Monday, September 15, 2008

Helping the overweight child

As a professional speaker and psychologist I am often asked questions about preventing obesity -- for adults and children. This blog has focused primarily on the difficulties of the adult but today I dedicate this to the millions of children who struggle. If you have children, please read this and pass it on. It will give you ideas for preventing obesity in children as well as ways to help if they are already overweight. Also please don't hesitate to contact me if you have questions or would like would like me to deliver a program for your organization or association.

tell your child they look fat or will get fat.
comment about their weight.
embarrass, humiliate or shame them.
put your child on a diet – this will ultimately cause weight gain
focus on appearances.

ALWAYS assure them that you love them for who they are, not for what their body size is or is not. Focus on making healthy choices – on feeling as (physically and emotionally) healthy, strong and balanced as possible.

Do not use food to reward or punish your child. Rewards should be things like extra time with you, a hug, a little later bedtime or a special outing. Punishments (better thought of and explained as consequences of the child’s behavior) include early bedtimes, no television or loss of a privilege.

Be aware that food and mood are intertwined. If a child is eating sugars and refined carbohydrates and not getting enough protein, they will likely be depressed, lethargic and angry. Stressors that are a natural part of life can become overwhelming to them.

Know that a bagel, pretzel or bag of popcorn is only sugar in disguise. White flour products, pasta, corn and starchy vegetables metabolize immediately into sugar in our bodies. These are the foods that put on extra pounds.

Also know that we all need healthy fats every day – (olive oil, a bit of real butter). These will not add pounds but, if you do not get some healthy fat, your body will think it is starving and you will make up for that with craving more carbohydrates and sugars.

Make sure they are eating protein three times a day and some carbohydrates, like fruits and whole grains and you are likely to see immediate, positive changes in their behaviors and moods. Make a list of proteins your child enjoys and consult your list when you’re in a hurry (some suggestions: meatballs, homemade hamburgers instead of fast food, almond, soy or peanut butter (Be careful, commercial peanut butter can be loaded with sugars. Buy natural if you can. Also, other nut butters are more nutritious than peanut butter.), yogurts and cheeses, nuts). Remind yourself often to provide protein of some sort at each meal (especially breakfast).

Soft drinks are loaded with not only sugar, but caffeine as well and children are very sensitive to both of these substances. Limit (and eventually eliminate) sodas. Encourage your children to drink plenty of water (or juice mixed with water if you must.) Fruit juice is loaded with sugar and even though it is a natural sugar, it still causes weight gain and fosters dependence upon sweets. Buy juices with no sugar added. Often hunger is really thirst in disguise. Once your child has had a healthy drink (preferably water) and is hydrated, he or she may not be tempted to grab snacks.

Help your child to understand that they really do need a protein at each meal. It feeds their muscles and they need it to be strong and healthy and happy. Talk matter-of-factly and directly about this. They may rebel at first, saying they don’t like chicken, meat, fish, almond butter, nuts etc., and you will have to be very firm and unwavering about your absolute intention to take the best care of them possible because you love them so much.

You are the parent and you decide. At first a child may not like you for setting limits. Later they will appreciate your effort (maybe not until they are parents themselves).

Introduce changes gradually and don’t get into power struggles about it. Simply say, “You can have the cookie (candy, ice cream, etc.) if you want, but you do need to have some protein first so your body gets what it needs to be strong and happy.” If your child says, “OK, then I won’t eat anything.” That’s OK. Tell them they can make that choice. Your child needs to know that you have their best interests at heart and are not going to give in or bargain and plead for them to eat. Unless your child has a serious medical condition, it won’t hurt him or her to miss a meal once in a while.

Fast foods and sugar-filled treats should be offered sparingly. Limit pizza (if your child has pizza once in a while sprinkle it with ground meat, tofu or poultry), chips, fries, fast food burgers, ice creams, bagels and candies (and remember that the “healthy” alternatives, like granola bars and fruit treats sold in grocery stores are loaded with sugar).

Have truly healthy alternatives on hand. In summer, frozen fruits like raspberries to snack on are particularly refreshing. Celery stuffed with nut butter or soft cheese, nuts (unsalted preferably), raisins, yogurts, raw veggies with dips (like lo-calorie salad dressings). Be creative. Make trail mix from dried fruits and nuts and toss in a handful of M&Ms for appeal if you need to do this at first to capture your child’s interest.

Limit TV, computer and video game time. This forces kids to use their imaginations and, if they are also undergoing dietary changes, they may feel better and choose to do more physical things. Any creative activity burns more calories than sitting in front of a TV or computer screen. This also enhances self-esteem which is at the core of food control issues.

Encourage your child to try all sorts of physical activities such as a family walk or bike ride. Plan frequent weekend hikes. Try a nearby swimming pool or beach. Let friends come along. Model an active life-style as much as your own time and physical health allows.

Talk directly with your children. Have weekly family meetings. Discuss how you’re doing as you work on improving your health and ask them how they are doing. Listen. Tell them you love them and want all of you to be as healthy as possible, which is the reason the whole family will be making some gradual changes.

Talk with them, on their own level, about the dangers of fast foods and sugars. Discuss how playing video games and watching television too much is harmful and that more and more children and teenagers are gaining weight and getting sick. Point out television commercials that are made to trick children into eating more fast foods and sugary foods. Tell your kids that people are just now becoming aware that some foods we have all been eating are really harming our health.

Be sure that your child gets plenty of rest. Children are busy growing and their bodies need time to recoup. A set bedtime is essential. A half an hour or so of quiet time before “lights out” and/or a warm bath or shower close to bedtime can help with unwinding and preparing to go to sleep. Do not allow eating for at least an hour or two before bedtime. Lying down to sleep with a full stomach interferes with they body’s ability to fully relax and rest.

Make sure you ask your kids how they’re doing every day and listen to their answers. It’s hard being human and especially hard being a child who can’t understand the complexities of life the way we can as adults. Notice how your child is acting and how he or she appears to be feeling. See if what you are observing matches what they are telling you. Let them know you are noticing and that you are always there for them. Resist the temptation to lecture. Instead listen as caringly and attentively as you can. Hold fast to your limits and boundaries but don’t be too rigid.

What is most important is:
Letting your children know you care…
Feeding them in the healthiest ways you can…
Paying attention to them…
Asking them how they feel and validating them…
Listening to what they have to say…
Respecting them…
Setting clear, sensible boundaries…
Outlining clear expectations (and reasonable consequences when you must)…
Giving freely of your love…
This is all that’s needed.

And, finally, please remind yourself often that…..

Copyright 2006
Dr. Denise Lamothe of Exeter, NH is an emotional overeating expert and author of
The Taming of the Chew: A Holistic Guide to Stopping Compulsive Eating.
She is a clinical psychologist, doctor of holistic health, author and professional speaker.
Ph/Fax: 603-778-4814 -- --

No comments: