Sensitive topic-- unhealthy weight gain

I realize that college students stress eat, eat late at night and may not have time to workout consistently. My child has gained 35 pounds. It is unhealthy and I think causing a loss of confidence. Does anyone have any advice on how to help, respond or bring the subject up. We certainty don’t want to add more stress or cause an eating disorder.

Was there any other change, like a medication, or is it mainly lifestyle changes? Depression? Some people deal with pain by eating, as you know, so is your child in pain and needing counseling? That is not necessarily the case but needs be to be mentioned first.

Some of us have gone through this from the parental point of view. In general, unless the child brings it up, it seems best not to say anything beyond asking how the health care center is, have they had an occasion to see an MD at all, and also just conversationally about dining services, gym available etc. This stuff can be covered in normal conversations I think.

It can be disconcerting for a child to look different during a period of transition. But part of honoring their autonomy would seem to be to avoid stepping into this subject unless asked to do so :slight_smile:

I have also offered extra money for healthy meals if they want that.

Usually the kid is aware of it of course :slight_smile: If they care about it, they will do something. When they do do something, the weight DOES come off. In cases uncomplicated by psychology and emotion that is.

Caveat would be concern for eating disorder , as you mentioned, either accounting for the gain or as a possible reaction, particularly since this is a time of transition and stress, disordered hours, and sometimes unhealthy food. Dieticians can be a good resource to get things back on track if the subject comes up. Depending on seriousness there are of course other professionals who can help.

When your child visits, you will have a chance to observe and evaluate. But I think the problem should not be discussed as a weight problem per so but as a health issue. People with eating disorders are extremely secretive and good at hiding it of course. That part of the situation is something we might not be able to comment on. Safety is important most of all.

It’s a difficult topic. People know when they’ve gained wait and really don’t want it pointed out.

Having said that, has your child had a physical exam in the last year or two? Thyroid and other issues do affect young people. I would schedule a routine physical with your primary care doctor, letting the doctor know about the weight gain. If blood work shows an increased cholesterol, for example, then the topic can be approached from a health point of view.

Good luck. It’s hard as a parent knowing when to step in with an adult child.

I have been lean my entire life except for the four years I spent in college, where I developed some unhealthy habits. Even though I was on the swim team, I still managed to gain 15 lbs my freshman year, and another 10 on top of that my junior year in France (due to pastries and pot smoking). I was not happy with my appearance and generally felt awful and unattractive. Part of the problem was having little control over meal times and what was being served.

Almost the instant I graduated and began shopping and cooking for myself, I began to lose the excess weight. I took up running and everything came right off. I am convinced that so much weight gain in college is due to not being mindful about nutrition and exercise. Paying attention to these things gets easier once you’re on your own.

Agree with compmom.

“Usually the kid is aware of it of course If they care about it, they will do something. When they do do something, the weight DOES come off. In cases uncomplicated by psychology and emotion that is.”

Hopefully, your kid recognizes the problem and tackles it. They don’t need you on the sidelines pointing out that they’ve gained unwanted weight. But a cheering section is welcome for joining a gym, running a race etc.

35 pounds is very concerning, especially if this weight gain is since September. I would talk with your child about school, friends etc and see if you sense anything is wrong. Depression, drinking and medical issues could all attribute to such weight gain.

What is your child saying about it?

Most likely it’s just a change in habit. There’s a lot of social eating that goes on in college and if she’s drinking on weekends those calories can add up too. I agree that bringing it up may just stress her out. If she brings it up you can help her strategize but otherwise about all you can do is model healthy eating and exercise when she’s home and perhaps ask a few very gently probing questions.

I was also going to suggest you consider alcohol as a contributing factor. It’s a lot of calories on top of a diet that is likely more carb and fat heavy than she had at home (if she’s eating in the caf, that is). The little things add up. At home, for instance, we by 1% milk fat cottage cheese. Pretty sure what’s on the salad bar at the caf is the regular (4%). Do that for any number of foods and the pounds creep on.

Let me also ask if your child is an athlete. A new strength and conditioning coach and regimen put a lot of weight on my youngest, and in street clothes, she just looked heavier. Stripped down to work out wear, however, and well, you could see where the weight was.

I think the best advice you got was from @compmom

. I’ve struggled with weight my whole life and I now see my oldest fighting the same battle (but there’s a medication involved). Saying something to the child, no matter how well intentioned DOES NOT HELP. She knows she’s gained the weight.

Unless you are concerned about an underlying medical condition, I wouldn’t say anything unless your child brings it up. No doubt they are more than aware.

I’m sure your D is upset about the weight gain and feels bad about herself. I think it’s important to let her know that you need the verify that she doesn’t have a thyroid issue going on or some other cause, but if there’s no physical problem it’s OK to have an oops moment as she’s adjusting to all of the change going on in her life, and you have Full Confidence in her ability to get back down to her normal self in a Healthy Way (no rush, weight will come off with good habits), and to not take this weight gain so personally. See if she can’t pass it off as, yup, my bad, going to lay off the ice cream next semester. It’s important for her to know that she is in control of herself, and you know that she can fix it! Be her cheerleader, because I’m sure she’s already hearing her own critical voice. And that voice will skew your expression of concern to an expression of criticism unless you’re extremely careful to ensure an upbeat, positive message of full confidence in her.

