideal weight (she's 5'3" (160  cm), ~160 lbs (73 kg)). I don't know her BMI.

She's a couch potato, is in love with her phone and laptop playing games and chatting with her friends. She's in between seasons (she plays field hockey and softball). She does not drive.

Her eating habits are horrible, too. She snacks on crap, and eats second and third helpings. All the junk food she gets she buys herself with money she makes from babysitting - another occasional low calorie activity she does with a 2-year-old.

We are not the best role models, but we don't eat off-mealtime, and we don't buy junk food. While consistent mealtimes are important, it just doesn't work in our household. We have a son who is in scouts, sports, and a band, and so there is that logistic. I coach both my kids, and volunteer in the scouts and band. So sports and other activities just make each day very different than the other. My son, by the way, is slightly underweight.

We started to limit what we cook and what we put on the table in order to limit the amount of food she eats.

We try to have dinner ready for early evening. If that can't be done, preparing something in a slow cooker can work - the kids can help themselves if we're not around. Or they can make something on their own.

We plan to lock her out of her phone, laptop, and Wi-Fi until she does things around the house that elevates cardio activity: doing yard and gardening work. We also want to get her a walking app for her phone, and have her walk or jog a couple of miles a day as a requisite for getting her phone and laptop privileges, but, the irony is she needs the phone to use the app.

I'd like to get her to a gym, but none of her friends want to go, and none of the gyms will take her without an adult present. The YMCA would take her in a limited duration program, but getting her there is another problem - we work during the day, as does all of her friends' parents. Evening trips to the gym could work in theory, but with sports, scouts, band, and other community groups we're a part of, that all doesn't make it easy or consistent. We are members; we just don't go that often.

Any advice on what else we can do? Most importantly, we need to talk to her - that's our biggest concern, attempts in the past have lead to horrendous fights with her.

What has worked for you?


Thanks all for the responses. I waited a long time to respond so as to be able to try most of the suggestions in earnest. So far, things are going well. She has not lost weight, but she has changed attitude.

For my wife and I, the first plan of attack as suggested was to back off the talk. Next, my wife enrolled in a gym, and has been there for almost 4 months now, and has lost 40lbs. For me, I'll be joining only in between seasons, so not the best, but I'll still be on the field as I coach. Also, we eliminated all junk food in the house, and, we were particularly careful around Halloween and Thanksgiving which are traditionally difficult to navigate food- and drink-wise. Next up is Christmas and New Years, and we're staying home. Still, no talk - only action. And my daughter seems to be responding: substituting green tea for soda, yogurt for ice cream, and she's no longer buying junk food with her babysitting money. Meanwhile, better planned meals allows to have however much she wants without us having to say anything.

Thanks all!

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    Is her weight your main concern and physical exercise just a means to make her lose weight? Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 13:14
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    Why do you want her to lose weight? You need to be brutally honest with yourself here: is it because of her appearance or because of her health, or both? If it's both, which is more important to you? Are you modelling that life yourself? Also, what does her doctor say? Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 13:27
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    We want her to be within ranges that the doctors say she should be in. Her doctor tell her she needs to exercise more and eat better, so this has been discussed by her doctor. We are less concerned about appearance than we are about habits. Besides weight, she does nothing around the house - her chores are only done when she needs money to buy something. In short: her sedentary lifestyle is affecting her weight and her responsibilities around the house. That causes friction with her brother, who does not like doing chores if his sister doesn't do them. So yes, other issues at play.
    – anon
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 13:33
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    Are you saying it might be better to leave the weight issues alone, even though doc says she needs to lose weight? We might be open to that if there is justification. We're trying to address doc's concerns. Also, she is not stabilizing in weight - she's getting heavier. It is this reason for doc's concern.
    – anon
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 14:50
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    You are her perent, don't take that fat shaming crap. Saying someone is overweight is not fat shaming. Its called reality.
    – EpicKip
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 12:14

21 Answers 21


Your daughter is 16 years old. While you're right that she's "under [y]our roof and so [y]our rules", that's not going to last forever; presumably she'll be moving out to go to college (or something else) soon. At this point, your role as a parent is less about setting rules and more about helping her learn things.

That's not to say rules don't need to exist, and don't serve a purpose, even at this age; you're there to protect her from making significant or dangerous mistakes.

But she's not a five year old; rules aren't the main thing anymore. She's very capable of learning what and why, and in a few years that's what she'll be using ultimately in the rest of her life. So whatever you do in this regard should be directed towards helping her learn what and why, and obtaining her buy-in.

First: some perspective.

Your daughter is 25 points over what you call her 'ideal weight'. That's basically average in the US; in fact, the average US woman at 20+ years old is 5'3.7", 168.5 lbs. She's not the average sixteen year old; there, she's in the 94th percentile of BMI. The concern here is that it's harder to move "down" than "up" the BMI scale; so while she's around average for a woman who's ten or twenty years older, that's because lots of people gain weight and fewer lose it.

But she's also at least somewhat athletic, right? How athletic, exactly, matters. Muscle is more dense than fat, and BMI does not accurately describe healthiness of athletes for that reason. Make sure you take that into account, if she actually is fairly athletic, and perhaps talk to her doctor about other ways to tell how healthy she is.

Your daughter is on two sports teams; while she's in between seasons, two sports teams is pretty good in my book activity wise. If she's fairly serious about the teams and practices regularly, then she's getting, overall, a fair amount of physical activity - just not today.

The things you're describing - eating junk food, eating multiple helpings, etc. - are all things that are pretty normal for teenagers, also. Not ideal, again, but "normal", and almost certainly something all of her friends are doing.

What it sounds like to me from this, is that your daughter is reasonably healthy, but has a few bad habits that are leading her to be a bit overweight. This leads to the 'action items':

  1. Focus on habits, not on results. Frankly, an extra 25 pounds as a 16 year old doesn't matter very much for her long term health. What matters is that those 25 pounds don't become 50 or 75 when she's 30 or 40. Losing those 25 pounds right now shouldn't be the goal; instead, fixing the habits is.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics released a comprehensive paper on childhood obesity, and it doesn't hold back on this guidance. The first guideline to a pediatrician is to discourage dieting; that guideline continues to say that:

    The focus should be on healthy living and healthy habits rather than on weight.

  2. Be a facilitator. A subsequent guideline in that AAP paper suggests just that, that you should facilitate healthy habits:

    Do more at home to facilitate healthy eating and physical activity.

    Instead of trying to force her to eat healthily, facilitate her eating. This is no different than what I and my wife do for ourselves; we're both terrible snackers who tend to eat anything with a carbohydrate in the house. Get rid of the unhealthy stuff. I'm not talking about the stuff she buys; just make sure the rest of what's around is only healthy things.

    This may well require some sacrifices on your part, by the way. We don't keep ice cream around the house because I don't have the willpower to not eat it; my wife would prefer to have it, but she doesn't because it's bad for me. I don't buy fatty meats for the same reason for her. Find the things that tempt her, and remove them.

One of the other major things they include, by the way, is focusing on family mealtimes. It's hard to do that, with all of the activity with a majorly active family, but maybe you should make the sacrifice anyway. Maybe you volunteer on one less thing, and your son does one less activity. Make it happen. This is a significant factor; read the studies in the AAP article. It's important, and it has lasting effects, even after she leaves the house.

