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Weight Loss
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Helping a 9 year old with her weight

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(I wasn't sure where to post this, so I hope it's ok here. I also appologize for the length.)

My boyfriend and I are concerned about his 9 year old daughter.   She is about 4'8, 115 pounds.  All the weight is in her belly area.  Over 10 pounds of that was gained this past summer.  While at a check up, her doctor told her mom that she isn't overweight, but we find this hard to believe, especially if you are to go by BMI and her belly protrudes quite a bit. I have problems getting girls 16's over her belly.  His ex wife (who has had weight problems herself) believes the doctor to be right.  

Sadly, his daughter is constantly called fat at school.  We have problems with her growing out of clothes and she is very self conscience about how she looks.  Her thighs rub together and she gets a little winded going up the stairs to her room at times and complains about her heart beating fast. 

She is a beautiful, sweet, smart and thoughtful girl and we remind her of this constantly.  However, we all know that it's the insults that stick with you.

When my boyfriend and I made the decision to lose weight and change our lifestyle, we tried to include his daughter and son. (though his son is very active and very thin).  I even made up exercise "programs" that the kids and I could do together.  We've bought her dance tapes she has asked for, but she quits 10 minutes into it. 

They eat what we eat. However, we only have them twice a week and every other weekend, so a majority of their meals and time are at their mother's house.  And, as I mentioned, she doesn't believe there to be a problem.  She recently had a baby, and I think she is trying to improve her weight, so the meals are definitely healthier than they were this past summer. But, they are still not benefitting his daughter.

She gets as little exercise as possible.  She would rather sit in front of the tv all day.  She hates to run, hates physical activity and gets very red faced and winded easily.  The one thing she does enjoy is riding her bike, but she gets bored very easily with that because we don't feel she is ready to ride all over teh neighborhood by herself and we can't always take off for a ride (plus we don't have bikes yet, but that is changing this summer).

We have never said to her she was overweight or anything mean to her.  We have told her that if she feels bad, we can work on it and that for her health, she needs to be getting more exercise and eating healthier.  I've offered to buy her an outfit if she reached a goal for herself. We've told her she can eat anything she wants for a snack as long as it's a fruit or veggie to try to give her some control over her intake.  I've posted things on the fridge about healthy foods.  I've lost 50 pounds myself and I tell her how much better I feel now and I tell her how hard it is for me to not eat certain things, but why it is worth skipping them or only having a little bit.  (We still have potatoes, pasta and some desserts; they are just modified, so I don't believe we deprive them of anything. )

Unfortunately, her eating is just getting worse.  She was out of control this Christmas.  She just wanted to continue to eat and eat.  She will easily outeat me everytime.  She even sneaks food or asks someone besides us if she can have something.  We can't let this happen all the time (and it's a constant battle), and I'm always saying "are you hungry?" when she asks for 2nds (or 3rds!) and she says "I don't know".  She actually  had a stomach ache from eating too much, but then dessert came out and she told me she was fine and wanted some. 

We don't want her to feel like we are riding her for her weight.  He and I were both overweight as children and we know what she is going through.  We never had anyone intervene and help us.  I dont' want her to go through the things I had to.  But, we have tried several approaches and we get no help on her mother's end. We are both extremely frustrated, worried, and sad for the feelings she keeps having. 

So, I'm posting this asking for suggestions on how to motivate a 9 year old.  Any suggestions would be helpful.  I know that these are very formative years and she is very sensitive and easily hurt, but a change must be made.

I do plan to start working out with her more consistently on the days that she is with us because I know she wont' do it on her own.  (We get so little time with them and we also got a little sidetracked during the holidays/her birthday, but I want to change this) She is still too young perhaps to understand the slope she is going down. 

