Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Friday, June 3, 2016

What To Do When Your Child Is Overweight

As a disclaimer, I'm not an expert, but I speak from experience. 

Encouraging a loved one to lose weight is one of the touchiest subjects that can be approached and whatever you say can really backfire.  I have a critical grandmother who caused a lot of damage with her girls who were not overweight, but just going through puberty and were developing hips and breasts.  They were absolutely beautiful!  I learned later from my kids' pediatrician that it's common for kids to bulk up at a certain age and then go through a major growth spurt.

I was injured at about 12 years old and it caused me to have to be much less physically active than I was before, just as puberty was approaching.  I wouldn't have been described as fat, but I gained weight rather suddenly.  One day we were dress shopping for a special outfit for the last day of school when my mom was trying to give me some self-awareness and pointed to my newly developed roll of fat on my back, "You know that's not supposed to be there, right?" 

I love my mom, but please, mothers.  Don't do this to your child.  They're not stupid.  We are our own worst critics and always will be.  Pointing out the problem isn't helpful.  Trying to put your child on a diet or nag them about overeating isn't going to fix things.  Eventually they're going to be out of the house and will have to make their own eating decisions, plus they will be self-conscious.  I don't like to exercise in public, which limits me to exercising at home.  I remember a male relative making fun of a slightly overweight woman who power walked all over town.  He laughed, "Better walk faster if you want to get rid of those thighs!"  She couldn't hear him, but I could.  What you say to your skinny friends and family will hurt later when they're not so skinny anymore.  They will know what you really think .

You have to lead by example.  You can't raise your family on unhealthy food and then determine that the child unlucky enough to be struggling with their weight needs to be singled out.  I gained weight eating what the rest of my family was eating.  My mom has always been quite thin, but doesn't eat healthy. She also has high cholesterol and triglycerides, plus a protein that indicates inflammation in the arteries.  No one wants to be lectured by a person who isn't living the lifestyle they say you should be living.

You can't go back and change what your family's diet typically consisted of, but you can slowly make changes to help your whole family become healthier. 

1.  Say no to soda.  I swore this off as a household staple over 5 years ago and I don't miss it.  I haven't had any this whole time.  There is absolutely no nutritional value in soda and it's bad for your teeth on top of that. At least make it a rare thing rather than something your fridge is always stocked with.

2.  Introduce whole grains.  I was raised on white bread and really don't enjoy the flavor of whole grain bread as much, but I have forced myself to use it more.  My kids don't want to touch it because they have been raised on white bread too.  If I were to do it all again, I would make sure my kids have a taste for whole grain bread.  Try whole grain pasta!  It's actually pretty good.  Experiment and see what your family likes. 

3.  Vow to cook more meals from scratch.  I get it.  I have five kids and some days are really hectic, but I try to avoid foods that have ingredients I can't pronounce.  Try doubling the recipe and freezing meals for later if you need convenience food.  If you buy ingredients in bulk, some of them you can chop up and freeze for later use such as onions or peppers. 

4.  Buy produce as a snack.  If you're having a movie night, there's no rule you have to eat candy.  Buy everyone's favorite fruit!  Maybe some nuts too.  My family absolutely devours watermelon.

5.  Limit TV time and invite everyone to do something active together.  It's hard to change the rules when your kids are accustomed to a certain way of life, but I find myself thinking a lot more often that the habits my kids have now are going to be what they do with their families.  How are their spouses going to feel?  Go swimming.  Play tennis.  Go for a walk together and play a game along the way.  Or even make the destination ice cream.  Make it a positive experience.  It's such a better bonding experience than watching TV!  I've been doing a healthy living challenge and eventually my daughter wanted to join me on walks.  We ended up going in the cold lake and she loved it!

6.  Try not to keep temptations in the house.  Especially if someone is prone to gorging on things, don't have it around.  On a bad day, I could really drown my feelings in ice cream.  If I don't have it, I'm more likely to choose fruit. 

7.  Help your kids find an activity they love.  I struggle with boredom when it comes to exercise, but I thrive when there's music involved.  It helps me feel much more energized!  Dancing has really worked for me as far as getting aerobic activity.  I loved gymnastics when I was younger and although it was very hard, I was always able to push myself towards harder things.  I have several friends whose children are quite overweight, but they were positive towards them and the kids were always involved in some kind of sport.  They seem to have a healthy self-image too. 

What have you done to help your family's health?  How do you approach the subject of weight? 

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