  1. Focus on education instead of orders. Teach her why things work. Why it's important to have good habits at 16. And help her learn how to do the things needed to change her habits.

    Someone I know was very similar to your daughter at 16. A bit overweight, with perhaps poor habits, and with parents focused on her weight. But fortunately, she also had a good high school that took health education seriously. She didn't use those tools for quite a while, but when she did, she was able to lose enough weight to be back in the 'normal' range again.

    This might mean that you have to do some real research, too. Not just "this is the ideal weight", but learn a lot about the subject. Learn how people gain and lose weight. Learn what better habits can be developed. Learn about different strategies that people use to change their own habits. Become as close to an expert as you can, and then teach her.

  2. Show, don't tell. Maybe the easiest entré into this conversation is "Dear, you're right; Mom and I should improve our habits too. Let's come up with a plan together." It's always easier to change habits with someone else also changing theirs. So take that first step. Maybe you need to offer to go running with her in the mornings/evenings.

  3. Set limits when appropriate, but understand that the best person to set those limits is your daughter. I'm not suggesting she should have unlimited screen time and junk food necessarily; but you'll be far more successful, and far less stressed, if she's the one recognizing the need. Don't come into this waving the punishment stick.

  4. Consider in her specific case that some of it is related to the timing of her sports schedule. How about, "It looks like you're having trouble staying active during the off season. Would you like to come up with some ways to get more active during the off season?" Or, focus on eating habits that are appropriate for a highly active athlete, but not for a less active person. It's okay to have multiple helpings when you're exerting a lot of energy regularly; it's probably not when you're mostly sedentary.

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    Just because the average American is overweight or obese doesn’t make it okay or healthy.
    – Michael
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 7:23
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    Note that "BMI doesn't account for muscle vs fat" can be an issue for elite athletes and people into body-building. It is very unlikely to be an issue to a 16-yo who does a bit of sport at school. Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 13:42
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    @MartinBonner It does mostly impact elite athletes, but it has practical implications for normal people. I for example spent three months eating a little better and lifting weights more days than not, and overall I gained 2 pounds. On the surface that sounds like a total failure, but in actuality I overall lost 7 pounds of fat and gained 9 pounds of muscle, which was much healthier, and subjectively I felt great
    – Kevin
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 20:12
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    The correlation between BMI and objective measures of body fat is over .90 (closer to .95-.99 if I remember correctly). It is an excellent measure outside of body building and pregnancy.
    – Behacad
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 19:04
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    @Nicholas I can also confirm anecdotally. When I was (much) younger, I did a physical training course where we only trained with our own body weight, no lifting. Our weight and body fat was measured initially. After a few weeks, I had gained several pounds of weight and lost a significant amount of fat. I've also known a number of people who were clearly at a very healthy weight and were obese based on BMI.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 15:43

Disclaimer: I'm not a parent so I can't speak from personal experience. Also, there seem to be several issues, but the main one is how to talk to her about her weight, so I will cover only that with some, hopefully, helpful suggestions.

1) Don't focus on her weight

As you described pretty vividly, it just doesn't work. But she is also not obese - so I suggest you let your / her physician deal with it. You, on the other hand, talk to her about what really matters - her health and well-being.

Do not judge her (and I can very well imagine that it comes across as judgmental, when you tell her that she weighs too much), but instead help her improve her diet (eating less junk food) and do physical exercises. Maybe even as a family activity, so that it's fun for everyone and not punishment. E. g. you could go for a walk or jog together with her - this also means that you have to spend time with her.

In essence, try to include her in healthy activities, not exclude her due to her weight.

2) Take her serious

She's not an adult yet, but at 16 also no toddler anymore. However, this

She's an ultra liberal feminist, so any discussion about her weight has and will inevitably lead to accusations of "fat shaming" and make things worse, we've been there already.

sounds like you are not really doing that. You note yourself how you lack arguments to convince her, since she is not obese, and you are overweight, too. The above statement sounds like you were regarding her as adhering to some crazy ideology that makes no sense but cannot be refuted either (or you just don't know how). Rather, try to understand her.

A somewhat alarming statement is

And perhaps, she's living under our roof and so our rules?

Be careful about that - doing chores, like her brother does, fine. But thinking that it extends to her body can cause resentment. So separate these issues, because separate issues is what they are - her having a more healthy lifestyle and her doing her chores.

One of the pitfalls is, also when you speak of punishing her, that you come across as punishing her for what she is. Instead, maybe try to find out why she is not more active, but a couch potato and, as mentioned above, offer her alternatives - that she is allowed to refuse.

Going for a walk together, maybe even with an incentive in the beginning (like going to an ice cream parlor, or the like) is probably more fun for everyone than to have her sit in her room without phone and laptop because she is overweight. Also, be less controlling, so she can enjoy it and not feel like she has to (and is the center of attention due to her weight).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 16:45
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    Reminder again... please go to chat to continue discussing this.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 12, 2018 at 16:43

Lose weight yourself. I don't mean that flippantly, there are studies showing that when people around you lose weight, especially close family members, then you are more likely to lose weight without specifically trying. It is called the ripple effect.



All the other things, about making sure there are filling-but-low-calorie snacks around, finding time to get to the gym... all of that will happen if you are losing weight yourself, FOR yourself. And since it won't be about your daughter at all, there's no argument to have.

  • The advice in this book concerning why other diets fail can help. Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 14:10
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    +1 Or as it used to be called: "leading by example".
    – Pharap
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 20:50
  • You beat me to it. Also, "practice what you preach" is another way of saying it. Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 13:33

Just for reference: the BMI is 28.3 (72.5 kg, divided by 1.6 m squared), which you may want to edit into your question. This is close to the 95th percentile for 16 year old girls, which was about 29 in 2000 (and is likely higher nowadays). She is definitely overweight; obesity is defined to start at the 95th percentile for children and young adults. For adults above 20 years, obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or more.

The junk food is the problem. Calories are not everything, true, but just take a look at the calorie count of whatever junk food she consumes (burgers, fries, chips, whatever), then compare it to how many calories you burn in an hour on a treadmill.

Then consider that if you go to the gym, this makes you hungry... and after you just did sports, you likely feel "entitled" to some food because "you just burnt so many calories".

Bottom line: it is extremely hard to lose weight by exercising more while eating junk food.

And you can't stop a 16-year-old from getting and eating junk food if she doesn't want to stop.

I recommend you stop trying to make her exercise. It won't help with her weight, and it will only cause a backlash. (Yes, it would be healthy, but it will probably not address her weight, which is your primary concern.)

Instead, she needs to understand that junk food is unhealthy, and she needs to decide for herself to limit or stop it altogether. This is hard enough for people who actually want to change. I'm afraid it will be next to impossible as long as she resists your help.

Unfortunately, I don't really see a good solution here. At 16, your daughter will naturally make her own mistakes. (So did I at that age, and maybe you did, too.) There comes a time when parents can only watch and try to improve things on the margin. Feeding her healthy food is a great start - if she is full, she will eat less junk food, and if she knows there is free food at home, she may choose not to spend as much on buying her own burgers.

Teenagers smoking is a very similar problem. You may want to look at Ways to convince a teenager to quit smoking and How do you respond to a teenager who has started to smoke?