Thank you for any advice :)
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A situation like that is difficult at best, especially since there are 2 homes for this little girl.  I wish you the best.  I don't have too much advice as I don't have experience with overweight youngsters, but the part about 'working out' with her just seemed to sound odd, at least to me.  Even now I hate that phrase and if I had heard it as a kid it would have sounded like work and boring.  So, instead of 'working out'.  Go play!  Have fun.  Play tag.  Watch her ride her bike!  Play hopscotch or jumprope to the silly ditties that little girls love so much.  Dance to her favorite music.  Etc.  And don't harp on the food.  Offer only healthy stuff.  Maybe don't put the food on the table, that way taking seconds won't be so easy.  Hope things go well!
I don't want to alarm you, but it does sound like she is headed down a very slippery slope toward disordered eating.  Issues with food and overeating tend to get worse and worse as girls approach the teen years.  It sounds like she's a very sweet girl and it breaks my heart to hear the problems she's having.  That being said I wanted to offer a few thoughts/suggestions I had as I was reading your post.  There may be a few small changes you can make that might help the situation.

First of all, does she eat lunch at school most days?  School lunches are not very nutritious.  One thing you could do would be to pack her a healthy lunch every day.  Include fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains... I'm sure you'd know what to put in.  Also, try to make healthy foods readily available around the house.  Put out a bowl of fresh fruits like apples and bananas that are easy to grab and eat as a snack.  Make junk food less accessible and more of a rarity (again, you probably already do this.  I'm not trying to sound critical, just telling you what I would do.)

Eat meals together, at the table, as a family--not in front of the TV or spread out around the house.  Eating together at the table promotes slower, more mindful eating.  Don't serve meals "family style" at the table, but serve portions from the kitchen.  This is another step toward slower eating.  Slowing down might make her feel full faster and really think about if she wants that second portion.  If you see her get up to get more food, try delaying her a little.  Talk to her, ask her about her day.  Sometimes the desire for seconds or thirds is just the desire to have your mouth occupied, or to continue to experience a certain flavor... not actual hunger.  Waiting a few minutes often makes this craving go away.  If after sitting at the table for a few minutes she is still legitimately hungry, then let her get seconds.  I would also encourage her to get seconds of things like vegetables and not so much meat, pasta, etc.  You could say something like, "Honey, if you're still hungry, why don't you have some more of this yummy (insert healthy side here)?  There's plenty of it and it's so good for you."  Try telling her the benefits of eating healthy.  Eating healthy foods, as well as exercising, makes your skin glow and your hair shine.  It makes you feel great and look like a princess. 

This brings me to my next point which is exercise.  It is very important for children to be active.  Kids have naturally fast metabolisms and naturally need quite a bit of calories.  I think if she just ramped up her activity level, a lot of the weight problem would go away on its own.  Maybe try integrating exercise into her daily life in a way that doesn't make it feel like a chore.  It wouldn't be good for her to grow up hating physical activity--that would just make the problem worse.  Try bringing her with you on walks or to the park.  Plan family outings that allow you to get in some walking, hiking, sports, games, etc.  Also, I hate to sound harsh, but you might want to flat-out limit TV time.  You are the adult, you get to make the decision of how much TV is allowed.  I know my parents used to only allow me and my brother 1 hour a day, after our homework was done.  We'd watch The Simpsons and one other show of our choice and that was it.  The less time she is allowed in front of the TV, the more chance there is she'll spend that time off her duff and doing something active.

I'm sorry this has turned out to be so long.  I hope I've said at least something helpful.  If I think of anything else I will add it.  I really feel for you and can tell that you genuinely care and are trying your best to remedy the situation.  It sounds like you are already taking a lot of positive steps.  The final thing I might advocate is talking to a child psychologist or family counselor together.  That may seem extreme but a lot of these professionals are very kind, caring individuals that are great with kids and might be able to help her understand the difference between eating for the sake of eating and eating out of genuine hunger.  They might be able to help you all three put together a sort of plan that might help nip this problem in the bud before it gets out of control.  I just see a lot of warning signs in your post that make me worry about your boyfriend's daughter's future as far as food and diet are concerned.  I wish you good luck and lots of support.


you and your boyfriend sound like wonderful people.  i wish my own parents had raised me w/as much thought and concern.  it's truly admirable.  

if i were you, i'd try to say the words "fat" and "weight" as infrequently as possible.  and i'm not sure i'd recommend workouts w/her, either.  it's extremely important that she develop and maintain motivation.  i would highly, highly suggest just getting her to be more involved in general.  at nine years old, she probably hasn't been exposed to enough things to know what she likes.  sign her up for girl scouts or tae kwon do or archery or volunteering at a library or nursing home.  i know i sound like i'm just spewing random advice, but i'm not.  if she's more active in general, she'll begin to nurture interests aside from television and food.  she'll meet different kids.  she'll have talents and her own life. 