It’s even called the Freshman Fifteen, though OP mentions more than that. Ime, college girls talk about it and sometimes, together, they tackle it.

It has to do with the context and can’t always be looked at same as if we adults suddenly gained.

I gained weight freshman year of college. It’s VERY common. Contributing factors? …3 meals a day in the cafeteria, plus beer, plus there was always someone ordering pizza late at night on our floor and who ate just one piece? I was a runner in HS, and got out of the routine at college. So busy studying and finding my balance.

I was nervous about going home for breaks because there were certain family members who monitored and openly commented on others weight and appearance (& other life details). I knew it was the talk of the family, based on how they gossiped about others.

One elder family member was very weight conscious, slim herself, and would make general comments to the air that I always felt were not-so-subtle efforts to “encourage” me to eat better and lose weight.

I hated it. I have a brain, AND a mirror, thank you very much.

Really, what I wanted more than anything, was to have everyone treat me like they always had – happy to see me, make me feel loved, attractive and funny…unconditionally!

I eventually figured it out, on my own, in my own way. Getting out of the dorm and into an apartment where I cooked for myself & had control about what food was available was probably the biggest help.

Thirty-five pounds in a semester is a lot. My concern would be depression and stress eating, so I would ask about that and try not to mention the weight gain per se. For example, I’d ask about friends, loneliness, what makes her happy at school, has she been disappointed with the social life or felt overwhelmed by academics, that kind of thing. I am sure she knows she has put on weight.

This happened with son1, not his first semester. After his junior year he spent the summer away from home with a new GF who had some bad health habits (fast food, drinking, no exercise) and he put on a lot of weight. I was startled by his appearance after six weeks apart. His clothes didn’t fit. His dad did bring it up, not in a constructive way, just asking why he got so fat. I asked son1 about depression or life stress and asked if he needed to buy some new clothes. That was a hard enough conversation. Son1 denied depression, but we didn’t get any real answers. I thought, well, okay, he is just going to be fat. His life, his choices. Maybe fitness wasn’t a priority for him.

I did start asking son1 if he wanted to do running/sporting events with me, like road races. We have done these together for years, but had to take a break when I was unable to run for awhile. He eagerly said yes, so I started signing us up for things. He had to train so got back in the exercise groove. He remembered he liked being active and kept it up despite having a sedentary GF. He lost a little weight, but the big victory was in him being more active.

This past year he started working full time in a city far away from GF (now ex GF). He is back to his normal weight. Working long hours, cooking for himself, buying his own groceries on his own salary, still running, lots of time on his feet at work, it combined to take him back to normal. Whew! (I see his story in some of those posted above.)

Doing the math, that is an extra 3000 calories per day above a normal maintenance diet. That is life-changing quantities of food and signifies something more that a switch to dorm food.

You have a couple of weeks to get your pantry and refrigerator in order to model a healthy diet. Resist the urge to get the high-sugar celebratory foods that are normal over winter break.

Agreeing with the others - don’t bring it up.

I don’t believe that you can fix this problem over three weeks of holiday break. I might ask your kid how they are doing or if they have any problems, but ruining the holidays by taking all the treats out of it isn’t a great idea. That is a big weight gain, and definitely concerning so I think it is appropriate to talk about it. Doesn’t have to be a shaming conversation at all, you are just concerned, as you should be. I hope that you are able to get to the heart of the problem and help your daughter out.

I think your D needs a complete physcial with blood work over the break. 35 pounds is a lot of weight to gain over a period of a few months. There are many health conditions that could cause this weight gain including thryoid disorders, poly-cystic ovarian sysndrome and depression (can be a factor in over eating). If it were 10-15 pounds, I wouldn’t be all that concerned.

I offered for D1 to see a nutritionist when she gained some weight freshman year. It turned out her weight gain was due to alcohol.

35 lb weight gain is quite a bit. I would have her checked out by doctors while she is home - physical and psychological.

I gained quite a lot my freshman year at school. I’m not saying this is true of OP, but my mom was super rigid about food and very weight conscious. We never had junk food in the house and had to sneak food. She was also very critical about everyone else’s weight. I went hog wild when I was on my own at school - donuts for breakfast, burgers, fried foods, beer etc… I definitely gained at least 30 pounds. There was nothing physically wrong with me, just never had access to those kinds of ‘taboo’ foods and was on an unlimited food plan. We also would get pizza or the like at midnight so I was eating an extra meal/day. I ended up self regulating after a while and lost it all the following year. My mom was uber critical when I came home for break though. It was horrible. I couldn’t wait to get back to school.

I am agreeing with others as well - don’t bring it up. She will work on it when she is able to and/or wants to. Ask about friends, classes, hard times, anything but the weight.