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    +1 great answer. I feel kids are large today, so it may be a little less than 95th percentile, but you're right that it's definitely high for her age!!!
    – Ms Jackson
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:23
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    Just a comment that the BMI is widely used, but it is also notoriously unreliable... it's really only useful as a statistical tool and would need a couple more bits of information to be vaguely useful as a diagnostic tool. Once had the trained person looking at the BMI, then looking at a few extra factors (shoulder width, strength, activity level) and come up with a recommended weight 60lb higher.
    – Megha
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 21:38
  • Regarding exercise doesn’t burn enough calories: Personally I think it’s the other way around. Go for a 40 minute run in the evening and you can easily have a second dinner. Half an hour of fast bicycle commuting daily allow me to eat cake at work without accumulating any excess calories. However, obviously, if you perform 20 minutes of exercise at walking intensity and then feel entitled to a bag of chips in addition to your normal diet you’ll gain weight.
    – Michael
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 14:52
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    @Megha: This can be an “issue” for elite athletes or body builders but it’s highly unlikely to have enough muscle mass from a bit of exercise to make a BMI of 28.3 healthy.
    – Michael
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 14:54
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    @Michael Your personal opinion and the data are at odds. Depending on the source, 1 Oreo cookie (45 kCal) takes ~10 flights of stairs or 10 minutes of moderate-speed stair-climbing to burn off. Plus, strenuous exercise has a rebound effect, causing one to crave more food. For most non-athletes, exercise cannot keep up with food input, especially since so many people drink many their calories. A 20 ounce Coca-cola would take nearly an hour of moderate exercise to burn off, after which most people would drink another.
    – Bloodgain
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 0:21

Since many of the answers on here are stuff like "be open and understanding", I'll offer a... gruffer... perspective. At 16, and especially if she has an attitude like the one you describe, there's nothing you can do, really. There are many cases where people just have to learn things the hard way, and that's especially true with most children and teenagers. And as for all this talk about "she's an adult"... kids never stop being kids, and you're never going to stop worrying about them - even if they're 50 and you're 80.

I speak somewhat from experience here, having raised five children of my own. My family tends to be a little on the overweight side, whereas my wife's side tends to be slender. One of my daughters inherited the downside and is a little on the "stocky" side. She also inherited my weakness for sweets and junk food. Fortunately, though, she inherited a strong work ethic and a good bit of gumption from her mother, so getting her off the couch generally wasn't that difficult.

There have been times when we were concerned about her weight growing up, and my wife worked hard to make sure she had a fairly active routine during the critical late teen years. However, had my daughter not already been interested in both her health and appearance, there would have been little we could do. She is now twenty and seems fairly well-balanced. She knows about her tendency to put on a little weight, knows about her weakness for junk food, and does what she can to maintain a healthy lifestyle and weight.

IF your daughter really is "ultra liberal feminist" and is using terminology like "fat-shaming", then any advice you offer is probably just going to backfire on you. Hopefully that's something she'll grow out of as time goes by. The best advice I can offer is to be persistent where you can, but above all just try to keep peace in the family.

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    I upvoted some other answers, but I think this perspective needs to be elevated higher. While I don't agree that there's nothing the OP can do (such as be a better model for healthy behavior), he absolutely cannot make a 16-year-old do anything she really doesn't want to do. I think the OP heavily answered his own question here and knows it, but doesn't want to face the reality of the situation. And you're right that maintaining a good relationship is the best thing he can do.
    – Bloodgain
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 0:30
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    I don't agree that nothing can be done, but that last paragraph is worth the upvote. Nothing gets done when lines are drawn and winning becomes a goal in and of itself.
    – Morgen
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 6:41
  • I tweaked the answer so the "nothing" isn't as absolute. There's always hope, after all...
    – Omegacron
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 19:01

I will speak from personal experience growing up with a mother who was completely convinced that I was overweight.

  1. Lead by example, not fear

    My mother, who always insisted on calling out my weight throughout my life, was overweight too. She nagged me endlessly about my weight, but never could get her weight under control. This just seems like the pot calling the kettle black. Who are you to judge when you can't achieve what you are asking of me? What I would recommend is your wife and you adopting a healthier diet, setting exercise goals and meeting them. It sounds like your daughter is very independent. Taking away her privileges for a sedentary lifestyle will only drive wedge between you and your daughter. She has to want to do this for herself.

  2. BMI is an imperfect measurement

    BMI is not the best way to determine if someone is overweight (See: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/02/04/465569465/if-bmi-is-the-test-of-health-many-pro-athletes-would-flunk). What's her body fat percentage? How big is her waist? I recommend setting a goal for everyone in the family and work towards it together with everyone eating healthy and exercising. The goal can be really small like walking a mile a day and bumping that up over time.

  3. Not doing chores is not related to your child weight

    I would address not doing chores as a separate issue not related to your daughter's weight. She is expected to do her chores period. I don't see how her weight plays a factor.

  4. Is there an underlying medical issue?

    There could be underlying medical issues that it difficult to lose weight such as PCOS or hypothyroidism. I think it's important to consider this may exist and to rule it out. I was depressed by my mother constantly telling me to lose weight which made losing weight harder. It wasn't until I moved out that I was finally able to lose weight for myself.

  • I think the cores bit is there just to emphasize and backup her lazines.
    – Crowley
    Commented Jul 10, 2018 at 19:14

We started to limit what we cook and what we put on the table in order to limit the amount of food she eats.

This is a really really bad idea. If you limit snacks, that's one thing, but if you make a healthy dinner and she is so hungry she wants more, you can't deprive her of that! She's a teen, she is supposed to be eating more than an adult her size would.

She plays field hockey and softball, so she is quite active at least part of the year. I also think you misremember what toddlers are like if you call watching one a low calorie activity.

We plan to lock her out of her phone, laptop, and WiFi until she does things around the house that elevates cardio activity: doing yard and gardening work. We also want to get her a walking app for her phone, and have her walk or jog a couple of miles a day as a requisite for getting her phone and laptop privileges, but, the irony is she needs the phone to use the app.

My guess is, she will probably agree with you, at least in principle, if you say "You need to do more outdoors stuff while the weather's nice and school is out". She's already told you that she will not agree in principle to "You need to lose weight". So focus on "You need to to more outdoor active activities", and never mention her weight.

So if you phrase this as "Let's set a goal and see how many days you can go hatching a 2 km Pokemon Go egg in a row", you might get her to agree to that. If you go jogging with her, she'll probably agree to that. Is there any desirable destination, like an ice cream place a couple of miles away that would make a nice goal for an evening walk/jog?

Evening trips to the gym could work in theory, but with sports, scouts, band, and other community groups we're a part of, that all doesn't make it easy or consistent.

Does she want to do this? I know that volunteering is more of a promise to others than working out is, but what you are saying is that your extracurricular and your son's trump hers. That doesn't really sound fair. If she wants to go to the gym, you might have to sacrifice something to get here there. Can't she Lyft?

Please, if you do nothing else stop limiting her dinner. Putting smaller portions on a plate can lead to people eating less, but if she is going back for seconds and thirds, it's because she needs that. You talk about wanting to establish good habits, one is listening to her body, and eating when her body says she is hungry, not stopping because of some arbitrary limit.