i know that you're not the primary guardian, but you might consider scheduling a meeting w/her mom and guidance counselor (always good to have a third party, in case a fistfight breaks out).  in terms of food, i think the way that you're modeling living healthfully w/o deprivation is wonderful; you really can't do much more than that.  (and congratulations on your fifty pounds!  awesome)

These dance tapes seem like it's something only she is doing -by herself-. Even though I like DDR, I don't like to do it by myself. My suggestions are family things, like you had mentioned. When I was younger, I loved going to the skating arena! You could go skiing, play basketball, go play tag, etc. The other day I was waiting for a friend to get off work. I went to the playground by her house and I was amazed at how sore I was after playing on the stuff there!  Don't let sitting in front of the TV all day be an option. I understand she's from two different households and she's going to be making her own choices at her mother's, but the influence you and your husband have on her could make her start asking her mom to go do those things or go out with friends. I applaud your concern and your willingness to help her.

This is touchy for me also. My cousins daughter has the same problem, She is 9 years old and wears a womens size 12. 9 YEARS OLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It makes me sad everytime I see her. They were at my parents house yesterday for Christmas dinner. Her grandmother made the comment that she lets her eat whatever she wants because she is grandma. Nobody really controls what she eats even though they say they do. Its just sad because she gets made fun of so much at school. I wish someone would help her.

Your heart is in the right place, but the words that you are using are not.

Losing weight, and working out should not be a part of a nine year old's world.  Eating properly and playing should be.

The problem behind her over eating is not food.  Food is just a symptom.  If she is over eating then it is because of another problem, probably emotional.  Having to live between two families has to be very hard.

Have set meal times, with everyone eating together at the table.  Do not offer food outside of this window, unless you have a plate of veggies on the table for everyone to munch on.

Be her friend, go for walks with her.  Do not mention about her short of breath.  Start with short walks and progress to longer ones.  If you go shopping park in the last row and have a conversation about anything except food and exercising.  This way she does not even know that she is getting some exercise.

I remember being overweight as a kid, and one of the hugest problems was portion control.

I was praised for eating everything on my plate, and if I got seconds, I would finish that too, because you HAD to finish everything.

Don't push finishing everything. Ever. And try and get her mother involved in this. I want to say don't confront her, but seriously, she needs a wakeup call if this little girl is heading downhill this quickly. I wish someone had given my mother a wakeup call about me!

Find something she loves to do, like bike riding, and make it a date. Borrow a bike from a neighbor or buy one used off craigslist for cheap now, so you can go with her. Having company is going to make it that much more fun for her.

DDR is a good suggestion as well. I LOVE that, and can play for hours with friends. Her brother might like that as well, and they could play together.

Just get her to be more active, play with her, get jump ropes or play hide and seek. ANYTHING to involve in her more active things. Just don't call it exercise. Call it playing!

Pediatrician here,

I really doubt that another doctor would have been ok with that weight.  With a BMI of 25.77 at this age, this child is at serious risk.  The problem of dual households is the main problem,  because if both houses cannot get on the same page of the book, then nothing will work with any great success.  Also if you do this totally on your own, then you'll be the "bad parents" because the "good parents" would let her do what she wants.

WIth regard to weight loss, I do agree that proper nutrition and activity are more important, but a weight loss of 1/4-1/2 pound a week would be the maximum goal.

You need to speak with the other parent about this, civily and quietly.  If they do not address the issue, you need to document the weight, diet, and follow up with the child's doctor yourself to discuss the issue.  This may also be related to pre-existing emotional issues related to the separation, so having increased discord about this could exacerbate it.

What spoiled_candy said.

This kid doesn't need to lose weight, even assuming she's overweight -- very few 9-year-olds do. What she needs to do is grow into her weight; if her weight stabilizes, she will thin out as she grows. I'd be very very surprised if her doctor didn't suggest doing just that: letting her grow into her current weight. Incidentally, what did her doctor say to her dad when he called to ask about his daughter's weight? Is she truly overweight or not? Her dad should be talking directly with the doctor if he's concerned.

