This is a touchy subject for many families. When you consider the modern day recreational atmosphere of 24 hour t.v., gaming systems, and computers... today's teens are much more sedentary than many of us adults were at their age. Quick starchy, sugary snacks and sugary beverages compound the growing epidemic of obesity. So what do you do when you notice your child packing on pounds that seem more than the average baby fat or growth spurt?
This is a sensitive issue for me. To be completely honest, I have to first share that I struggled with eating disorders from the time I was about 13 until I was around 30. It took my faith to pull me from the abyss. I had to understand my accountability to my Heavenly Father who knows all and sees all. When you embrace the sheer awesomeness of that alone... man's impression of us is mere nothingness! I also realized at that time that I did NOT want my daughters falling into the same cycle I had.
Because of my experiences with eating disorders and diet crazed moms I have developed a way of thinking, acting, and expressing that I pray will have an end result with my daughters that will turn out better than my own.
Step 1. Realize that diet is a dirty word. No one should ever diet no matter what your weight. Everyone, however, should carefully consider their eating choices. Eating healthy is the key. When you eat healthy you are striving for a life change that will build a bridge to a better future (heath wise!)
Step 2. Make "eating healthy" a family affair. It is hard to loose weight and eat right if the person next to you is chowing down on potato chips and candy bars! Even the skin and bone sorts in your family can benefit from healthier food choices and an active lifestyle.
Step 3. When it is time to declare your intentions with your child(ren) consider any family diseases that can result from obesity or unhealthy eating. Diabetes and heart disease are two well known health risks that can result from unhealthy eating habits and/or obesity. One that many women aren't aware of is Polycystic Ovarian Disease. A condition where the ovaries produce an abnormal amount of cysts that can rupture and be very painful. These cysts can also make it difficult, if not impossible, to conceive when the time comes to have children.
When talking with your child(ren) about the need for the FAMILY to eat healthier and be more active, explain that you want all of you to not have to suffer from diseases that can rob hope from a more enjoyable lifestyle. Never single out one child, particularly the obese one, they may or may not take it so well and it could cause a cycle of eating disorders that are no better than the problem of obesity. This talk would be a good time to call a family meeting and address the issue of healthy eating together.
Step 4. Don't buy junk. If you don't want your child eating starchy foods (which convert to sugar and fat) than don't buy them. Sugary drinks like Kool-aid and Soda Pop are not healthy choices either. 100% juice can be substituted but moderation even in this beverage is best. Water should be a primary part of everyone's daily consumption. Water helps the blood flow, it increases metabolism, and it provides energy. Fresh fruits and veggies are perfect snacks. Whole grain breads and snacks are best as well. And don't be fooled by the "Only 100 Calorie" claims on snack sized packages these days... they are still loaded with carbohydrates, sugars, and fats that are bad for the body.
Be careful not to go the route of sugar-free either. Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are bad for you. They are especially bad for children and teens where they can cause problems with development. Our goal here is to get healthy, not create other problems in the process!
Step 5. Set limits. This can be easier said than done at times, especially if both parents are working and children are home alone. However, if you set limits on consumption such as: "You may have one bowl of pretzels a day. If you are still hungry you must choose from fruits or veggies." Kids are hungry because they are growing. We can't begrudge them that. But we can set limits to the choices they have and provide endless options in choices that are better for them like fresh fruits and vegetables.
If the issue is an obese child, then portion control may be critical. You will need to make their meals and use it as a learning tool to explain portion sizes. Two sandwiches for lunch is Two portions... you only need one. Here is a website on nutrition in children that may help you to discern her needs. I can't stress enough... children NEED to eat... we just need to make sure they eat healthy, appropriate servings.
Step 6. Limit Screen time. Screen time is anything using a screen: T.V., computer, video gaming, etc. Whether you set limits of 1 - 2 hours a day or make them earn their time, limiting screen time will help to curb sedentary activity and the urge to snack more than normal.
Step 7. Get active as a family. Impressing on your children to get out and do when you don't, won't get them very far. Get active as a family by taking bike rides together, going for walks or on hikes together, visiting the park together, and even taking part in recreational sports together.
Step 8. DON'T focus on weight. Sound strange in an article about how to talk about it? The biggest problem I had perpetuating the cycle in my eating disorder was my obsession with weight. For one thing, a person's build will affect their acceptable weight. For another, not everyone metabolises the same. Even within the same family, bodies can be very different. So what do you focus on? HEALTH. ALWAYS talk about your family's efforts to be healthy, build a healthy life, stay healthy. Never talk about how you look but always talk about how you FEEL. Make health and feeling good your family's goals.
Step 9. Lastly, moms, just like everything else your children see you do, they watch you and how you act about how you look. If you obsess about diets and being thin and fitting into clothes... they will too. You may not think this is such a bad thing. But for a child who has a difficult time eating healthy and staying at an acceptable weight, this mindset can be detrimental and lead quickly into a cycle of eating disorders. Teach your children to love themselves as they are. Teach them to embrace their inner beauty and encourage them to want to be healthy. I always tell my kids that it doesn't matter what you look like on the outside, as long as you feel good, take good care of your body by eating healthy, and exercise your heart for Jesus... you will be gorgeous!
I hope this helps anyone struggling with this dilemma. Please keep in mind, teenage boys can have this problem as well and be susceptible to eating disorders or over-exercising. Also, eating habits are best influenced when you start working with them young. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask me!