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    +1 but for the last paragraph, if you're used to eating more, you're going to get hungry even if you're still eating enough. Going on a diet means that you're going to eat less food (probably), so you're going to feel hungry until you get used to it.
    – user7643
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 18:48
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    She has stated several times that she asks for more food just because it's there. Last night, she had more food even though she said she wasn't hungry anymore. We asked why she continued to eat, and she said she didn't know. So it's hard for us to know if she's eating more because she's hungry, or "because it's there".
    – anon
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 19:29
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    I can't really agree with this answer. One of the best tips I learnt for losing weight is: if you're dieting, you're supposed to feel hungry. That's how you know the diet is working! If you are overweight and never hungry, then it's obvious where the problem lies. Additionally, if you're overweight then you don't "need" extra food. Quite the opposite - fat storage is your body's way of dealing with food which is surplus to its needs.
    – JBentley
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 19:33
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    Continuing the point @JBentley makes, walking 80 minutes (4mi round trip) will burn about 350 calories at her size. A single 80g scoop of vanilla ice cream at Ben and Jerry's is about 190 calories. Their richer "chocolate therapy" is about 230 calories per scoop. Toppings can send it way up. A waffle cone is about 100-150 calories too. Real scoops are often bigger than 80 grams, have toppings, and cones. It's quite likely walking to ice cream and back will net you 200+ more calories that day. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:29
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    I doubt someone with a BMI of 28 really 'needs' those seconds and thirds (unless that person is very muscled, but from OP's story it does not sound like that). What needs those extra servings is her brain that's trained to crave for too much.
    – user25899
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 7:38

Stop bugging her about this and just try to enjoy time as a family. My dad ruined my self confidence and body image when I was a teenager and just slightly overweight. This led to stubbornness on my part, a very destructive home atmosphere with me wanting to avoid my dad, and long term did nothing but damage. Set a good example yourself, lose weight and get fit, don't be a hypocrite. Make time to eat together - this is very important and what we do with our daughters now. Give her the chance to make better choices without looking like she's surrendering to your will - she needs to feel independent. She obviously enjoys sport so encourage that.

Most of all, love her for who she is, give her confidence in herself and her body. Without confidence you can be slim and still miss out on living your life. My best friend in college was obese but she'd been brought up believing she was beautiful and amazing. She had her pick of men and a successful life.

I have a lovely husband and family, good friends and a nice life but still feel a failure because my weight yo-yos and I'm not slim.

Don't give your daughter the curse of feeling inferior.

  • Completely agree. My wife has to see a psychiatrist and nutritionist today for trauma in her youth. Just encourage sport for the fun of it, or competition if she likes that. But don't fill her head with more insecurities that the world is most certainly going to reciprocate for the rest of her life.
    – janDro
    Commented Jul 10, 2018 at 17:13

I'm going to speak up here with my experience as a child in this situation.

This is your daughter's last chance, in all likelihood, to avoid a lifetime of obesity. I deeply regret that my parents didn't help me do something about my obesity when I was a teenager.. Weight you lose as an adult will almost certainly come back. (Those statistics about how 5% of people who lose weight keep it off? They include people like me who can keep weight off for 2 or 3 years after a major weight loss effort.)

Obesity affects health, it affects life expectancy, it affects romantic prospects, it affects career trajectory. Fat shaming is ugly and hurtful but being obese is also ugly and hurtful.

Losing weight is hard at any age but it is easier at 16 than at 26. It is harder, much harder, to cope with the consequences of being fat at 46 or 36 than at 16.

For her entire life your daughter will be running into judgmental people who think things like

I disagree. The primary causes of obesity today are overly liberal parenting, poor diet as a result of poor values and poor education. OPs daughter isn't depressed. OPs daughter is a lazy character with no discipline. But then discipline, self discipline and core values are incongruous with today's Western generations. I would threaten her with a military education or some such. – @Sentinel

and it is certainly true that we live in the first society in history where there is a positive correlation between poverty and obesity.

Things you can do to help:

  • take a good hard look at the food in your house. Is it as nutritious as you think? Make sure there are always nutritious snacks available. Real food, not junk.

  • lead by example. Ride bikes to the grocery store if you only need a few items.

  • talk to your daughter about the money she is spending on junk food. 16 is too old to have much control but you should talk to her about her unhealthy choices.

  • there may be other underlying issues. You should think, but never say, "why do you not care that you are ruining your body? What else is going wrong in your life?"

  • there are a ton of apps and games that include walking around, more of them all the time. Pokemon gets boring if you don't spend a lot of money, but there's granddaddy Ingress, Delta T, Jurassic Park, the upcoming Harry Potter game, as well as apps that just let you compete directly on how much you work out. (I lost 45 pounds playing Ingress, and it's almost impossible to spend money on.)

  • your daughter's sports teams may not be giving her as much exercise as you think, especially if she is in a league where coaches focus most of their attention on the most talented players. I was on sports teams in high school and it didn't make a dent in the weight I gained eating ice cream.

This is a really difficult problem and there are no easy answers but you are doing your daughter a grave disservice if you just give up.

  • 2
    This is correct. To OP: ignore the fact that the millennial Western way at the moment is to allow and encourage people to be lazy, fat, slobs who waste their lives giggling at banality on smartphones. Trends change over time. OP has to ensure that their values and priorities are the right ones. "Fat shaming" is something that damn well ought to be done more often. Liberalism and feminism are very poor excuses for sitting around stuffing your face with junk food. Laziness and gluttony are precisely that, and are character problems that parents should attack while they can.
    – Sentinel
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 9:55
  • 2
    @Sentinel you've gone way beyond fat shaming and deeply into attacking the child's whole character. This is not helpful, especially given how often obesity is a side effect of untreated or poorly-treated depression.
    – arp
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 12:40
  • 1
    I disagree. The primary causes of obesity today are overly liberal parenting, poor diet as a result of poor values and poor education. OPs daughter isn't depressed. OPs daughter is a lazy character with no discipline. But then discipline, self discipline and core values are incongruous with today's Western generations. I would threaten her with a military education or some such.
    – Sentinel
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 12:47
  • 1
    It boils down to this telegraph.co.uk/news/health/11985974/…
    – Sentinel
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 13:01

she plays field hockey and softball). She does not drive.

  1. Encourage athletic activities and lifestyle

If she has interest, sign her up for off-season practice or teams! If she doesn't, find another way.

Fortunately for me, one of my 16-year-old twins has found a sport she enjoys. This summer she asked if she could be part of a summer team. She is working hard to get better and it is a lifetime skill to work hard to get better at something. She also came to me asking about a trip to spend a week doing outdoor activities (rafting, hiking, etc.). Both were not cheap and involve travel outside the state. But I think these are good values, to help her become better and keep a healthy lifestyle. I've tried to be clear to her that I'm impressed with her diligence and think that she can acquire good life skills from her team, coaches, and the experience of trying to improve herself.

  1. Make it easy for her to participate in her sports

She probably needs a car to drive to her games. Asking to be driven would probably be a hassle for her. Uber has a "family" plan that lets her schedule rides and the parents pay and get all trip details. Then she can come and go without having to go through the burden of involving others.