Regarding growing out of clothes, guess what? That's what kids do! I have to buy my son, now 14, clothes at least three times a year, because he grows out of them, and has for... well, all his life. Now his pants are smaller around the waist than they were just a year or two ago; a lot of pre-adolescents have tummies, and mine was one of them. It's normal. He doesn't have one now, that's for sure!!

Kids calling her "fat" doesn't mean she's fat. Surely you know that kids will call other kids whatever gets a rise out of the targeted kid. I've seen kids who are at a perfectly fine weight called "fat" -- kids who are calling other kids names aren't aiming for truth, you know; they are aiming to be mean.

Instead of "working out" or dance tapes, how about a dance class instead? How about getting her a bike computer for her bike? That really motivated my son to ride! In fact, when I was trying to get faster on the bike, I hired him as my "personal trainer!" The focus wasn't on him getting exercise -- it was on ME getting exercise! When he was younger (and I was less old...), we went ice skating a lot. So go ice skating! It's great exercise, and something she can do for her entire life, with or without others. DDR, other Wii games, dancing while doing chores (blast salsa music and dance while cleaning!)... anything but sitting just watching TV. Heck, reading or doing crafts, art projects, science projects.... anything but TV, please!

I think the more you talk about food, calories, good food choices, exercise, and so on to this girl, the greater the chance of her developing an eating disorder. You know -- because you've been saying it -- that she is more than her physique. But why should she believe that, when you then fall back to talking about food and how she looks?

Don't talk about food; simply serve what's good, and make only enough for one serving for each person. It's hard to have seconds if there isn't any more to be had. Talk to her doctor to see what reasonable portions are for her. (Don't rely on CC tools, which are for adults, not growing kids, for this.) If she's still hungry, let her know you'll fix her more food.... just as soon as you've cleaned up from dinner. That should give her body time to register that she's just eaten, and, after cleaning up, you can ask her if she's hungry and if so, give her veggies with dip or fruit.

Good luck -- and go play! :-)
HA! That's what I get for taking too long to write a post! Okay, now that a pediatrician has weighed in, it looks like her BMI IS a concern. So talk to the kid's doctor!

I remember when my parents enrolled me in piano lessons.  The lessons were great, but I never wanted to practice on my own, I had to have my mom listening to motivate me to practice.  I suspect that you have something similar going on here in that she truly craves and needs adult company and approval but doesn't know how to ask for it.  Clearly you guys want to give it to her but you don't know how to without endorsing bad habits.

I would suggest a group class, an introduction to jazz dancing, basketball, something active but not so active that she'll be left in the dust.  Or a series of classes.  Parents often enroll their children in a sampling of classes to see if anything sticks.  Personally, I prefer martial arts since they are usually about measuring oneself against oneself and not others plus they're really nice in my experience.  A class will give her new friends and a group of people to exercise and learn with.  You can also sit and watch her practice what she's learned when you have the time. 

From someone who's been there.....

 When i was that age I had the same problem, and my parents did the same thing, i was even on weight watchers with my mom by age 12. And if you look at my stats you can see that this approach didn't work so well for me. I've been overweight my whole life and it has always been a struggle for me to just maintain (the only time i was at a healthy weight was my pre-teen/early-teen years). I think that's because my parents placed such and emphasis on food and losing weight. The worst part is, because of the way it was presented to me as a child (you're unhealthy, need to go on a diet, exercise more, etc.) i was driven to eat emotionaly becuase i hated my body image (still struggling with this)

My advice would be to focus on playing and don't talk about eating healthier or losing weight, just do it! She's nine years old and everything she eats (well pretty much) comes from home, so just stock up your fridge and pantry with only healthful foods and eating healthy will just come naturally, as well as weight loss.

Also, one of the only reasons my weight was under control durring my pre-teen and early teen years was because of my involvment in dance classes and team sports, it seems like she just needs group activity, see if you can get her involved in these things, because they seem more like playing and fun, not exercise to a 9 year old.


