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How to Help Your Child Gain Weight Even if They Don’t Want To 2022

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With constant pressure from TV, movies, social media, and magazines to be skinny, children may become reluctant to gain weight, even if they're actually underweight. However, since children need to gain weight to grow properly, it's important to make sure that they're eating adequately and staying healthy. If your child is resistant to gaining weight, it's more than simply getting them to eat more—looking at their mindset and their exercise habits is important, too.

Steps

Part 1 of 3:Encouraging an Attitude Adjustment

1Get your child evaluated by their doctor. If your child is underweight, don't assume that the problem is their attitude toward food. Before you take any actions to help your child gain weight, talk to their doctor about the underlying causes of the issue. The doctor can examine your child and ask you and your child questions to determine why they are underweight and what you can do about it.Trustworthy SourceNational Health Service (UK)Public healthcare system of the UKGo to source Common causes of low weight in children include:Trustworthy SourceNational Health Service (UK)Public healthcare system of the UKGo to source

Picky eating or sensory issues related to food

Food allergies or intolerances

Digestive problems or hormonal imbalances

Low appetite as a side effect of certain medications, such as medications commonly used to treat ADHD

2Find out why your child doesn't want to gain weight. There are many reasons a child may not want to gain weight, and solving the root of the problem will have better results than just trying to put more weight on your child. You may be able to determine the cause yourself, but you may also want to discuss with your child why they're resistant to gaining weight, in case there are other factors you weren't aware of.

Your child may feel pressure from outside sources (such as family, friends, or the media) to be skinny. This is probably one of the most common reasons for fear of weight gain, and it needs to be combated by helping your child build self-confidence and a body-positive attitude.

Picky eating or sensory-related feeding issues may not directly cause a fear of weight gain. However, they can make your child less willing to eat or try new foods, which makes gaining weight difficult.

A child may not see a problem with their weight and resist trying to gain weight if they don't think there's an issue. In this case, talk to their doctor. Their doctor can determine if they actually need to gain weight (some children are just naturally small) and explain to them the health risks of being underweight.

Disordered eating can result in fear of weight gain and body image issues, and must be tackled with a doctor's help immediately.

3Set a good example for your child. If you model healthy eating and exercise habits at home, your child will be more likely to adopt those habits as well. Be a strong role model by eating well and being physically active around your child. Talk positively about eating and about your own body.

When you eat, don't be afraid to show how much you enjoy the food. For example, while sitting down with the family for dinner, say, “Oh, wow, this spaghetti is amazing!”

Stay active around the home by dancing, doing yoga, or working in the garden. Encourage your child to join in.

4Help your child foster body confidence. A child who resists gaining weight may be afraid of being"fat"or being made fun of. You can counteract this fear by making it clear to your child that they're worth more than just the number on the scale or their clothing tags. This is especially important during puberty, when their bodies are changing rapidly and they likely feel self-conscious about it.

Support their body image by telling them that they look good, complimenting physical traits other than their body shape, and letting them choose clothes that they like and feel their best in.

Strive to compliment non-physical traits, too. Focus on things like their kindness towards others, their artistic talent, or their perceptiveness. While you can definitely compliment your child's appearance, their other positive traits need to be recognized as well.

Your child should know that there's more to them than just their appearance.

5Explain the difference between larger sizes and bad health. People of all sizes make a variety of lifestyle choices that affect their health, but their weight is not the main indicator of their health. Talk to your child about diet, exercise, sleep, and other components of being healthy, and how being"fat"or"overweight"isn't the same as being unhealthy (and that being"thin"or"skinny"doesn't mean you're healthy).

Explain that health and weight can be separate things; someone who's skinny could actually be very sick or doing things that are very bad for their body, whereas someone who's considered overweight can be overall healthy and make good lifestyle choices. (However, don't imply that all thin people are unhealthy - you don't want your child to think something's wrong with them.)

Tell your child that many of the thin people they see online, on TV, or in magazines have bodies that are just not achievable for most people, and that this is okay, because they don't need to look like that. Try having them think critically about whether what they see in the media is realistic, and how many people actually have the bodies of models or celebrities.

6Be careful what words you use. Oftentimes, parents can unintentionally end up reinforcing the idea that being thin is best, and if your child is resistant to gaining weight, this is the last thing you want to do. To avoid instilling a negative attitude towards weight gain, it's a good idea to watch what you say and avoid implying that weight gain is a bad thing.

Avoid associating larger sizes with negativity or unattractiveness. For example, don't say,"This shirt makes me look fat,"or"For a heavy boy, he's pretty cute."

Similarly, don't respond to"I'm so fat,"with"No, you aren't—you look great!"Your child will believe that being heavy means you can't look nice, which will make them resist gaining weight.