  1. Encourage healthy food

Ask her what she wants to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Get the fridge filled up with her desired food. Primarily the set of requests that are healthy. You might "accidentally" get only a small bag of chips and ice cream and the large size of fruit etc. Encourage her friends to come over, ask if you can get something at the store for them. One small bag of chips, plenty of fruit, berries, melons, etc. Make the good stuff easy and the bad stuff harder to get.

FWIW, I've noticed when one does exercise, the body craves more healthy food, and vice versa. For me at least these are strongly tied together.

  • 3
    When you exercise, you crave more food, period. You have to cultivate the habit so the craving is met with healthy food.
    – Bloodgain
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 0:52

Until last year I was in a similar situation as your daughter. My mom always encouraged me to eat healthy and did her best to be a good example and help me do it. But honestly the real change only happened when I decided I wanted to eat healthier and lose weight. My mom really helped me make sure I didden't get any more overweight although I also bought a lot of junk food with my own money.

I think the best thing to do is encourage her and help her with eating healthy. Try to prevent junk food from being easily accessible, and help her find healthy foods she enjoys eating. Also trying to make her eat less is probably going to lead to her buying more food for herself which is probably going to be junk food.

Also I think it's better to help her understand why its important and make eat healthy willingly. If she's only doing it because you are forcing her, she's not going to learn proper eating habits for once she moves out or when she has to decide what to eat herself.


I'm young and formerly underweight. I used to eat mostly carbs and sugar. I started going to the gym because a friend dragged me there. At first it was awkward because I felt incompetent, but now I look forward to it! I even started going with other friends, my wife, parents, siblings, etc.

As many other said, don't talk to your daughter about weight but about energy, strength, and general health. Weight is a negative subject, but energy levels is a positive subject. Who wouldn't want to feel better?

Get up as early as necessary and go to the gym together. Lead by doing. Yes, the gym is probably full of hulking dudes doing intimidating routines, but I have been pleasantly surprised by how most people just ignore each other and try to accommodate. Gyms, at least the three I've been to, tend to have a culture of encouragement, not judgement.

You mentioned you coach something, so please don't be offended if you already know a lot about fitness. I'm no expert, bu here's what worked for me.

  • Go often. I do three days on, one day off. Your body will not respond if you go once a week.
  • Go in the AM, even if you have to get up at 5:30am. If you schedule for the evening, you will cancel too often.
  • Go and work hard for a set time (suggest 45 min), then move on with the day. Don't waste time.
  • Don't try to lose weight, at least not for a while. Try to get strong, flexible, and confident.
  • Warm up with 5-10 minutes of intense cardio, but don't major on cardio. You can get cardio from sports, running outside, etc., but weight training is hard to get outside a gym.
  • Weight training is fun because you will quickly see gains in strength and confidence. It's easier to stick with than boring treadmills.
  • Building muscle will raise your base metabolic rate (how many calories you burn while sitting around). Cardio is like saving in a bank account, whereas weight training is like saving in an investment vehicle with compound interest.
  • Make a simple rotation of muscle groupings so you know in advance what to do each day. Example: legs, back + biceps, abs + triceps, shoulders. Do not neglect your non-favorites, and mix and match the groupings every few weeks.
  • Some of my female friends are concerned about getting too "buff." This is like fear of airplane crashes - not going to happen to you.
  • Many machines are gimmicks and can hurt your joints. Stay away from the ones that limit your range of movement. Cable pulling machines are good.

Weightlifting, at least for me, automatically changed my diet. I just don't crave sugar anymore. My body knows it needs real food to repair the muscles I've damaged.

Besides helping with health and diet, spending this time with your daughter would be good for your relationship.


You need to be inclusive - for as long as she is the overweight one she will feel victimised and her exposure to the dark side of feminism will give her a plethora of excuses and rationalisations to ignore you.

This is where your own weight problem is an advantage. You can be inclusive and empathise. It's not "You" have a weight problem; it's "we" have a weight problem, and it is effecting our health and will effect yours.

Now, don't expect to just give her chores to do: You all need to work on losing weight. Losing weight is especially hard for the chronically couch bound (that's me too) as we just have no practice at it. So you need to get bicycles, gym contracts, or whatever. Plan activities that everyone does together.


Put her in a new environment.

Throughout my life, my father (RIP) used to take me out of my comfort zone if he saw something that was happening to me that he did not like. Of course, at the time, I never really noticed him doing so and it took me a while to understand what he had done in order to protect me from certain things and (sadly) from myself.

While I cannot begin to understand what it must be like raising a teenager (my children are very little), I can say that being in a new environment not only taught me new things outside, but helped hone myself as a human being on the inside.

The thing my father used to do was take me on trips. We used to travel together, he'd take me along on business trips or he'd drag me to some "boring event". We managed with what little we had, but the trips shaped me and my view of the world.

That was his way, but there are other ways you could try this.

Use her hobby to your advantage

There's always various different camps, groups, or just go out there and partake in a hobby she likes. If she loves games, maybe take her up on full-body VR or Microsoft Xbox Kinect where you have to use your body to play the game (my daughter and I play on it all the time, usually dancing games). With technology as it is today, getting fit through games is pretty much on the up-and-up. There are even games that help you get fit on the mobile. One in particular is a zombie escape Augmented Reality (AR) game, where you have to run away from 'zombies'. It's fun, silly, hilarious... and exhausting!

Like I said, I don't know what it's like to raise a teenager, but perhaps some of my suggestions can maybe help you without being overtly obvious about your intentions.


Based on what you've said here, you have a couple different issues here. Some are directly related to weight and health, others only tangentially. You need to be careful in how you deal with each category. But no matter what, don't single her out. And try to frame things in terms of trying to achieve better health, not being fat and losing weight.

Tangential Concerns

Let's start with the ones less likely to cause an emotional explosion. Chores and her unwillingness to do them is a prime example of a problem that is only barely related to her weight. It is only related in that doing (some kinds) of chores would introduce some amount of exercise. The bigger problem is that she isn't doing them until she needs the money to buy more junk food.

First, make this an issue about doing chores, not weight or junk food or health at all. Those are entirely separate concerns. Doing chores is part of being in a family. We all do chores to share the load of running a house and a family. Mom can't spend all her time cleaning if she also needs to cook meals and shop and (insert responsibility here). Dad doesn't have enough hours in the day to go to work and fix the car and mow the lawn and ... (these are just examples, pick something suitable to your home instead). That's why everyone needs to pitch in.

That being said, treat it solely as an discipline issue. She isn't doing her chores so apply whatever the appropriate consequence is in your house. In my house growing up, your chores had to be done before you could go out with friends on Saturday or spend time playing video games, etc. Choose an appropriate consequence so that a reasonable work-before-play balance is established. And make sure everyone in the home (including you) are held to the same standards.

You may also want to do some family chores. Growing up, we had occasional Saturdays where everyone helped on a project. Cleaning out the garage, cleaning up leaves and yard waste before winter, etc. Everyone was expected to help. Doing something like this could be a subtle way of getting some more exercise in for everyone. But again, don't focus or even speak of the exercise benefits. You are doing this because everyone needs to help get (your project) done. Exercise is merely a side benefit.

Health (not Weight) Issues

I do not envy you for having to pull the pin on this grenade. No one likes to talk about their weight. Many people are sensitive to it and immediately get defensive when it gets brought up. No matter how well intentioned someone is, how right they are or how lovingly they do it, some people just shut down and will do anything to not have that conversation 1.