Thank you for all your advice (and compliments)!! I really appreciate it. :)

She has come to me with concerns and feeling uncomfortable.  I'm trying to help her.  Not give her a complex.  And family, friends and the two of us are concerned as well.  That's why this is so difficult for us.

I would never put a child on weight watchers.  I'm sorry you dealt with that, Patrasha.  Counting calories and points is not the way to help a child.  I understand that.  The only time we talk about food is when it concerns choices she can make at school and when she asks extra helpings.  I hate having to "cut her off", but we can't allow her to eat all day.  That would be completely irresponsible as a parent.

At our house, there is only healthy foods to eat.  I don't make enough for seconds, except veggies.  We always eat togther. We have tried to get her mom on the same page for years, and it just won't happen.  She also won't pack their lunches and the kids tend to eat like crap at school.  They don't stay the nigth with us through the week.

We have never said to her that she needs to lose weight.  When we started working out, she wanted to do it too, but she lost interest very quickly.  We have tried to emphasize how important physical activity is and we have told her that the main reason we have changed our lives is to get healthy. (she asked why we were working out).

I know that the taunts aren't always the truth.  I have told her to ignore them and have tried to make her not give any importance to what they say.  But, try as I might, I can't make those words not hurt her.

We are looking into dance classes for her and baseball for her brother this spring once we can save some money for it.  Organized sports haven't gone well for her in the past, but we're hoping that dance classes will since she loves to dance and sing. Her favorite aunt is thinking about getting Celtic dance classes for both of them to do together.

The key is to try to make her more active, I suppose.  I will definitely try to make physical activity more of a family thing.  When it is warmer out, we do all play basketball together and go to the park, stuff like that...the winter is hard for all of us when it comes to getting our butts active!  We are just going to have to get over that! It is also hard since we only have them for about 2 hours twice a week and during that time, we have to fit in dinner and homework.

Thank you again for all of your advice.  I will definitely take it to heart.

P.S. There was a very tramatic thing that happened to her brother when they were very young and we do know that she has had issues dealing with it.  She saw someone when she was about 6 and they medicated her (we had no say).  Luckily, we were able to stop that quickly.  She wasn't comfortable there and we felt she may not have been ready to talk to someone.  She does come to me quite often with things that are bothering her and I try to talk to her about it the best I know how.  She says, "I need to talk some girl talk with you later." He and I are looking at options to get her back to talking to a professional if she would like to.  Though, we will never force her to see someone unless she is comfortable with it.
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when my youngest son was about that age he had really piled on some extra pounds, I believe it was due to being driven to and from school, coming home and watching tv, munching on microwave popcorn - so, in other words probably a fairly typical sedentary day for a boy who really should have been playing ball or up to some other activites. We began to encourage our boys to walk to school (one mile) and back - which they did. Then they began cycling to school. The popcorn was replaced with satsumas ( small easy peeler tangerines) but we didnt otherwise make as issue out of food or remark on his size. He knew. About 4 years later I am happy to report that he is a normal weight, healthy and happy teenager, captain of his rugby team and although he still has a tendency to eat more than his brother, he is no longer a worry. From that experience I would add my voice to those who have encouraged you to encourage more activity - and dont let her feel self conscious about food. Good luck. It must be hard when she is only with you a few days. An agreed approach is key here so talk about this with the other parent.
I'm merely a freshman in high school but my sister who is 10 is the same way! Like my 7 year old sister. I remember when I was over weight like that. The food tasted so good and there was something comforting you know?

Did you ever find out why she gained weight last summer? If she used to be thin and happened to gain weight then something must've happened.

If you were to motivate a 9 year old I think having friends to play with is something. I mean when you play with your friends you're not thinking about food. That'll get her active. Have her explore her interests; find out what hobbies she's into. I think the first battle before getting her active is for her not to think about food.

Thinking about food is a constant battle with me and my sisters because my mom's cooking is just too good to let not have some. Have bowls of fruit on the dining table where she eats. Introduce her to some homemade fruit smoothies.

