What Am I Doing Wrong?

Wrong is a strong and loaded word, so maybe it’s better to ask, “What am I not yet doing right?” That leaves some options open. As we did throughout September, which is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, we offer ideas that could help. Actually, so many hints and tips for parents are available, this series could go on for years. We cherry-picked a few interesting ones, and right at the top of the list is…

Take care of yourself

What? We tell parents to forget about their children’s encroaching obesity and concentrate on themselves? Not exactly. But we are listening to the multitudes of kids who have responded, over many years, to Dr. Pretlow’s Weigh2Rock website by sending in the stories of their own experiences. Dr. Pretlow sums up the problem:

Kids on our site frequently report that their eating habits are tied to their stressed out-parents.

A lot of things are wrong with modern life, and one of them is, people grow up with so much unrelenting, unremitting tension, they don’t even recognize stress because there are few stress-free moments to compare it to. Like the proverbial fish who don’t know what water is because they are in it all the time, people can become so conditioned to a stress-filled existence that it just seems normal. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe things don’t have to be this way.

Recognize the signs

So, if you’re a fish that has never been out of water, to the point that you don’t even recognize the existence of stress as an element you customarily swim in, let’s consult the staff of the venerable Mayo Clinic, who have composed a list of the common physical effects of stress. These include headache, muscle tension or pain, chest pain, fatigue, change in sex drive, stomach upset, and sleep problems.

But wait… Those are only the physical effects, and only the most common ones. That part about stomach upset also extends downward into diarrhea and/or constipation. And then there are symptoms that attack relatively few people, like dizziness and skin conditions. Observationally, stress seems to zero in on the weakest organ or system that a particular person might have, and choose that as the attack point.

When it comes to how stress affects mood and emotional stability, Mayo experts name anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, feeling overwhelmed, irritability or anger, and sadness or depression. Another source adds the sensations of loneliness and isolation.

Behavior as a sign of stress

Behavior is another area where the signs of stress come busting out, affecting not only the person concerned, but those in the immediate environment (such as children). Here is the Mayo experts’ list of the common effects of stress on behavior:

Overeating or undereating
Angry outbursts
Drug or alcohol abuse
Tobacco use
Social withdrawal
Exercising less often

Eating issues are, quite noticeably, at the top of the list, and that’s what we’re talking about. Stressed parents exert harmful influence along two different avenues.

First is the very direct influence of example. A child who sees a hard-working, stress-afflicted parent come home and eat an entire large pizza is not being shown a good example. Second, the residual effects of parental stress — the anger, the alcohol and tobacco abuse, the withdrawal, and so forth — cannot help but have a detrimental effect on kids who are basically prisoners in the same cell.

Therapists help their clients identify the negative people in their lives, and urge their clients to eliminate the energy sappers and emotional destroyers. But what about children stuck with crazy-making parents? They can’t just say, “Sorry Mom, sorry Dad, I’ve identified you as the emotional vampires who are sucking the soul right out of me, and unfortunately, we will have to part ways. Have a nice life.”

Nope, it’s up to us, the parents, to get ourselves patched and repaired so we can live up to our responsibilities.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior,” MayoClinic.org
Photo credit: ilchacho on Visualhunt/CC BY

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

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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