When you have this conversation, make it about overall health. Don't even bring up weight at all (even though it is a key component of health, the trigger warnings around that are huge).

I would prepare for this conversation by seeing your own doctor. Find out what their recommendations are for you and your spouse. Then have a family conversation about it. Talk about what the doctors recommended for you (based on your own admissions and typical doctor advice, they will probably advocate for more exercise). Then make a plan as a family (everyone is involved in this, no one gets singled out and no one gets to opt out) for how your family will do better on improving their health as a whole. Suggest family walks in a nearby park once or twice a week. Or bike rides. Or find something fun you can all work towards together (this one is a personal favorite because there is a roller coaster park near me that does a 5k every year. They give you free parking, 3 days in the park, early entry and some swag for a ridiculously low price (lower than a one day ticket I believe). Health + roller coasters = win!). No matter what you do or say, keep it focused on everyone's health.

Weight Loss is Hard

If you've ever worked on your own weight, you know how hard this is. And how easy it is to fall off the wagon. So keep that in mind when going through all of this. Everyone will have some hard days and won't follow any plan perfectly or won't see results as fast as they would like. Resist the urge to give up. But also don't make things harder on yourself than they need to be.

First, realize how motivational things affect you. External motivators can only do so much (not that they aren't helpful). You can bribe everyone into doing more exercise by saying "We'll all take a trip to Disney if we can each lose 5 pounds by August" but that may backfire. Set small, attainable goals that are based on effort, not results. Not everyone loses weight fast. Not everyone wants to track their weight (and some people know how depressing it can be to work really hard and only see a minimal loss (or even an increase) in weight). Don't tie rewards to something someone can't control.

Also realize that goals need to work in such a way that the reward is worth the effort and that achieving the goal doesn't become hopeless. Requiring someone runs a mile every day for 3 months without missing a day is probably impossible. And if someone misses a day 2 weeks in because life went crazy, well, they have no motivation to try for the next two and a half months. Build in cheat days or some flexability into things.

Additionally, realize that goals and external motivators can only work as long as the carrot is still out there. Once someone gets the reward, the motivator is gone. You can replace the motivator, but that can only work for so long. Eventually, a commitment to better health needs to become an internal motivator, a desire from within. Shock tactics won't cause this to happen. Slowly building it into your lifestyle will. Consistent effort applied over a long period of time will make this happen. There is no quick fix here.

Also, do this together. Living healthier is easier when you have companions that can hold each other and you accountable. Hard experiences are easier when they are shared. Everyone should work on their health. Be your daughter's gym buddy (gives you time to spend together while getting healthier). Do healthier activities as a family (either work or play). The point here is not to go it alone and not to single anyone out.

As far as eating junk food goes, I don't believe elimination of junk food altogether is going to help you. Everyone eats junk food or needs a cheat day once in a while (and if you don't, you either aren't being honest with yourself or you have far more self control than anyone I've ever met). Banning it will teach your daughter to hide it. Teaching through example how to have junk food in moderation will be a far greater and longer lasting lesson for your daughter.

One final thought. Don't stress about how much your daughter eats. If you prepare healthy meals and she's hungry, she probably needs the nutrition and calories. Teens are growing, both in ways you can see (getting taller and more mature looking) and in ways you can't (brain development). Hunger is how your body says "I need nutrition". Don't deny her that. And if the food is healthy, it shouldn't hurt her.

1 Her allegations of fat shaming feel like they are attempts to derail any conversation about her weight. Take a good hard look at what you are saying to make sure you aren't being judgmental about her weight and thus "fat shaming" her. If you are, you need to stop. If you are not, you need to realize that this is an attempt to turn the conversation away from a difficult and sensitive topic. It also gives your daughter justified reasons (to her) to not listen to you because you were being mean. When this almost inevitably comes up, assure your daughter that you love her and are not trying to fat shame her in any way. Then reaffirm that the conversation is about health, not weight and keep the conversation on topic.


As you said

But as to talking to her about her weight, we are at a loss. She's an ultra liberal feminist, so any discussion about her weight has and will inevitably lead to accusations of "fat shaming" and make things worse, we've been there already. She points to celebrities who are fat and successful. The last argument about her weight she pointed to the medical profession's opinion that "a little" overweight isn't the worst thing in the world. And she points to us - her parents - who are also slightly overweight. Perhaps she's right, and perhaps there's a middle ground. And perhaps, she's living under our roof and so our rules? I suspect we need to choose the right time and the right words - this is where your advice is needed.

You're not leading by example with her, so I would start there. You can't change her and if she chooses to be slightly overweight, that will be her choice. You and your wife can change how you live and eat to set an example. She may still not choose to follow it.

Why is she on her computer or phone all the time? What is she getting out of that activity? For any computer use, always use time limits (including school time). Never let kids have "unlimited time" on phones or computers. These may have an impact on what their brain responds to. They need to be able to put down their phone or computer and focus on something else and something real.

What works with her motivation in other areas, like school? You have to know what she responds to. From what you said, your son is very active, so the couch potato thing doesn't sound like a family thing, unless you and your wife have encouraged it. If so, cease immediately. From the sound of it, she doesn't make good decisions (as you said "bad habits"), so any work on rooting these out by finding what she responds to will help remove them.

(Most people I know who are on their phone or computer all the time are very depressed. The amount of negativity is a drain, even on me!!! We all need time off of these instruments.)

Finally, she's 16. She's about to be an adult who can move away, so if she's been like this for a while, you may not be able to change her. Keep encouraging your son to be healthy and active (he sounds younger?) so you avoid the mistake with him.

BMI calculator for 5'3" and 160 lbs shows to be 28.3.

  • 2
    +1 for mentioning lead by example.
    – jcmack
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 0:39
  • As you yourself point out, a 16 year old is not "a kid", and digital devices constitutes the vast majority of how teens interact with their friends in 2018. Where you and I may have been on the phone or hanging out at someone's house, they're more likely to be talking on Snapchat or whatever the latest social media craze is. It's also how they consume most of their reading material. You have to let them learn to manage it. Definitely good on the lead by example and find external motivators ideas, though.
    – Bloodgain
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 0:47


Firstly, when discussing these things with her, make no mention of her weight and make it clear that you are only interested in the family's health and enjoyment (even if that's a bit of a white lie).

The moment you make your discussion about her weight, you're slipping into an idiological conversation with her, which is a guaranteed loss.

Secondly, be prepared to fail and accept that she is happy being overweight. In the grand scheme of things, there are worse things she could be doing. She hasn't commited any crimes, she hasn't joined a cult (although certain branches of feminism are comparable to one) and she hasn't gotten herself pregnant.

Main Advice

Consider encouraging some other activities she might enjoy

She already plays sport, so maybe another sport would be an option?

Rather than trying to get her friends down the gym, try encouraging her and her friends to go walking on occaision.

When I was at school, me and my friends lived reasonably far apart, so we'd often walk to midway points/landmarks to meet up.

Try to get her doing dog walking for money instead of babysitting

Dog walking involves walking, so she'd be getting paid to do excersise. The involvement of a cute furry animal might also be enough to tip the scales of motivation.

One of my friends' families had a dog and they'd take it in turns to walk said dog, and occaisionally I'd accompany that friend when it was his turn.

