Helping Teens Overcome Obesity

How can we encourage our overweight teenager to shed his excess pounds and shift his lifestyle and eating habits in a more healthy direction?

This is an area where you need to exercise caution. The wrong attitude and approach can produce a great deal of pain, shame, guilt and anger. In particular, beware of putting a child or teenager on a “diet” – especially one that involves a significant number of food restrictions – without consulting a professional who is knowledgeable in this field.

The first thing you should do is determine whether your child is genuinely overweight. Among other things, this will involve calculating his body mass index (BMI), a number expressed as a ratio between an individual’s height and weight. We strongly suggest that you see your physician or a dietitian for an expert analysis of your child’s condition. You can also find BMI calculators on several websites, such as or

If in fact there is a definite problem with your child’s weight and its physical and emotional consequences, there are several action items to consider and a number of pitfalls to avoid if at all possible. We propose that you begin by taking the following steps.

Get professional assistance.

Search for a registered dietitian who works with children and adolescents. The kind of help you should look for from the dietitian is not a lecture about overeating and a highly restricted diet for your child, but information for the entire family as well as some positive engagement with and encouragement for your teen. A specialist in this field will be able to help you identify emotional, psychological and family-based issues that may be contributing to the problem.

Don’t make a specific restrictive diet the focus of your efforts.

The key to overcoming a weight problem is not a diet, but a comprehensive change in attitude, behavior and daily habits. Don’t follow a specific restrictive diet except under unusual circumstances involving professional supervision.

Don’t nag, call names, or insult as a way to “encourage” weight loss.

If he is truly overweight, your teen is probably receiving a heart-wrenching amount of this kind of treatment outside the home. It’s crucial that he understands that your love and his worth as God’s child and yours do not depend on what he weighs.

Accentuate the positive.

What you are promoting is not endless deprivation but a whole new way of enjoying food. So go out of your way to praise good eating decisions instead of focusing on blocking bad ones.

Have the whole family eating from the same meal plan.

What’s good and healthy for your overweight teen is good and healthy for everybody. Healthy doesn’t mean severe or too rigid.

Focus on an incremental approach.

Gradual changes in eating habits (and weight) are more likely to succeed than “emergency” measures and drastic tactics. An incremental approach will be more effective in the long run.

Encourage better habits.

You can’t ultimately force an overweight child to watch what he eats, but you can plan regular meals and eliminate snacks. You can encourage your teen to eat slowly. You can phase out meals in front of the TV. And you can encourage physical activity in which everyone in the family participates.

Remember that, as with training and molding your children in any area, there is no surefire, detailed plan that works for everyone. There are, however, some fundamental goals and principles that should give you a basic sense of direction as you work out the specifics for your own family.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Common Medical Questions About Your Kids

<!– The No Gimmick Guide to Raising Fit Kids (book) –>

Mom, I Feel Fat: Become Your Daughter’s Ally in Developing a Healthy Body Image

Body and Soul Ministries

You May Also Like