Helping a teen lose weight?

I have a 13 yr old step daughter ( lives with us full time) who is wanting/needing to lose weight.
She eats a normal healthy breakfast, and takes normal healthy lunches and dinner is generally fine too. The problem is after school, she's home alone for anywhere from 2-3 hours and....she eats like crazy. Some days it could equate to 3 meals in after school eating. Then she'll sit down to dinner. ( we've been finding the evidence after the fact) She's damn near an expert at hiding and sneaking food. We generally never have a ton of junk food, yet she'll eat literally a whole box of gross tasting protein bars- it doesn't matter what it is usually.

The biggest issue is she turns on the tv and sits and eats. I'm desperately finding ways for her to distract herself after school, some of which she's just not interested in. I'm still searching for activities to keep her busy. Visiting school friends in the neighborhood is a possibility, but rarely able to happen due to schedules or the home life of her friends is not so great.

Locking up the TV is a possibility, but it's not terribly feasible since we hate being 'locked out' of our own stuff. But it may very well come to that. In the past we've locked the pantry and the fridge, but I'm not sure that's the right thing to do.

We get up and walk in the morning ( just re-started again this week) and she walks .5 mile to school and back everyday. In time we'll start using the gym again for more exercise.

We know the bottom line is that she has some abandonment issues, among other things, from a really bad home life when she lived with her mom, before her mom moved 5 hrs away. ( long ugly story) counseling helped a lot of these issues, but the food/eating issue never stopped. We learned in counseling that she's trying to fill the void of "mom gone" with food. Its heartbreaking and sad to watch. Issues with her mom will never go away.

Any thoughts or suggestions on how to help and encourage her? She does seem to really want to lose weight, so I believe the motivation and drive is there, we've bought books and whatnot to help her along- not to mention she's seen me 'diet' for almost 11 years.



  • IsaackGMOON
    IsaackGMOON Posts: 3,358 Member
    Hiding food doesn't sound too good to me. It is setting off an alarm in my lizard brain.

    I would probably take your daughter to see a counselor if she's hiding food. It just doesn't sound good.
  • suruda
    suruda Posts: 1,233 Member
    Tough and scary one....scary in that you don't want to set her up for a lifetime of food issues. Is there any possibility of acknowledging the afternoon snacking and replacing with healthy options? Carrots, celery, apples, popcorn, etc? Can you get her involved in cooking and creating healthy meals? Maybe that would be something she would like.
  • marsinah1
    marsinah1 Posts: 106 Member
    edited August 2015
    Seeking some professional help, as others have mentioned, sounds like a good start to me. What about after school activities? A sport or any other kind of activity that started as soon as school got out might help reduce the amount of time she was home alone and eating unsupervised.
  • janjunie
    janjunie Posts: 1,200 Member
    After school dance class, soccer, outdoors club....any sort of after school activity?
  • SarcasmIsMyLoveLanguage
    SarcasmIsMyLoveLanguage Posts: 2,671 Member
    edited August 2015
    This has to be a family effort. Demanding she change her habits (which are derived from emotional issues), and not setting an example yourself is just going to fail and likely make things worse. That's not to say that's what's happening. Just a thought.

    Take a good look at the message you and your husband are sending surrounding food and exercise. Are you practicing what you preach, or are you just telling her what to do? Are there activities you can do as a family? It doesn't have to be anything extravagant, even going for an evening walk every day after dinner? This will not only serve as exercise, but important family bonding time where you can connect on a deeper level with her. If she has abandonment issues, some quality time will do her wonders.
  • melodicraven
    melodicraven Posts: 83 Member
    edited August 2015
    First off, keep it positive. That's so important with any teenager, but especially with one carrying around all that emotional baggage. You can't get rid of negative feelings with more negativity. You need to emphasize all the positives - how much fun she'll have doing whatever active things you guys are doing, what kind of new healthy food can you show her how to cook, things like that.

    I don't know how helpful books would be. I know when I was a teenager, I probably would have rolled my eyes and kept right on truckin. It's got to be something that engages not just her but all of you guys as a family. If she's dealing with all this mom crap, then the one of the best way to help fill that hole is by doing fun stuff as a family - go on bike rides together, go bowling, go camping or canoing. Stuff that gets ya'll out of the house and active outside as a group. Lots less resistance when everybody's doing it and not just her. It's not as shamefully "Oh I'm such a fatty look what I have to do" then.

    I had a problem with the same thing as a child. It's like you feel this terrible self loathing while you're doing it, but at the same time the food makes you feel better, so it's really hard to stop. So it's good that you're all dealing with this as a family while she's still very young. In hindsight, I wish like hell that someone had done that with me. The trick is to help her find other things that make her feel equally good about herself as a whole, as well as about eating healthier. Does she like to read, to draw - is she interested in anime or vampires or whatever is popular with the kids right now? Encourage those things. They'll help take her mind off the food.

