Q: I have a step-daughter, Stephanie, who just turned 13 in March and is already pushing 150 pounds!!! The problem I have is that she and her brother live with their mom four hours away so we only get them once a month plus Christmas & Easter breaks and hopefully the summer. This past Easter break when they got here, Stephanie had gained quite a bit of weight to the point where her clothes don’t fit. She was extremely embarrassed and I’m sure it makes it worse that her 14-yr-old step sister isn’t fat at all. I asked her about her diet at Mom’s house and of course she is eating fast food at least once and up to three times a week! And her mom is in denial – she said “Oh she only has a little belly.” But I think that when a 5’3″ girl who just turned 13 can’t fasten the button on size 12 adult jeans there is a problem. I want to help her because she is going to get teased, but I don’t know what to do – PLEASE HELP
A: You sound like a concerned step parent and your concerns sound well grounded. However, since you are not in charge of Stephanie’s primary living situation, you are rather powerless unless you can partner with Stephanie’s mother. In typical re-marriage situations this is not easy to do, and while you did not say anything directly about your relationship with Stephanie’s mom, the tone of your inquiry suggests the relationship between you is not good.
I am concerned that Stephanie’s weight could become a battle between the two families, and that would be disastrous.
So, what you CAN do:
1. Love Stephanie no matter what her shape and size and DO NOT criticize her mother or her mother’s feeding habits to Stephanie.
2. Do not use your 14-year-old daughter as a comparison point or as a positive example; it will only cause resentment and not build motivation.
3. When Stephanie is with you, give her healthy food without preaching.
4. When Stephanie is with you, keep her physically active and try to find physical activities she enjoys.
5. Have Stephanie’s father talk to her mother about getting Stephanie into some physical activity (sports teams, summer tennis league, etc) and if money is an issue for her mother, offer to foot the bill.
6. Stephanie’s father (assuming joint legal custody) has the legal right to talk to her pediatrician about her. He should call and let the physician know that he is concerned about his daughter’s weight and would like to have it addressed by the doc in her next appointment. Hopefully the physician will discuss it with Stephanie and her Mom and will trigger less defensiveness than if you or her ex-husband discusses it with her.
7. Finally, you could introduce Stephanie to Fitsmi.com when she is with you and help her understand the concept of small healthy changes in both diet and exercise, and introduce her to an online community of her peers to support her in making these changes.
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