For several months you have noticed that you daughter or son is putting on weight. You chalk it up to growing pains or a growth spurt and keep telling them that they will get taller in just a few short months which will even out everything in the middle. At the same time you see that they can consume more food than you can and seem to be eating at odd hours for reasons other than hunger. The trouble is that as a parent you don’t want to hurt their feelings and hope ion the back of your mind that they will grow out of it. At the same time you want to help your child lose weight. For a parent you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. For the child risks of everything from diabetes to self esteem issues are rising more quickly than the numbers on the scale. The last thing you want to hear is a doctor tell you your child is overweight, not only do you already know; you don’t want someone to say it in front of your kid!
Let’s take a look at some facts. Today an average of 1 out of every 3 children is overweight and 1 out of every 5 is considered obese by pediatric medicinal guidelines. These statistics are true for children who do not have any underlying factors that lead to their weight issues. The biggest contributing factor is not just lack of physical exercise but living in homes with parental weight problems as well. We can all understand how the technological age has stolen children from outside frolicking and turned them into couch potatoes. We can blame advertisements, schools for doing away with PE, fast food restaurants or anyone else we want to- but the truth remains that as parents we have to be able to monitor and regulate the diets and activity of our children. More than likely our children’s weight problems have to do with the way we parent.
Before anyone takes my head off for that last statement, let me explain that I have two daughters who struggle with their weight. It is very difficult for me to say no to the cheese puffs and nutty buddy bars when they ask me for them. The last thing I want to do is bludgeon their self esteem or make them think they are fat at the age of 11. That’s what my mom did to me. By the time I realistically looked at their weight issues I knew it was a bit late, but not hopeless. The changes for them started inexplicably with me. We were not starting a diet but a new way of living because I wanted to be ‘healthier’, not skinnier. Since I do all the shopping the whole house would have to come along for the ride. There was no choice offered. End of discussion.
Helping a child lose weight is not an easy decision to implement. In order to do it without making the kids feel self conscious means it must be introduced as a family change. The first step is ridding the house of all the junk food that plagues the cabinets and fridge. If the food is not there, no one can ask to have it. Systematically chips were replaced with protein crackers and low carb baked crunchy foods. Cold carrots, and pudding sat in the fridge right where the cookie dough used to lie. The ‘treat’ cabinets was garnished with fruit snacks and mandarin oranges, granola bars and healthy no sugar cereal. Even the milk was replaced with skim (took some getting used to) and the tea went from sweet and delicious to cold and boring. Once all the junk was gone the issue of saying no was alleviated. There was nothing in the house that they couldn’t have. The whole family was on a road to healthy eating and no one was singled out or made to feel insecure about their weight.
Helping a child lose weight also means re-introducing physical activity into the home. Limiting TV time or video gaming can go miles to getting kids back outside in the yard. Sports are a great outlet for kids and engaging in them is not only healthy, but can make them more interested in being healthy. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink is the old saying. Since these are our children we are talking about we have to lead them to water and show them how to drink. These means joining in on the exercise with them. Taking stairs or parking far away from entrances to get in the extra walk. Jogging around the block or yard together. Sit-ups and pushup at night can be a family contest that gets everyone motivated to move. Chances are parents need the exercise as badly as the kids do. When children witness their parents taking care of their health and body it is only natural that they will follow the same path. Just as some responsibility for their weight situation falls on a parent’s shoulders, so does their initiative to getting things back on track. They will learn more from our example.
If a child in your home needs to lose weight I can say for certain that the last thing to do is to bring it verbally to their attention. Name calling, even if well intended damages brittle self esteem at a young age. Once the weight is gone, the ridicule and image in their head will live on causing further problems down the road. They can be forced to live a life where they always ‘see’ themselves as overweight. Although a child probably knows that they are bigger than the other kids, or has been called names or teased at school there is no good reason to be blunt and harsh about it at home. It is much more productive to engage in the new family plan of getting fit and eating healthy. This allows children to take control of the situation and allows them to feel comfortable within the confines of their body. Children need to learn healthy habits at home and helping a child lose weight is one of the best investments in their future that we, as parents can make.