I’m worried that my children are overweight

is my child fat?

Following my post about my new Untold Stories feature I’ve already had several people send me their stories, which I’m really thrilled about. It means a lot to have you trust me with your thoughts so thank you! If you have a story or a concern of your own to share then do get in touch. 

Today’s story is on a really interesting subject – that of children and weight. It can be a really tough one to talk about because there’s such an anti-diet movement at the moment, which is fantastic in a lot of ways, but there’s also a fine line between embracing your body as it is and still understanding the importance of eating good foods and treating your body well. With children it’s especially hard because eating habits and the stories we tell ourselves about food embed themselves from such a young age. 

If you have any thoughts on the subject please do leave a comment, or share the post. I’d really appreciate any support you can show for this new regular feature.


Firstly, to be clear, I have no idea how much my children actually weigh or what their BMI is. I just know that since my husband and I separated, they’ve both gradually got a little plumper, to the point that I am now bothered by it. To complicate my concerns, when I raised the issue with my ex, hoping to create some joint rules and strategies about junk food, snacks etc, he responded that in his opinion, the children don’t look overweight, they look happy.

A bit of context – I’ve always struggled with my weight, and so has their dad. As a clever but overweight child, I was bullied and felt different and unhappy. As an adult I lost a significant amount of weight after the birth of my first child. I’m not currently completely happy with my weight but I am more accepting of my body than I have ever been. Knowing that this issue is triggering for me, I consulted a counsellor. At the heart of it, as much as I do worry about my children’s short term and future health, I don’t want them to feel unattractive and uncomfortable as I did for many years. And I don’t want people to look at my children and judge me as a mother.

It really bothers me that I can see rolls of fat on my children’s stomachs, but I also don’t want to give them a complex about their appearance, I want them to be body positive. The older one is starting puberty and someone else mentioned she had a bit of puppy fat. It’s very hard when she complains about her stomach area to know what to say. She needs to understand that there is a correlation between what she eats and the health of her body, so I’ve told her that healthy choices of food will help keep her body a healthy shape, and that planking exercises will strengthen her core, but haven’t made any changes to the way I feed her. She gave up sweets for new year, which I was slightly concerned about, but didn’t discourage.

I know that we could eat more healthily but it’s like an assault course of different and changing preferences and fussiness! I’m also aware that I do still sometimes do things like offer food as bribes, rewards, treats or comfort, and I often make meal time portion sizes too big for the older one, which she can find intimidating. Despite having the best of intentions to gently set boundaries and promote moderation and healthy choices, the pressure of solo parenting as a co-parent often leads to me ‘giving in’. I hate thinking they might be hungry because they hated a school dinner or my cooking. I don’t want foods to be ‘forbidden’ so they end up eating them in secret or binging, but trying to restrict numbers of servings and portion sizes on snacks leads to complaints and even (only this afternoon!) tantrums. We’re also not as active as we could be as a family, especially in winter.

I’ve decided to just keep an eye on it, and hope that growth spurts and puberty do their thing, but the truth is that I’m scared to weigh and measure them and find out that there is a confirmed issue. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to set down firmer boundaries around meals and snacks, especially when I’ve not got another parent for back up. I also can’t impact what happens when they’re with their dad.

And I can’t help but wonder if I would feel this worried if my children were male? Would I identify as much, care as much about other people judging them or their looks being commented on?

Probably not.

Is my kid fat?



  1. Pip
    13 January, 2020 / 9:35 pm

    As a single parent trying to co-parent with a rather unco-operative ex I know where you’re coming from. I haven’t got the weight issues that you described but can empathise with your feelings of not knowing what they do/have/eat when they are not with you. All I can say is stick with it, healthy eating is important for everyone regardless of how much they weigh or what their BMI is. There is so much pressure on people these days for all sorts or reasons and as parents all we can do is try to educate our children and hope they make the right decisions as they go through their lives. Lots of love x

    • Jo Middleton
      14 January, 2020 / 9:25 am

      Thanks for your comment Pip and I totally get where you and my contributor are coming from. My youngest daughter has had limited contact with her father and as much as I might wish that things had worked out differently the one upside is that I’ve had more control in terms of being able to be consistent with things like food and sleep. I wouldn’t choose it obviously, but you have to look for a silver lining I guess! Managing two parenting styles is hard enough when you live together but really tough when you’re separated.

  2. Emma
    14 January, 2020 / 8:31 am

    I’m the same. My daughter is definitely carrying abit too much weight. I know it’s her portion sizes (my fault) but her appetite is huge. I try to encourage her to exercise more! Funnily enough TikTok has been great, she never stops dancing, and seems to have lost some.

    • Jo Middleton
      14 January, 2020 / 9:21 am

      Thanks for your comment Emma. A few people in Twitter have mentioned activity and I think this is so important and definitely an aspect that I could have pushed more when mine were younger. I wonder if gender makes a difference here? I’ve only had girls but my experiences with friends is that often it’s boys who are naturally more inclined to be more physical or who need higher activity levels to be content, so perhaps it’s something that needs a bit more pushing with girls?

      • Jo Middleton
        14 January, 2020 / 9:22 am

        (Obviously not always the case and I didn’t want it to sound like stereotyping, but hopefully you know what I mean!)