Ban third helpings for the whole family

Firsly, ban third helpings. If there's enough for third helpings then you're either making too much food or not storing it away to be reheated another day. That goes for the whole family. Whether or not to ban second helpings would depend on how big one 'helping' is - this varies drastically between family.

Get the whole family eating healthier

As other people have said, lead by example. If you want her to eat healthier, start by finding ways to make healthier meals. Tell everyone in the family that it is for everyone's benefit and not specifically for any single family member.

Offer up a reward scheme for cutting out junk food

Less stick, more carrot. If you can't convince her with arguments, you can always attempt to bribe her. Note that it's a reward for cutting out junk food, and explicitly not a reward scheme for losing weight. If you try to make it about her weight then you'll loose immediately, but if you try to make it about her health then you at least have some leverage.

This is one of the more 'last resort' options because bribery is not an ideal solution and usually works better on small children.

Flawed arguments and failed approaches

These are all too much stick and not enough carrot:

she's living under our roof and so our rules?

As others have pointed out, that's a really poor argument and a really good way get her to move far away as soon as she is practically able to.

We plan to lock her out of her phone, laptop, and Wi-Fi

Locking her out of her phone, laptop and wi-fi will not stop her being sedentry. Most likely she'd sooner sit in silence than play your excersise games to earn her stuff back.

Think of it from her point of view - taking away her main means of communication with her friends is equivalent to banning her from talking to her friends.

(Also, if she paid for any of those with her own money, then they're technically her property, so you can't even claim the "we bought it, we own it" card - you would actually be taking her own property.)

All the junk food she gets she buys herself with money she makes from babysitting

You can't stop her buying junk food with her money. It's her money, she earned it, she can do what she wants with it.

I'd like to get her to a gym, but none of her friends want to go

The fact none of her friends want to go down the gym should be a clear signal that it's not really something many people of her age group do (or at least not the females).

When I was a teenager, I had precisely one friend who liked going to the gym, but he was on the opposite end of the spectrum - he had a borderline-dangerous obsession with physical fitness and being strong. To the outside observer he was fit, muscular and seemingly very healthy, but the people who really knew him knew that he was most certainly not alright - he had low self esteem and confidence issues and body building was his equivalent of self harming. A stark reminder that health is not just skin deep.

Some different perspectives

she plays field hockey and softball money she makes from babysitting her chores are only done when she needs money to buy something

I'd like to add that chores, babysitting and sport is already more than a number of my teenage friends did back in the day - very few of my friends played sport, none of them did babysitting, and I suspect most of them only did chorse in exchange for pocket money.

We have a son who is in scouts, sports, and a band, and so there is that logistic. I coach both my kids, and volunteer in the scouts and band.

Likewise very few of my school friends were in any kind of scouts, and I can only remember one playing an instrument (and I can't even remember what it was).

By comparison to the friends I had at school, I'd say your family is significantly active. Maybe even too much so. It might be worth contemplating whether that could be skewing your view a bit - living such an eventful life that it makes small amounts of sedentry appear to be magnified to large amounts.

My son, by the way, is slightly underweight.

And yet you don't seem concerned about this? There are some studies that suggest being underweight may be more unhealthy than being overweight in some cases.


Skip to the bottom for a short version

First, let me say that I am generally on the side of "My roof, my rules." If you look at my posts you will see a pattern of supporting the parents as they are the ones that need to make decisions for their household.

Now the reason I say this is because you are "dead wrong", both in your goal and your way of achieving your goal. Some of the things on your agenda at least border on child abuse. I'm pretty sure that at least one thing is technically child abuse, and if it's not, then it's certainly enough to get your local version of DCF involved in your family situation.

I will be negative towards your goals, but I will try to explain alternatives. First, let me start by saying keeping your daughter healthy is important. The fact you're willing to tackle this health issue is a great thing. You just need to be very careful that you're tackling the health issue and not an image issue.

Ideal Weights

Let's start here. In the US and most of the western world ideal weights, in the public sense, are not based on health or science, but instead on unobtainable body images that very few people have, and even fewer people have naturally.

What's worse is that an ideal weight concern will mask any real concerns about health. Losing 25 pounds is not a health concern on its own. It's a cosmetic one. Only when in context (BMI) is there actually a health concern. When speaking to your daughter about her health never use weight, only BMI. Doing that will place you, and hopefully her, in the correct mind set.

Eating Habits

She is a teen. They do that. You can stop buying junk food and replace it with healthy foods, that might work. But to be honest, you should probably give up on this one. In fact, most adults don't eat healthy as a "first choice"; they give up the garbage foods in order to have a better diet when the diet is the goal. For example, people may not eat a doughnut when they are counting calories, not because they don't want the unhealthy doughnut, but because using half of today's calories on one snack is bad.

Unless she has her own motivation to monitor her intake, the best you can really do is make her hide food, or purchase it outside the house.

Withholding food or making less

This is the that can get you in trouble for child abuse. You can not, not feed your daughter. If she says she is hungry after the 15th rotisserie chicken, then give her a 16th. Under no circumstances are you allowed to withhold or deny food unless it's medically required to do so.

Now the laws are a bit odd when it comes to eating disorders. For example, you can say no to someone that is binge eating, but only after you can prove that your way over their needed calories, and usually only with the assistance/advice of a doctor.

What you can do instead, is limit the types of food you cook. And you can limit, reasonably (I know, but almost all child protection laws are fuzzy), parts of a meal. So for example, "You can eat all the salad you want, but you can only have so much ranch dressing". Another great example is not cooking rotisserie chickens but instead making stuffed squash.

Remember the axiom "It's our job to provide the food and your job to eat it." In this case, you can choose what to provide, but how much needs to be as much as she asks for.

My best advice here is to teach her the correct ways to limit herself. You should not be limiting her in any other way. As a bonus, if she learns how to limit herself, she will be less likely to spend $90 on kit-kats at the local 7-11 on her way to school. If you force her, she will just eat what she wants when you're not around.

Locking her out of her phone, etc.

This one is borderline child abuse. I know it's odd to think so and you certainly can use removal of privileges as a discipline technique, but by removing her Internet access your are restricting her from "normal social interactions". What's worse is that you're giving her a punishment (removal of privileges) for a natural state and not to STOP a behavior. Remember punishments only work to stop behaviors; they don't teach good ones. Instead, reward for good behaviors. Give her money. Teens love money. Agree to buy her a new phone if she paints the house, etc. Removing her access to her friends, entertainment, and communication, will not teach her anything except that you don't understand her, and that you are trying to isolate her.

Remember the removal of privileges is a punishment, and punishments should not be given out to START behaviors, but to STOP them. Also removing cell/Internet access is the modern equivalent of locking children in a room or closet. Keep in mind that cell phone access is considered a basic entitlement in the US as is Internet access. Currently, if you don't make enough money to have a cell phone or Internet access the federal government will provide both to you for free.

Level of activity

Best line of your OP:

I'd like to get her to a gym, but none of her friends want to go, and none of the gyms will take her without an adult present.

This is probably 99% of your entire issue. You have shown, through example, that getting to the gym is just not that important. That it comes "after" everything else. I mean think about it. You're essentially saying "It's super important for you to get to the gym, but I'm not going. I have better things to do."