Don't share your own weight concerns with your child, or they'll adopt these worries as well. Instead, focus on living a healthy lifestyle and eating right so that they follow your lead.

Don't avoid the words"fat","overweight","obese","chubby", or so forth. Children know these words; they hear them in the media and at school. If you avoid these words completely, they'll come to associate them with negative things. Instead, use these words in neutral contexts.

Bear in mind that your child may witness size-based bullying or discrimination no matter how you try to prevent it. Explain that this happens sometimes, and it's wrong. (You may even try encouraging your child to stand up for the person being bullied, if possible.)

7Find your child some fat-positive media. In many cartoons and films, the protagonist is unrealistically skinny, and heavier characters are the laughingstocks or even the villains. This can end up hurting your child's ideas of what's healthy and what's not. Instead, try showing them things like Lilo and Stitch, Winnie the Pooh, and Steven Universe to show that there are a variety of body shapes, and all of them are okay.

Show them pictures of heavy Olympic athletes, such as Holley Mangold, or just about any shot-putter or weightlifter.

Take caution with showing them plus-sized models, as most plus-sized models still have"desirable"body shapes and this can still put pressure on your child to look a certain way.

8Try to encourage friendships with children of all sizes, backgrounds, and interests. Diversifying their social circle to include kids who aren't so focused on their looks or weight will help expose them to the idea that healthy lifestyles can come in all shapes and sizes. This will help reduce their fear of weight gain, and help them see the positives in diversity in general.

9Explore body-positive social movements. Some social movements, such as feminism and Health at Every Size, place a strong focus on bodily autonomy and acceptance. While your child may not understand activism if they're still young, these groups may help you find some ways to integrate body positivity into your child's upbringing.

10Recognize the warning signs of an eating disorder. If your child or teen is reluctant to gain weight and resists eating, or tries to"undo the effects"what they eat, it's quite possible that they are dealing with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are not a phase or something that you can force your child out of, and they require professional help. If your child is resistant to eating, develops unusual patterns or rituals around food or mealtimes, displays an unhealthy relationship with food, and has a negative body image, seek medical attention immediately to determine the best course of action.

Signs of anorexia include constant fasting, refusing to eat, only eating certain"safe"foods (often foods that are low in calories or carbohydrates), constantly exercising, and appearing fearful of food or of gaining weight.Trustworthy SourceNational Institute of Mental HealthInformational website from U.S. government focused on the understanding and treatment of mental illness.Go to source

Signs of bulimia include binging (eating excessive amounts of food in a short period of time) and purging—meaning that your child will force themselves to vomit, or take laxatives or diuretics, in order to"make up"for eating so much. Alternatively, some bulimia sufferers may not purge, but will instead fast or overexercise to try and work off the weight (known as non-purging bulimia).Trustworthy SourceNational Institute of Mental HealthInformational website from U.S. government focused on the understanding and treatment of mental illness.Go to source

There are other eating disorders that a child can be afflicted by, so if you suspect something is wrong, don't wait! Talk to your child and take them to a doctor as soon as possible, because eating disorders can be harmful to your child's health, and may even prove fatal.

Part 2 of 3:Modifying Their Diet

1Talk to your child's doctor about changing their diet. Before making any drastic changes to your child's diet, you should talk with their doctor to determine an appropriate caloric intake for them and foods that can help them put on weight more quickly. The doctor can make a more specific diet plan for your child based on their age, height, weight, activity levels, preferred foods, and prior health issues (if any).

You should not attempt to rapidly raise your child's weight without talking to their doctor first.

If your child is struggling with an eating disorder, it's not safe to change their diet yourself. Eating disorders can weaken the heart, resulting in cardiac strain.Trustworthy SourcePubMed CentralJournal archive from the U.S. National Institutes of HealthGo to source Medical professionals can help put together a plan to help your child safely return to a healthier weight.

2Choose more nutritional foods. While you may worry that healthier eating may result in your child refusing to eat or losing weight, it will actually help them gain weight in the long run. Remember,"healthy"and"tastes bad"don't need to be synonymous to kids! It also teaches your child to be more health-conscious at mealtimes. Pick out foods such as:Trustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source

High-protein foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, beans, and nuts

Whole-wheat grains

Fruits and vegetables

Whole milk, yogurts, cheeses, and other dairy products high in calcium

Soy products, such as tofu, edamame, or soy milkTrustworthy SourceUniversity of California San Francisco Health CenterResearch hospital associated with UCSF, a leading medical university, providing innovative patient care and public health resourcesGo to source

Remember to eat these foods as well—it sets a good example for your child and encourages them to do the same (and it will benefit your health as well!).Trustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source

3Add more fatty or protein-rich foods into meals. You can increase your child's weight gain by stepping up their calorie intake, especially if it's used in ways that balance out their diets with healthier foods. For example, if you add grated cheese, sliced chicken, and creamy dressing to a salad, there are more calories and protein in that than if the salad was just vegetables and croutons with a balsamic vinegar dressing.

