Book Review: "Weight Loss Confidential"

Monday, June 4, 2007 - 2:54pm

By Donna Feldman, MS, RD

It is hard enough to parent a teenager, but it is worse when that teen is overweight. The potential health problems can seem minor, compared to the negative effects of low self-esteem and judgmental comments from peers. Most parents want to help, but nagging about food choices or future health problems can backfire. What should you, as a parent, do?

The Investigation of Anne Fletcher

Enter registered dietitian Anne Fletcher and her latest book Weight Loss Confidential, which explores how teenagers themselves deal with weight control. The book, written in an engaging style, will be useful for both overweight teenagers and their parents. Fletcher has not written a diet book so much as a weight control investigation report. She interviewed more than 100 overweight teenagers from all over the country. Information about each teen's weight control journey was collected from a questionnaire and phone conversations. Despite the fact that these kids came from many different backgrounds and locations, common strategies emerged. Both overweight teens and their parents will find dozens of useful ideas in this book.

What the Investigation Uncovered

The most important message in Weight Loss Confidential is this: The motivation for teens to lose weight must come from the teens themselves. Well-meaning advice and dire warnings from parents, teachers, friends, or even doctors is not the answer. For most of these teenagers, personal motivation had more to do with body image, teasing from peers, and lack of self-respect than with health concerns. Threats and criticism are counter-productive and can easily backfire, causing kids to withdraw and seek comfort in food.

Exercise and Diet

The book includes personal stories from teens about the strategies they used to take control of their weight. Despite the varied backgrounds of the subjects, several common themes emerge. Exercise in some form is part of everyone's plan. Many of the teens created their own personal activity routines, which evolved over time as they lost weight and became fit.

Diet plans were also varied and personal, although cutting back on sugary sodas was one common strategy. Most of the kids reported a combination of eating smaller portions and choosing healthier foods. A few followed more structured food plans, such as Weight Watchers, but no particular plan was more effective than another. The successful dieters found that healthy choices became easier as they lost weight and felt better physically and mentally.

Advice to the Parents

There are several important messages for parents. Avoid nagging and criticism, but be supportive. Do not sabotage your kid's dietary changes by keeping tempting treats around the house. Keep communication lines open, and offer praise and encouragement for success. A parent reading this book will take away many more ideas about how to help, or at least avoid hindering, their child's weight control efforts. They will not find specific diet advice or menus and recipes. Ms. Fletcher does not advocate any particular diet plan in this book, other than the general practices of proper nutrition and portion control.

A Highly Recommended Read

Weight Loss Confidential does not deal with teenagers who tried and failed at weight control. While those stories are not included, some of the subjects in the book do talk about previous failed attempts that involved crash diets or rigid restrictions. For teenagers who are still stuck in crash diet mode, the message is that success comes when weight control, exercise, and healthy eating become a permanent lifestyle change rather than a desperate and short-lived attempt to fix a problem that took years to develop. Weight Loss Confidential is highly recommended reading for those teenagers, for their parents, or for both. Ms. Fletcher has written a very thoughtful book that can give teens and parents useful tools to develop lifelong strategies for weight control.