    And teach her how to cook healthy snacks. Get her super involved in the process. Research healthy recipes together, take her grocery shopping, get her in the kitchen learning how to cook healthy, low calorie new things for you guys.

    And no matter what, don't give up. You love this child. She's going test your limits and backslide sometimes and drive you guys crazy. But it can get better. It can.
  • maxit
    maxit Posts: 880 Member
    I suspect that the "mom-gone" issue needs to be addressed along with the actual eating issue. For food, she probably needs a meal of some sort when she is finished with school. I would focus on "healthy eating" and activity and not "losing weight" (she has already lost so much else). I would suggest counseling for her (consultation with former counselor if that person was helpful) and some structured activities that she would enjoy after school - ideally something that would involve social/interpersonal engagement, so that she is not home alone 2-3 hours, and instead has someone to connect and engage with. Your post says that this is already something you (& your partner?) are working on finding. Is it possible for you and your partner to structure your work in such a way that two afternoons a week she would be involved with one or the other of you in some mutual activity? I would further suggest that taking things away (TV, for example) will just compound the emptiness she is trying to fill with food.
  • malibu927
    malibu927 Posts: 17,568 Member
    Can you speak with her pediatrician to see if he/she has recommendations for a new counselor or dietitian (as her nutritional needs while she's growing are much different than yours) to work with? I do agree with getting her to be more active.
  • SLLRunner
    SLLRunner Posts: 12,943 Member
    Hiding food doesn't sound too good to me. It is setting off an alarm in my lizard brain.

    I would probably take your daughter to see a counselor if she's hiding food. It just doesn't sound good.

    This. Sounds like this little darling needs some more counseling. I am not comfortable advising anything other than this.
  • Queenmunchy
    Queenmunchy Posts: 3,380 Member
    Hiding food doesn't sound too good to me. It is setting off an alarm in my lizard brain.

    I would probably take your daughter to see a counselor if she's hiding food. It just doesn't sound good.

    My eating disorder started at 11 and wasn't treated until I was pregnant at 25. Please bring her to counseling now!
    I also agree with after school activities. If she's at home during that time alone, have her signed up for school activities or arrange for another parent to pick up for after school care, dance class, sports, gymnastics, etc.
    I have my daughter in dance class, gymnastics and Girl Scouts just because...idle hands!
  • Kimegatron
    Kimegatron Posts: 772 Member
    It sounds like a lot of depression. I agree with others, continue with the counseling, maybe even twice a week. I had/have a sort of food addiction. It's going away. Before, I would eat literally anything just to eat. Like I wasn't hungry, but it was something that I could control. Dude, I once ate butter noodles in a sauce of horseradish and ranch, because that was all there was. I swear it was delicious at that time... If she doesn't get this under control soon, it could get very bad. I'm not sure that locking the pantry or fridge is good though. My dad did that to me when we lived with him in 6th grade. He was embarrassed to have a fat daughter(he's totally cool now, we have a great relationship, a million years later). They locked the snacks in their room. It only made me want them more. The defiance in me was so strong, that I broke into their room, ate all the snacks in one sitting, and left the empty wrappers. It made me hate them and myself. But that's just me, seriously.
  • callsitlikeiseeit
    callsitlikeiseeit Posts: 8,633 Member
    hiding food is a sign of an eating disorder. please seek more intensive counseling.
  • BWBTrish
    BWBTrish Posts: 2,817 Member
    You need some professional support/help here, and not from people online.
    A teenager that shows this kinda behavior need counseling. Hiding food is not normal.

    I send you good luck and wisdom in this matter.
  • Ashtoretet
    Ashtoretet Posts: 378 Member
    Just another vote for professional help, this sounds very serious and like there's probably some other problems she's hiding too.
  • JustChristy79
    JustChristy79 Posts: 156 Member
    suruda wrote: »
    Tough and scary one....scary in that you don't want to set her up for a lifetime of food issues. Is there any possibility of acknowledging the afternoon snacking and replacing with healthy options? Carrots, celery, apples, popcorn, etc? Can you get her involved in cooking and creating healthy meals? Maybe that would be something she would like.

    This! Acknowledge it & set her up to have healthier options ready to go.
  • Kalikel
    Kalikel Posts: 9,626 Member
    Sounds like she's had it rough. I'd lay off on the food and dieting issue. Don't make eating something she has to hide. Don't look for evidence as if she's committing some kind of crime. Just don't bring it up. Leave it alone.