I'm so sorry about what she has gone through by the way; traumas that happen in life lead to people looking for comfort. Food is her comfort. Maybe you're trying to make athletics a comfort for her so she's active. All this that I'm saying may not be true or accurate but I remember when I was a kid food was something I looked forward to because it was the only time I felt pleasure and happiness; because you're eating it. Like no one else is taking the taste from your food while you're chewing it; there's no worry about it because it's in your mouth. When I discovered running in junior high and went to summer camp at high school I realized that food isn't much comfort; running is. Endorphins made me so happy and the people I run with are so friendly. This ties back to the whole friends thing.

I hope this helped. Try to remember when you were her age and what you delt through and how you changed. You know? What's your comfort? Do you have friends you played with? Her past, present, her interests, and her needs all come to play when it comes to her health. Ok maybe I'm over complicating things but yeah this is all what I take into consideration. Just understanding her will help and eating with her... that's great to have quality time with each other.

Thanks for considering this comment


All great suggestions - it sounds like you're doing all the right things with food.

I want to reiterate what caloriecountingme said - get her in Girl Scouts! That could be a really good thing for her, and open doors to new activites that she may like. When I was in Girl Scouts we camped, hiked, trekked with llamas, went on bike riding trips, danced, swam, snowshoed, went skiing, etc. We did all kinds of good, active things that children should do - things I never would have tried otherwise. Then, if you discover she really likes something - like swimming, for example - you can get her in a swim class.

Best of luck to you all - it sounds like you are being great parents and doing your very best.

Original Post by spoiled_candy:

Your heart is in the right place, but the words that you are using are not.

Losing weight, and working out should not be a part of a nine year old's world.  Eating properly and playing should be.

The problem behind her over eating is not food.  Food is just a symptom.  If she is over eating then it is because of another problem, probably emotional.  Having to live between two families has to be very hard.

Have set meal times, with everyone eating together at the table.  Do not offer food outside of this window, unless you have a plate of veggies on the table for everyone to munch on.

Be her friend, go for walks with her.  Do not mention about her short of breath.  Start with short walks and progress to longer ones.  If you go shopping park in the last row and have a conversation about anything except food and exercising.  This way she does not even know that she is getting some exercise.

Great response.  I agree on all points. 


this almost sounds like her issue doesn't lie within food. food is just simply an outlet for her. its probably the only thing she feels like she can control. it's unfortunate that she's only 9 years old. but it is a common pattern. the more they're mocked and ridiculed at school, the worse it gets. there has to be a turning point somewhere.

stay positive. that's my only advice. im no professional, thats for sure. but i can relate to her on some levels. sometimes all it takes is some kind of revelation to spark that initial interest in healthy diet and exercising. though i do agree that a 9 year old shouldn't be dieting and exercising to the full extent that an adult should be.

it's a really unfortunate situation. just remember that she doesn't have to be skinny, just healthy. if that means she's carrying some extra pounds, then that's okay. she's at an age where its all too common to have some baggage so they can grow. im sorry that it has taken this turn. you are a very kind person. just know that. if my stepdad took any interest in me like you have in her, i would feel very love. just keep up your confidence and help her as best you can to keep her's up as well!   :) 

I was always pretty thin as kid (healthy thin), and now even though I'd like to lose a few pounds I'm still within a healthy range. My parents had a great attitude towards food, and I think that's part of the reason.

The focus was always on eating healthy food, to make you healthy and there was never any discussion about weight or fat. Healthy food made your skin better, it made you strong, it gave you energy. Unhealthy food made you tired and sick and was bad for you. My parents just labelled it all as junk food. Of course I still liked eating it, but just knowing the difference between healthy and unhealthy was important.

As a kid I liked goals and competitions. We had a 'jump rope for heart' program at school, that encouraged people to jump rope. Maybe you could get her one of those to play with and make it a challenge. She could probably use it inside as well, so you wouldn't have to wait for the weather to warm up. 

It's great to see that you're really trying to help her, I hope it all goes well. 

Swim team any one? Most of the swim classes don’t require much in the way of movement; you rarely swim very far and spent a lot of time on the wall. My mother put me on a swim team when I was in 6th grade and had similar weight issues. You spend a lot of time moving in the water. Coaches push you to do better and it’s competitive. It’s also a good place to meet other kids.
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