Dr. Adrienne Youdim

As an internal medicine physician, I treat adults, but on occasion a parent will drag in their adolescent or young adult child so that I can talk to them about weight loss. As a parent, I can understand the fear and worry that comes with noticeable weight gain. We worry about their health, but if we are honest, we are often worried about the social consequences they may experience from excess weight. More often than not, weight gain in a child will invariably bring up our own emotions and biases as well as any difficult relationships we may have with food or our own bodies. As a mother and a physician, I know we want to help our children but the truth is that trying to motivate them, much less dragging them into my office, will not only not help but it may even backfire.

There are two types of motivation, intrinsic vs extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is the kind that comes from within the person themselves while extrinsic motivation comes from outside oneself, such as a parent or a spouse. External motivation can be positive and take the form of a reward or can be negative as in a punishment or threat, either way, positive or negative, extrinsic motivation does not work.

In fact, there is research on extrinsic motivation for weight loss. In one study in which an employer provided financial reward to those who successfully lost weight, people who were intrinsically motivated lost more weight and those who were primarily intrinsically motivated were much more likely to regain weight than in the long run. So, if you are a concerned parent or spouse, how can you help?

  1. Show by Example- instead of telling your child what to do, model what you wish them to follow. Make health and self-care a priority yourself. Make time to prepare healthy meals, don’t overindulge on snacks and low nutrient foods, move your body regularly. Your child will notice and eventually follow your example.
  2. Create an Environment for Success- create an environment that fosters the right choices. Keep the fridge stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy snacks. Make them easy and accessible, clean and cut, and ready on the counter. Limit non-nutritious food in the pantry. And take the time to cook healthy options instead of ordering in.
  3. Watch your Words- your kids are always listening! Watch the kind of language you use to talk to yourself or to your spouse about food and weight. Kids can develop negative body image even when the negative comments are not directed towards them. And watch what you say to them directly. Comments about weight can be damaging even when it’s done one time.

Ultimately, like most things, the right answer starts with awareness. Notice if your child’s weight is triggering you and why. Then act with intention. Instead of judging, pushing or dictating, try instead to cultivate their own inherent motivation. How do healthy habits align with their goals and values and let them decide what is the best approach. It takes time and patience, but it’s worth it. Besides, any other way just wont work!

For more stories and science on how to inspire weight loss from with in- get on the list for Dr. Adrienne Youdim’s new book Hungry for More. Launch date June 15, 2021. You can download an excerpt at http://www.hungryformore.net