9 Ways to Avoid Enabling

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We are almost to the end of Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, but don’t be fooled — we need to keep that awareness level high during the other 11 months, too.

A parent might think, “What’s the beef? I never tied my kid down, stuck a funnel in his mouth, and poured in milkshakes fortified with extra calories.” And indeed, most parents never have performed such an unthinkable violation. But like aggression, enabling comes in more than one format. There’s active enabling and there’s passive enabling, or what in theology would be called sins of commission versus sins of omission.

The main thing to know about enabling is, we want to avoid it in any guise. Here, two previous posts describing “Parents as Enablers and Saboteurs” are distilled into simple “dont’s.”

● Don’t use food as a bribe to elicit good behavior.
● Don’t use food as a reward for good behavior.
● Don’t use food to win more love than the other parent gets.
● Don’t bring home junk food if your child has specifically asked you not to.
● Don’t overreact to a notification that your child is overweight.
● Don’t serve processed meals from packages.

● Don’t dismiss the idea of cooking from scratch.
● Don’t ignore a notification that your child is overweight.
● Don’t deny your own issues or addictions.

Those last three are separated because they are examples of passive enabling. About the cooking — a grownup who serves processed, packaged, and pseudo foods is actively promoting obesity, but a certain amount of passive enabling is going on at the same time. When a parent abdicates responsibility for a truly vibrant diet, overweight and obesity are passively enabled.

Just because life is already too busy with pressing demands, that doesn’t mean a parent can blow off the idea of ever learning to cook healthful meals with fresh ingredients, fewer calories, and zero harmful additives. Could it be a family project, to plan the perfect healthful Sunday brunch and shop for the ingredients? And then to go ahead and make that meal from scratch? It wouldn’t hurt to try something different, once.

As we know, Dr. Pretlow is working on the W8Loss2Go smartphone application. At one point he observed:

When I talked with the parents of the kids in our current app study, they readily acknowledged that parents enable this problem in their kids. One mother said her 10-year-old, who’s in our study, became panicky at a recent church festival because of all the food available. ‘How can I keep from eating this?’ he agonized to his mom.

What could that mother have done differently? Depending on various other factors intrinsic to family situation and environment, one course might be to avoid the church festival altogether and choose a different activity. Or, an energetic parent might join the event-planning committee and actively campaign to convert the food offerings to more healthful alternatives.

A slightly more ambitious parent might decide to make a mother/child project out of creating a festival booth to feature delicious low-calorie snacks, and give away the recipes for other families to try. A truly audacious parent might propose the radical idea of restructuring the whole event so as not to include food at all.

Solutions call for originality, “outside the box” thinking, and a willingness to abandon old habits and start new ones.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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