Hi Rene,

Our teenage daughter has a serious weight problem but my ex-husband seems completely oblivious to her issues – and is in fact, part of the problem.

Kara is 15 years old, 5’6” and already weighs 230 lbs. My ex, Josh and I have joint custody but while Kara eats healthy foods while she’s with me, every time she stays with Josh and his new wife they’re eating pizza, burgers and junk food.

Josh and his wife are obese themselves and I feel they’re sending a terrible message to our daughter. It’s hard to tell her to eat right when she’s not with me half the time (and of course I can’t control what she eats during the day or with friends)

How can I get my daughter to be healthy if her own father can’t handle his own weight issues?


Michelle, Orlando

Hi Michelle:

Glad you wrote because this is a situation that needs to be handled STAT and on more than one front. There’s the health aspect but it also feels to me like your daughter is being used as a pawn in some sort of bizarre power struggle between you and your ex.  That has to stop before she becomes the collateral damage. To that end, here’s what I would propose.

GET KARA A PHYSICAL: Let’s start with getting Kara healthy. At 5’6”, she really ought to be about 90 or 100 pounds less than what she is currently (her pediatrician will better be able to assess what that number should be). It’s important to remember there are no quick fixes; real and permanent weight loss should be slow and steady, no more than a pound or two a week. The doctor can further explain why this is important; you are trying to avoid weight-related illnesses (hearth disease, diabetes, high blood pressure) down the line and underscore this is about feeling good, not just looking good.

TEACH YOUR DAUGHTER TO MAKE HEALTHY CHOICES ON HER OWN: Once Kara is on a plan, work with her to show her alternatives to choose from when she is on her own or faced with temptation (that would include the times when she is with her father and his new wife). I’ve always liked Weight Watchers and know people who’ve had great success at losing weight and keeping it off. Once Kara gets the hang of paying attention to what she’s eating and how many calories she needs (along with exercise), she’ll begin making slow and incremental movement toward her goal. But more than that, she will also feel empowered about her own life and health, which I think will further fuel her resolve.

TALK TO YOUR EX: And now the tricky part, you and Josh. The thing is, it’s not really your concern if he and his new wife choose to eat themselves into an early grave but they cannot take your daughter along with them. Josh needs to know he’s setting Kara up for a lifelong struggle with food and her weight and if he really loved her, he would be concerned about that.

But weight is a tricky thing; sometimes people are so unhappy with their own size, they want to feel better by having everyone else be in the same boat. Your situation is exacerbated by the fact that I do feel there could be an underlying power struggle here (“You can’t tell me what to do with Kara when she’s in my house. She’s my kid too.”). But this is why it’s important to have the doctor’s recommendation with you when you have this talk. My hope is that Josh would see the error of his ways and present healthier choices for Kara when she is with him. If he doesn’t, at least Kara will know how to choose lighter fare on her own. I hope it doesn’t come to this but I would think that if Josh continues with what he’s doing against doctors orders, you might have to check out what legal recourse you have, including reexamining the custody agreement, especially if  Kara’s long term health is in jeopardy.

You don’t mention your own weight but if you can, if might help if you too vow to eat healthy with Kara so that she has some solidarity and encouragement.

Good luck mommy!

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