Five things you can do to help with weight problems.

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Everyone I know is on a diet. They are trying to fit into a pair of jeans, a new dress, or a suit they have had in their closet for six years. They ask me what my secret is, or how I manage my weight.

I tell them I am a runner and, although this is true, it is not how I manage my weight. My weight is managed by a healthy dose of fear of becoming obese. I have hypertension, despite being thin. My genes are favorable for heart attacks and strokes. These, of course, are all part of the fear, but the deeper reason is, I grew up with an obese mother.

It’s interesting because most of the time we are unaware of how children are influenced by their parents. My mother was the greatest woman I will ever know. I was her sixth child, and I learned by watching.

My mother never talked about her weight. She was a victim of it all through her life. I say a victim because she was raised into it. Her father was an alcoholic, and one thing we know about morbid obesity is it is influenced by addictions within the family. My mother never drank or had alcohol in the home, but she had food and that was her drug of choice.

She was an Air Force veteran, a schoolteacher, a mother of nine, and a good wife, but she could not lose weight. I used to go to the doctor with her. The doctors tried to be polite with their words, but they could not hide their disgust, frustration and sometimes anger. I begin to understand the denial of obesity on one particular trip home from the doctor. I asked my mother why the doctor was so mean to her about her weight. She responded, “He wasn’t mean. He was very kind.”

“No, he wasn’t,” I insisted, “He looked mad.” My mother had no answer. She knew the truth, but didn’t want to discuss it. She finished by telling me, “No one wants to be fat, and if I knew how not to be, I would do it.” This hurt me more than anything she could have said. I was a kid. How does a kid help their parent not be overweight?

Much of my career is working with the morbidly obese. I dedicate it to my mother and wish I knew then what I understand now. Weight is not a disease of the body. It causes diseases within the body, but the real culprit is in the mind.

Weight loss surgery changes lives, but only the individuals can change their mind. The health care profession and public needs to understand all of the emotional issues underneath morbid obesity. Issues such as sexual abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, addictions, post traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, overwhelming stress, low self-esteem and critical parenting are just a few. Surgery cannot fix these issues, nor can the health care profession if they aren’t brought to light.

For children of an overweight mom or dad, there are things you can do.

1. Sit down with your mom or dad and talk to them. Tell them you love them, and you are so proud they are your parent. Then ask them how you can help them get healthier. If they say you are too young, be insistent. Tell them you feel good about helping the family become healthier or that your self esteem will be higher if you feel like you are contributing. Parents want nothing more than for you to grow up and feel good about yourself. Helping has nothing to do with age.

2. Make your mom and/or dad go on a walk or do some movement with you every day. They love you, and if you tell them you need this, they will usually go along with it.

3. Whenever you play games or watch TV with your parents, tell them you prefer fruit or raw veggies. If your parents are trying to get healthier and you insist on chips, you may be (without meaning to) contributing to the problem.

4. Every day, tell your mom and dad that you need them in your life for a long time and you are glad they are working on getting healthy.

5. Hug your parents often. They need this so much to continue their healthy lifestyle, and many times they get too busy to ask you for it.

I think my mother was right. No one wants to be fat, but once you get overweight it seems impossible to turn it around. When I talk to patients who are going to have weight loss surgery, many times their biggest motivator is being more active and involved with their children. Sometimes a child has more power than anyone else to be a catalyst for change. Talk to your parents today.

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Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of “Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever.” Twitter Mary Jo: @maryjorapini