No one wants their child to be teased, discriminated against, or predisposed to health complications later in life. Nor does anyone want to create unhealthy yo-yo dieting habits or body image issues.
The statistics we hear on the news about the growing obesity epidemic amongst our youth are troubling, but it's a touchy subject to address, with huge potential for hurt feelings and resentment. If your child is overweight, how can you help him or her without creating even more trouble?
First, consult with your child's pediatrician. Ruling out any medical or stress issues, and getting a clear idea of what is "normal" for your child's stage of development, might help you feel more comfortable moving forward.
Next, think in terms of lifestyle, which encompasses eating, tech time, outdoor activity, and how time is spent with family and friends. Helping your child isn't so much about changing what he or she eats as it is about creating a healthy lifestyle for the entire family. Provide choices for your child, so he or she doesn't feel that a new lifestyle is being imposed on him or her. Make changes gradually, and don't target those changes at one particular person in the family.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are simple adjustments a family can make to their routine to benefit everyone. They include:
- Limit sugary drinks. Pop, juice, sports drinks, and flavored waters that are marketed as "healthy" often contain a great deal of sugar, or sugar substitutes. Make water, not artificially or otherwise-sweetened drinks, your "go-to" beverage.
- Provide fresh fruits, vegetables with healthy dips, nuts, and whole-grain snack options. Make them convenient for your kids to grab and store them where they are likely to be seen, whether in the refrigerator, on the counter, or in the cupboard. Save sweet treats for once in a while, not everyday.
- Don't use food as a punishment or reward, such as, "You can't have a cookie unless you eat your vegetables,'" or "No ice cream because you were 'bad.'" Likewise, don't use food as medication for a bad day or stressful event.
- Eat at home, and cut back on convenience foods. You will have more control over portion sizes and ingredients. When we eat out, we tend to finish what portions are given to us. At home, we can choose a smaller portion, and consciously choose more if we're still hungry, instead of mindlessly eating what's in our "value meal."
- Eat meals together at the table, not in front of the TV.
- Check labels, and choose food that has limited quantities of added fat and sugar.
- Get moving together. Whether it's yoga class, a daily walk to train for a charity event, a trip to the playground, shooting hoops at the park, jumping rope, or playing Frisbee, get involved and treat activity like play instead of a chore.
- Limit screen time, and practice what you preach. It's not good for anybody to spend hours on end in front of the TV or computer.
Set a good example, and invite your child to join you. Rather than talking about being on a diet, hoping to look good in a dress or bathing suit, or exercising for the purpose of losing weight, focus on being healthy and making good choices for your overall health. Treat being healthy as a way of life, not a means to an end.
Written by Jennifer Reynolds, West Michigan Woman staff writer.