    I agree with counseling, too. Can someone take her or can she drive herself?
  • middlehaitch
    middlehaitch Posts: 8,386 Member
    As so many have said, counselling.
    As well as for your step daughter, look at doing some family counselling that could guide every one.

    Cheers, h.
  • PinkPixiexox
    PinkPixiexox Posts: 4,142 Member
    First of all, I'm sorry to hear that your step daughter isn't in a good place right now but know that this can be fixed. She obviously has a caring support system around her who is willing to do what it takes to make things easier for her and keep her happy - so she is very lucky in that respect. There are some parents out there who would simply turn the other cheek and not delve as deep as you have already, so rest assured you have done brilliantly so far.

    I'm not a parent yet but I am someone who has been in your daughter's shoes. I was a bigger child all my life and I've always had a bad relationship with food. I too had abandonment issues but I don't think I was using food as a coping mechanism as such - I just enjoyed eating so did it as much as I possibly could. Therapists may argue that I was using food to fill a void and to this day, I don't really know. What I do know is food made me feel good. I looked forward to food. I craved food an abnormal amount and also, it was 'something to do'. For me, I started noticing other people around me and the way they looked and their abilities and it wasn't until I was older - say 15 or 16 that I genuinely wanted to start doing something about my weight increase. At 15 though, I was a rebellious teenager trying to cope with the changes of puberty so the LAST thing I wanted to do was put my body through a load of restrictions at such a trying time so I just let it anger me but didn't act. It wasn't until I was around 18, that I started slowly (and I mean slowly) introducing exercise and better foods. When I started seeing results, It kind of gave me a bit of a kick and I continued. After a while, I started to enjoy MYSELF more than I enjoyed food. I felt normal. I didn't NEED to sit there and eat all day.

    Listen, it may be a completely different situation with your stepdaughter but you are doing all you can right now. I totally agree with your healthy outlook and it's good you are encouraging her to be healthy but why don't you try a totally different approach? Let it go for now. Be there to talk if she needs to talk. Deal with the emotional issues. Instead of encouraging exercise, encourage fun - take her out shopping and make her laugh! Totally push this weight problem to one side and let her be a teenager. Let her have trantrums, let her be a little bit selfish and if she has internal dilemmas, let her have them and make her aware that you have her back.

    The weight issue will probably solve itself after a while. She's still so young, still has so much to learn and still has so much to work out in her young mind. I wish you all the luck. x
  • goochinator
    goochinator Posts: 383 Member
    I am doing this with her 100%-working out with her, making it as much of a team effort as I can. My husband...that's another story. I'm working on getting him onboard with his own eating habits ( at least at home). We actually do a lot as a family, we do bike riding, kayaking, play games a lot, movies/drive ins, beach days, theaters, etc. I've gotten her into doing 5k's with me...essentially the fun ones ( hopefully with bling! aka medals) That always makes her feel awesome...even though were both in the back of the pack, she's always proud of the works she's done. We do a lot of basic things as a family ( like everyday errands), so the support and closeness is definitely there. I've printed out some healthy recipes to try, and coming up with fun activities for workouts, as well as activities for after school- a big 'duh' moment was to embrace her artistic side- getting her into art more would be a good start. Reading too, is a huge interest for her.
    We do talk a lot, about things in school, her friends, current events,her other family ( that's a touchy subject though as she's been taught to lie and cover up since she could talk- we don't push on that) She's been told that she can tell us anything and whether we like it or not, we'll deal with it. I've paid attention here and there and noticed a bit of a pattern, when she sees her mom/other side family, is when a lot of the crap comes out. It's a hard transition for her...absolute polar opposite lifestyles.
    We had to stop counseling due to an insurance change and the 4 that were recommended did not accept DH's insurance. ( this was a ginormous battle to begin with) Now that it's changing again, it's likely something we'll have to look into again.

    Part of the issue I's exhausting. Some days are better than others, but some days, she is by my side constantly. I know she relies on me for so much and I do as much as I can...but it's overwhelming and exhausting. [ ya know after working 9+ hours, then having her meet me in the driveway when I get home to start chatting...] I do love it, but it also gets to be a lot sometimes and I need to shut down for a few hours or so. But then it makes me feel guilty too...
  • snowflakesav
    snowflakesav Posts: 644 Member
    Hiding food is a kind of control thing. Very common yet odd behavior with teens. They feel so out of control with their emotions and food is one of the things they learn from a very young age that they do have control over. Think in terms of finding other things that she can make choices about and she will thrive on paying attention to those things.

    Fashion, makeup, art, exercise, music...let her discover herself. Boredom plays an important role in development so don't feel guilty...just know that you are helping her find ways of soothing herself.

    I went through this with a step daughter. We discovered scrap booking.