Putting slightly more butter, oils, fats, and cheeses into your child's meals will help raise their calorie intake. However, not all of these fats are healthy, so don't rely on this alone.

Serve dips alongside foods, such as yogurt dip alongside fruits, or ranch dressing and hummus with carrot sticks.Trustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source

4Cut out processed, starchy, and sugary foods. While these foods may help your child gain weight more quickly, they will also deplete your child's energy levels and may ultimately contribute to the development of a variety of health problems. Too much junk food can even leave your child feeling anxious or depressed.Trustworthy SourceHarvard Medical SchoolHarvard Medical School's Educational Site for the PublicGo to source Avoid offering your child foods such as:

Sugary baked goods, candies, or soda

Processed foods that are high in salt and fat, such as canned meats, hot dogs, or processed lunch meats

Greasy fast foods, like burgers, pizza, and French fries

White bread and other foods containing refined carbs

5Give your child choices. If your child is resistant to gaining weight, having them make choices when it comes to mealtimes can help them feel like they have some control over the process, and not like it's a battle of wills. The amount of input they get should depend on their age, but even younger children can find a way to associate cooking and mealtimes with autonomy (and even fun!), rather than feeling like it's entirely out of their control.

Ask them what they want for the meal and offer to work together to cook it. This has the added benefit of helping them learn to cook, turning mealtimes into a hands-on activity.Trustworthy SourceUSDA Center for Nutrition Policy and PromotionU.S. agency responsible for promoting good nutrition based on scientific researchGo to source (And, as a bonus, if your child is a picky eater, cooking with them may make them more willing to try new foods—meaning more weight gain.)Trustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source

Make suggestions that increase the calories in dishes, such as"Let's try putting 4 cheeses in the macaroni and cheese instead of 3 this time!"or"How about we put some extra guacamole in the burritos?"

Give them options for smaller snacks or side dishes (e.g.,"Do you want blueberries or strawberries in your smoothie?"or"Should we make carrots or mashed potatoes with the meatloaf?").

6Have easily-accessible snacks between meals. Leaving snacks within easy reach of your child can encourage them to eat more without even thinking twice about it, resulting in more weight gain. Choose snack foods such as apples or celery with peanut butter (and maybe raisins), yogurt, nuts, protein bars, and cheese and crackers.Trustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source

That being said, don't let your child eat in every room in the house. Limit these snacks to certain rooms. You want your child to eat more, not overeat. (Additionally, you don't need to worry about cheese on the carpet in their room if food isn't allowed in there to begin with.)Trustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source

7Encourage your child to eat more. As obvious as it may seem, if your child eats more, chances are that they'll gain more weight. However, don't push the issue—let your child stop when they're full and don't make them clean their plate or eat seconds if they don't want them.Trustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source

Ask if they're still hungry if they've cleared their plate, or if they appear to be slowing down. If they are, offer them a second helping or a snack.

Encourage them to eat other foods on their plate. For example, point out the potatoes and say,"Have you tasted the potatoes yet? Mom and I tried a new way of cooking them today, and they're delicious!"Trustworthy SourceDairy Council of CaliforniaResource center focused on providing nutrition education to help consumers make healthy choices about eating and lifestyle habits.Go to source

Serve food that looks fun. Classic examples of making food look appealing include cutting food into shapes with cookie cutters or making"faces"on sandwiches or pizzas, but you can also try things like serving colorful meals, making up funny names for foods, or making"breakfast"foods for lunch or dinner.Trustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source

Increase the portion sizes slowly, especially for foods higher in carbohydrates.Trustworthy SourceNational Health Service (UK)Public healthcare system of the UKGo to source (However, remember that children typically don't eat as much as adults do, so don't drastically increase the portion size.)

Try having 5 or 6 smaller meals a day, as opposed to 3 larger ones.

8Make food into drinks. Even if your child isn't frequently hungry for full meals, you can ply them with some extra calories by serving up something in a drink for them. For example, you might make your child a smoothie with yogurt, fruit, and a few complementary vegetables.

Protein shakes can help underweight kids put on some weight, but talk to their doctor first to see if this is a good idea for your child. Not all children need the extra protein.Trustworthy SourceCleveland ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source

9Be careful with offering food as a reward. Some parents will reward their child with food as an incentive or to encourage weight gain. While this can potentially help with weight gain and bring your child to a healthy weight, some medical professionals have doubts about this strategy in the long run, since it can damage the child's emotional relationship with food and cause them to see it as a coping mechanism.Trustworthy SourceUniversity of Rochester Medical CenterLeading academic medical center in the U.S. focused on clinical care and researchGo to source

It may not hurt to reward your child with food once in a while, but take caution with employing it as a frequent or long-term strategy to avoid creating an unhealthy reliance on or avoidance towards food.

