Thursday, February 9, 2012

Helping Your Child Lose Weight as a Family

Childhood obesity is a serious issue.  1 in 3 children will develop diabetes by 2050, largely due to obesity. We need to tackle this problem quickly--and it starts at home. 
But weight management, especially in children, is also a sensitive issue. It can harm a child's self-esteem when parents tell their children that they need to lose weight, especially if they feel like they are singled out. It’s hard for kids to understand that being overweight isn’t just about what’s on the outside. We as adults know that carrying excess weight can seriously affect our health.
In my eyes there’s really only one solution: weight loss must be tackled as a family. And most importantly, the focus should be on getting healthier, not losing weight. I know this is easier said than done, sometimes because parents aren’t always ready for the challenge. But you can’t tell your child to stop drinking soda, or to limit the chips or to go outside and exercise if you’re not willing to do it yourself.
Children want to be healthy--they tell me all the time--and they're surprisingly willing to make lifestyle changes. Kids also have an increasing awareness of what’s healthy and what’s not. If you lead, they will follow. You’re the best role model they’ve got! Often I find that parents don’t know where to start or have unclear ideas of what is healthy to eat or how to plan healthy meals, and that can make starting off on the right foot difficult. Meeting with a registered dietitian is essential. Many dietitians, like myself, work with families together. Consider it and use these tips to get started:
Teach your kids what a healthy meal looks like. I recommend using MyPlate--it’s a great tool for children and parents as well as a great visual for my motto: healthy eating shouldn’t be difficult. They’re really aren’t a lot of rules. Download a coloring sheet and let the kids fill it in with examples to build a healthy meal. Give them crayons so they can use the right colors for each section. Work on this as a family to plan healthy meals together.
Try new foods. Make it fun! Let kids be involved in picking foods at the grocery or selecting a recipe. They’re more likely to try something new if they have a say in it.
Let kids help in the kitchen. Give each child an age-appropriate task. Even if it isn’t much, they will relish being involved. Let them help with planning weekly meals and packing lunches too.
Serve dinner from the kitchen. Put the appropriate portions on each person’s plate and package leftovers for later. No second helpings allowed. 
Plan some physical activities that everyone can do together. Go for a walk, play tennis, plan game night on the Wii or consider a family gym membership. Set some limits for “screen time,” which includes television, video games and computers. 
Every step you take towards better health matters for building a happier, healthier family. Sometimes they might test you, but in the end, your kids will thank you.