  3. Jods
    14 January, 2020 / 10:30 am

    I have a boy and worry the same. i don’t know the best way to tackle it really. He is 5, I was 5 when i was put on my first diet and I still cannot eat an apple to this day. One of my first memories is of school dinners and i wasn’t allowed the chocolate crispy cake i had to have an apple. Decades later and i have big problems with weight and feelings around food, and I desperately don’t want my son to have the same issues or health problems. He clearly inherited my weight gain genes though. He has always been solid, but when trying to get him next size up clothes recently, discovered the next year trousers wouldnt go over his thighs i’ve realised there is a problem that needs addressing (and if anyone knows somewhere that sells non-skinny fit boys trousers please let me know!). I guess i’m not a good role model, being big i haven’t got it right myself yet. I also worry about him getting bullied as he gets older too (i do worry he might get bullied for having a fat mum too). Fingers crossed the changes we’ve been making re healthier eating, less treats, getting grandma on board, less screen time etc will start to work.

    • Jo Middleton
      14 January, 2020 / 7:43 pm

      It’s so so tough not to pass on our own feelings about food because they are so deeply ingrained in everything we do. I know for me for example that food is a very emotional thing and I’ve definitely used it as my own kids have grown up as a comfort, or a reward, or bribe. It sounds like you had a really tough time growing up and that dieting was much more about deprivation than about positive choices, and it definitely doesn’t have to be that same experience for your son. A few people on social media have talked about shifting the focus from diet to activity levels so I think you’re right that less screen time and more getting out and about, being active, is definitely step in the right direction. I’m wondering if there is any additional support available, through school or the GP maybe, to help you to help him – asking for help can be really liberating, so its’ definitely worth thinking about if you haven’t already. There are online resources too like Change4Life which might be helpful? https://www.nhs.uk/change4life/food-facts

  4. 16 January, 2020 / 12:33 am

    You don’t say how old your children are? I have five kids (two are adults now) The eldest, boy, became rather over weight in his early teens, puberty made him shoot up and he no longer looked so chubby. He is overweight now but I encourage him to make small changes in his diet (he’s autistic so still relies on me a lot) we swapped fizzy pop for sugar free squash or water, and crisps and biscuits for crackers. He also has an exercise bike as he doesn’t get out much. He’s definitely lost some weight without there being massive changes. My other kids have all had ‘chubby periods’ but have grown out of them. Two of my daughters are now really tall and (I think) too skinny. My youngest is 9 and he got really chubby when I was homeschooling him for 7 months. I think it was the inactivity rather than the food, but he does like his snacks. Since he’s been back at school he’s been a lot more active and the weight is coming off. I think what I’m trying to say (in a long winded way) is that children all develop differently and at times may seem as though they are a bit fatter than their peers. It’s best not too make too much fuss but you can encourage more exercise and better eating habits. It’s a shame their Dad isn’t much help. My older kid’s Dad was a bit of a ‘fat shamer’ and I think thats why I was always so skinny (until he left) but his eldest daughter has an eating disorder. I can’t blame her Dad entirely though, there are lots of reasons why she’s afraid of putting on weight. :( x

    • Jo Middleton
      17 January, 2020 / 1:18 pm

      Thanks so much for this comment and you’re totally right. I personally had a really chubby stage pre-puberty and although I’m definitely still on the chubby side now, it did even itself out and distribute itself a bit more flatteringly as I grew up!

  5. 17 January, 2020 / 6:30 pm

    You shouldn’t feel judged, you are doing the best you can for your family and you’re completely right not to want to saddle your children with a lifetime of body and food-related issues. That said, if you want to quietly start to control your children’s food intake and to make sure that portion sizes don’t get out of control there are ways to do it without their noticing.

    For example, use the protein serving in the size of your palm rule (or fist, if that seems too hardcore!), and maybe start to weigh out dried pasta and rice before you cook it (using the recommended portion sizes on the pack). When I started to do this I was surprised to discover we were often eating twice the recommended amount – it was quite enlightening. And don’t worry, pasta and rice always bulks up when you cook them, what looks like a paltry amount in the pan when uncooked will still be enough to go around.

    Another thing I do with my kids is give them fruit for dessert. That’s not to say theyre not allowed to follow it up with cake, ice cream etc, they are, but they have to wait 20 minutes after they finish the fruit before they get the sweet stuff (that’s how long it takes for your stomach to feel full after eating). In our family nothing is off limits (apart from diet drinks – if they want to have a coke, 7Up, so on, they get the full fat version), and there are plenty of biscuits and chocolate in the cupboards – but I just get my two to eat the healthy stuff first. The 20 minute rule means that often they don’t want the other stuff by the time they’re allowed it – or if they do, not as much of it.

    Best of luck, in any case. It’s a dilemma, but you’re so right not to make a big deal out of it.

    • Jo Middleton
      17 January, 2020 / 9:37 pm

      This is all brilliant advice Clare, and I love that nothing is off limits but it’s balanced with the good stuff too, I think this is a really healthy attitude. It’s so true about the portion sizes – I’m the same with rice and pasta and also cereals. A bowl of cereal if left to me would be about 3-4 servings!

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