The Bintel Brief

How Can I Gently Encourage My Daughter To Lose Weight?

By Amy Feldman and Robin Epstein

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Dear Bintel Brief,

My single, adult daughter is about 40 pounds overweight. I really want her to lose weight — primarily for health reasons, but also for more superficial reasons. I raised her and her siblings to believe that it’s what’s on the inside that matters, and I really do believe that. However, I also believe that losing weight would boost my daughter’s self-esteem, and make her more inclined to socialize and, yes, to date. (I’m a Jewish mother, after all!) Whenever I’ve brought up subject of losing weight, however gently (in the past, I’ve offered to pay for a nutritionist or a trainer or a therapist), she’s accused me of being ashamed of her. I’m not ashamed of her, at all; in fact, I’m very proud of her academic accomplishments and altruistic nature. So how should I go about encouraging healthy behaviors, without offending her or damaging our relationship? Thank you.


Dear WOE:

The love of a mother (and particularly a Jewish mother!) is so strong that when her daughter eats too many potato chips, it is her own stomach that hurts. Indeed, you feel her suffering, so when her weight affects other aspects of her life — like her ability to attract a significant other — you suffer with her. But before you make another offer that she will reject, as she has rejected all of your other past offers, think of this from her perspective.

No one is more aware of her weight issues than she; it is she who walks around in her body all day. She sees models on TV; she sees her slender friends going on dates. The fact that she is overweight is not lost on her. So pointing it out AGAIN to her does not help her come to a moment of clarity, it hurts her feelings to know that despite her accomplishments, her mother still sees her for the plus 40 pounds she is.

You say you are proud of her altruistic nature and her academic achievements. But if you tell her “I am proud of your qualities but I want you to lose weight so you’ll be happy and healthy,” all she will hear “but I want you to lose weight.” You say that you have brought up the subject “gently” in the past.

Think of being overweight like being sunburned. It’s a problem of which the sufferer is well aware. If you pat someone with a sunburn on her sunburned back, she will jump no matter how “gentle” the pat is. At this point, you daughter is very sensitive to your judgment that she is overweight and has told you in no uncertain terms that even the most gentle of prodding is not welcome. If you want to offer help without damaging your relationship, lay off the weight talk until SHE brings it up, then offer to pay for the nutritionist, trainer or therapist. In the meantime, remind her of how wonderful she is, stifling the urge to add the “but I want you to lose weight.” She will eventually understand that you mean nothing but the best for her.

All the best,

Amy and Robin

Amy Feldman and Robin Epstein are the authors of the new book “So Sue Me Jackass! Avoiding Legal Pitfalls That Can Come Back to Bite You at Work, at Home, and at Play” (Plume).

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, e-mail Questions selected for publication will be printed anonymously. New installments of the Bintel Brief are published Mondays at

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heidi Sat. Jan 16, 2010

Stop doing what you're doing. You've already been far from "gentle" with your daughter by telling her to go to a nutritionist and other things. She knows exactly what you think about her and the reason she is 40 pounds overweight is probably because of the way you talk to her. Don't kid yourself that you send the message that it's what's on the inside that matters. You've done exactly the opposite. The best thing you can do for your daughter is leave her alone and actually, truly love her.

Charles P. Cohen Sat. Jan 16, 2010

When you tell someone:

. . . "You need to be fixed. I'll pay for the mechanic."

they naturally hear:

. . . "I think you're broken."

You can't deny that thought -- it's true. What you really believe is

. . . "It's what's on the inside that matters -- BUT . . . ".

Leave your _adult_ daughter to work out her own life. If and when she cares enough about it, she'll change.

Or she'll find someone who -- unlike her mother -- doesn't care how much she weighs.

Lydia Sun. Jan 17, 2010

Being overweight is unhealthy- people who are overweight tend to die younger and are more likely to get ill. This should be mentioned in the response because it is very important. I think it would be a good idea for the mother to give her daughter information on groups that help people to lose weight and offer to go with her. Sometimes people have to be cruel to be kind.

Maria Gatti Sun. Jan 17, 2010

Lydia, the daughter is highly-educated and knows that.

Those "groups" can be very humilating for some people.

Do mother and daughter like to do any kind of exercise or sport? One of the main problems in our society is how sedentary people are. Perhaps that kind of focus would be less hurtful. Diets can be self-defeating, creating a cycle of loss and gain that makes lasting weight loss very difficult indeed.

Barbara Sun. Jan 17, 2010

Oh how I empathize as the mother of two overweight daughters and now an overweight grandson. Is there anything I can do? Absolutely not. At 65 years old, I only remember my own mother with bitterness for her inability to accept my own obesity. It is tough being a mother and watching the child you love overeat. It is worse being a daughter who believes her mother cannot accept her appearance. Believe me I've been in both positions.

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