If you want your daughter to prioritize going to the gym, then you have to. You mention logistics, that's fine; it's another excuse to not go. I am great at making these excuses. But the bottom line, if the gym is a priority then you need to be prepared to say and act like it.

"I want to go to band", "sorry, right now is gym time, band will have to wait." Until you can do that, no gym for you.

What about her goals

Like many things in life, you can't force her to do what she doesn't want to do. She has to decide that this is important to her. You can not force her to care. It is certainly possible to be happy and overweight. It's even possible to be healthy and overweight. Being overweight increases risks of other health issues, but if your ok with those risks then you likely won't choose to put down the twinkie.

Make sure to ask her, and truly consider her goals. If she feels that school is too much stress and she doesn't want to worry about weight control right now, then you should consider that. Maybe you could point out how to make dieting less stressful. Maybe you could find ways to reduce school-based stresses.

Whatever her goals are, you need to get her to put this on the list, and you can't force it. If she really wants to she can just walk out the front door, head to the nearest 7-11 and eat every old hotdog on the roller thingy. She has to decide to make this a goal. You can't force her to.

What you can do/general advice

  • Don't talk to her about her weight! EVER!
  • Don't withhold food
  • Don't punish her for a natural state
  • Don't expect her to have more commitment to this than you do.

  • Do see a doctor, and have them discuss the health issues

  • Do accept the doctor's stance. If he suggests it's fine, then it's fine
  • Do focus on health issues and concerns.
  • Do set an example by prioritizing these issues higher on your priorities list.
  • Do understand that her goals may not be your goals. You need to focus on her goals.
  • Do make adjustments as a family, and not just her.
  • Cross out the BMI bit, please. The number is misleading - it does not address what type of mass is in the equation. One pound of organ fat does not equal neither to a pound of skin fat neither the muscle mass or bone tissue mass.
    – Crowley
    Commented Jul 9, 2018 at 15:21
  • 1
    @Crowley I marked that out because your kind of right, but BMI is supposed to be the best us common filk can focus on. If you want to focus on something as a goal what do you suggest?
    – coteyr
    Commented Jul 10, 2018 at 15:22
  • There are measurements of body fat, whether it is stored in organs, under skin etc. This sort of test cannot be meauret at home, though. Maybe the goal can be "beat me in some sport"
    – Crowley
    Commented Jul 10, 2018 at 18:13

You should read again your text with the point of view of your younger self. I see too many red herrings. It's normal to care about your children's health, but her is already too old to accept rules without a logical argument that she can share.

Giving her less food than what she was used to eat will only make her eat more junk food, because when she's angry is what it's easier for her to buy or cook. Sports make you hungry, and usually being a couch potato doesn't make you hungry, it can even make you lose appetite.

So here your problem is not about making her more fit by making her burn calories, it can be worse. You have to talk to her, understand her, and see what kind of relationship she has with food. It seems to me that if she is playing sports almost all year, the calories shouldn't be a problem. Being a couch potato isn't a problem either, unless... you eat a lot while you are "couch-potatoing".

My advise is that you try to understand and address her issues for having an unhealthy relationship with food. She is 16 years old, and she has probably some anxiety even if it's somehow hidden. You have to realize that she is in period of changes in her body, in her relationship with girls and boys, in the high school they may start to do more difficult things, also she is also in contact with all the liberal and feminist internet groups, so she is entering in some urban tribe, social group? I don't know how it's called in English (back then social groups were about music and looks, now it's about ideals). Imagine a boy who is suddenly a rocker; she is through the same. She will change some of her looks and tastes, according to her new group where she can feel comfortable.

Just don't force her, try to understand her and if you can help with something really hard for her that probably is making her this kind of unhealthy relationship with food and the Internet (which most of the adolescents have at some time with something), don't doubt it, help her. But just if she asks you, or if you have a justification that she can understand and accept. She will never accept that you want her to lose weight, and she will do it worse and rebel against weight lose maybe for a lot of years. Just wait until she thinks about it, or think about it yourself, and about a logic argument that she can accept for herself.


73 kg at 160 cm is definitely problematically overweight, period. The BMI is 28.5 and rated as "overweight" and not very far from obese (which starts at 30).

You are correct that this problem needs to be addressed and the earlier, the better.

First: Decide beforehand what your point will be and do not get distracted. A lot of that "fat shaming" or "my rights" etc talk is exactly that: A distraction. Just don't get into the argument, ignore it entirely and stick to your point.

Second: Your point - be clear about what you want before you start the discussion. Should she watch her eating, or do sports, or both? What exactly do you want from her? The more clear this is to you, the easier the argument will be.

Third: Be ready for her lashing out. She may feel uneasy about this topic already and you bringing it up will not go well - or it might. The point is that you do not know beforehand what the reaction will be, so be ready for anything. According to the first point, that should mean to expect everything, ignore everything that doesn't address the point directly, and stick to what you decided in step two.

Fourth: Get your knowledge right. Read up on what works and doesn't work. Approaching the issue from the cardio angle is right. Diets don't work (extensive studies prove it), and forcing a young adult into or out of something is very likely to provoke the opposite (e.g. locking her out of her phone will likely have all kinds of consequences, except the one that you want)

Fifth: At 16, she is well through the mental child development and can be treated as an (inexperienced) adult. Apply to reason and do not under any circumstances use parental power if you can avoid it. As long as possible, treat her as an equal. Once you cross the line of exerting power (e.g. locking her out of any device), you cannot go back to reasoning, then it is a power play of who can force their will on the other side.

In fact, at that age, you can probably discuss that openly. You can point out that you are the parents and could use force, but you would much rather treat her as an adult and equal and find a common solution together with her. This might re-frame the issue in her mind as an opportunity to step out of childhood and into adulthood.


additional thought: Does she have a boyfriend? Is she dating someone? Appealing to her vanity and desire of being beautiful is an underhanded tactics, but if played right can work so well. Feminist or not.

(if she points to celebrities - yes, there are examples of every kind, but we all know that the majority of celebrities take very good care of themselves and their looks, exactly because they understand how important those things are)


BMI stands for Bloody Missleading Index to me. It takes weight and height in account only - that is way too few parameters to assess! Mentally annorexic and brutally obese people aside, their BMI sentence is true - there is something utterly wrong.

The key here is health status, not the weight. There are sligtly overweight yet healthy people and ill people with The Ideal Weight TM. Pro atlethes, usualy a model of a healthy person, are, according to BMI, overweight. But they are overweight with well trained muscles, couch potatoes are inweight with fat.

She is, as you write, a teenager and you are, in her eyes, bloody nuissance in her life that she knows the best how to live, right? Just giving her orders like she is a baby, like the toddler she is babysitting actually. Locking phone, forbidding the access to PC will be very counterproductive - it will solve nothing and you will turn it adversary

You also wrote, that your body shape is not perfect, is it possible to both of you to work on the change on your side first? And let her to join you? Start small challenges that are not even close related to weight, body shape, diet but suspiciously giving (small) advantages to people with better muscle/fat ratio?

Is it possible to go to the gym (or elsewhere) together in the afternoon or early evening or start together with sport you may start to like but are all three begginers (table tennis, climbing, cycling,...)?

And a bad news - everything is a tradeoff. If you want to win somewhere, you have to sacrifice something else. Maybe it is time to reassess all pros and cons of your activities and pull some down a bit.

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