10Resist any urge to use salty or sugary snacks and drinks. While these foods do technically make your child gain weight, they don't give your child the energy or nutrients they need, and too much sugar can lead to health problems down the road.Trustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to sourceTrustworthy SourceNational Health Service (UK)Public healthcare system of the UKGo to source Fatty or sugary foods are good occasional treats and can help to encourage weight gain, but they should not be your sole method of putting weight on your child. It's best to opt for higher-calorie, denser foods, even if they keep your child full for longer.

Serve your child water over soft drinks or energy drinks, since those have plenty of unnecessary sugar.

However, don't say that sugary foods are"bad". This can cause your child to gravitate towards those foods, which can hurt their health.Trustworthy SourceUniversity of Rochester Medical CenterLeading academic medical center in the U.S. focused on clinical care and researchGo to source Instead, allow them treats once in a while and explain that there's nothing wrong with eating these kinds of foods as long as it's done in moderation.

11Don't force your child to eat. Forcing your child to eat will damage their relationship with food, because they're being told to ignore what they like and dislike and are being made to eat even after they're full. This can actually make your child more resistant towards mealtimes and eating, and result in them refusing to eat certain foods. The goal is not to force your child into eating so much that they gain weight; it's to help them gain weight in a way that also benefits their health and their relationship with food.

Pressuring or shaming your child into eating will end up making them reluctant to eat.

It's okay if your child gravitates toward less nutritionally-varied food for a little while. Oftentimes, children will begin trying new or previously-disliked foods after some time has passed.Trustworthy SourceDairy Council of CaliforniaResource center focused on providing nutrition education to help consumers make healthy choices about eating and lifestyle habits.Go to source

Part 3 of 3:Adjusting Exercise Habits

1Talk to your child's doctor about their exercise habits. Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Exercising can help a child build muscle mass, which will mean that they gain weight.Trustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source However, in extreme or unusual circumstances, your child may need to cut back. Consult your child's doctor to get an idea of how much exercise is healthy at their age and stage.

Most medical professionals recommend that children 6 or older get at least an hour of exercise per day.Trustworthy SourceMayo ClinicEducational website from one of the world's leading hospitalsGo to source

Be aware that in some cases, excessive exercise can be a sign of an eating disorder.Trustworthy SourceNational Eating Disorders AssociationNonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and communities affected by eating disordersGo to source

2Portray exercise as fun, rather than as a weight-loss technique. To build a positive attitude around exercise, don't make it all about losing weight. Instead, make it clear that exercise is a fun activity and that it helps them grow and feel their best. That does mean, though, that you need to avoid griping when going to do your own workouts—remember, kids tend to copy what they see!

3Encourage activities that build muscle in older children. Children who haven't reached puberty aren't capable of building substantial muscle mass yet. However, muscle-strengthening exercises are still encouraged in prepubescent children, and if your child has reached puberty, these kinds of activities can actually get them to gain weight from the muscle growth. Try getting your child involved in activities such as:Trustworthy SourceHealth.govOnline collection of health and fitness standards set by the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health PromotionGo to source

Biking

Climbing (for example, on the playground or up trees)

Swimming

Gymnastics

Light weight-lifting (make sure younger children are supervised by an adult)

You can even try getting your child involved in some yard work, like pulling weeds.

4Choose activities that your child enjoys. Your child will be more inclined to get moving if they get to do something that they like and really want to do. Figure out what they enjoy the most and see if you can get them involved in that activity, or incorporate other things they enjoy (such as time with their friends) into their exercise time. Some activities to keep your child active include:

After-school activities such as sports teams or dance clubs

Playing outdoors with friends or siblings

Going to a park or playplace

Swimming, biking, jump-rope, and other standalone physical activities

Allow your child to choose what they want to do. If they prefer baseball over soccer, for example, then let them play baseball.

5Offer snacks after exercise. Exercise can help your child work up an appetite, so it's quite common for children to be hungry after a vigorous time at the park. If your child is hungry after their workout, offer them a snack, like sliced fruits and vegetables, yogurt, cheese, crackers, or even granola bars. This can encourage weight gain, and helps their body recover from the activity.

Opt for water instead of sports drinks for your child, since many sports drinks have excessive sugar in them.

Steer clear of giving your child a lot of food before they exercise, since this results in them feeling ill and not wanting to exercise in the future. However, if they're hungry, a small snack before they go to basketball practice may not hurt.