Dear fitsmiForMoms: My 8-year-old daughter is in good health, but her pediatrician told me she’s overweight. Should I put her on a diet? When is it too young?? She’s a really picky eater, and won’t eat salads or vegetables and even turns her nose up at fruit. ~ Jennifer
Our kids are more overweight than any time in history—but there are a lot of other firsts that factor in to this phenomenon. Kids are far less active, and spend far more time watching screens. They are also overexposed to commercials that make eating sugary foods, soda, and fast food look cool. But your daughter isn’t overweight in isolation — parents, teachers, doctors, more than 70 percent of adult Americans and 30 percent of kids are overweight today!
Your doctor is concerned with weight because overweight children are at higher risk for “adult” diseases that are related to being overweight and obese, namely type 2 diabetes and heart disease, just to name two. The earlier the child is overweight, the more likely they are to stay overweight into adolescence and adulthood.
But putting a child “on a diet” isn’t a good idea. Focusing just on weight can backfire into obsessing about weight. And you should never single out your child for a weight loss diet different from everyone else in the family! She will feel punished and stigmatized, and your efforts are likely to backfire. Instead, it’s important that everyone in your family is on board with the same eating plan, not dieting, and that means eating healthy most of the time, with room for a treat each week.
Adopt the real meaning of the word “diet,” which simply means your usual foods and drink. The best ‘diet’ is what you eat to enjoy life, not necessarily sugary and fatty foods, but foods that give you fuel, and keep you energized and healthy. To break this down into manageable pieces, log on to ChooseMyPlate.com, the USDA website that gives you lots of ideas for healthy eating. Start with the following: Make half your plate fruits and vegetables; make at least half of your grains (breads, cereals, crackers) whole grain; switch to nonfat or 1% milk (and that goes for cheese and yogurt too); eat a bunch of different proteins, including lean meat, poultry, and all types of fish. Introduce new foods at least five times, and commit to a few family food rules that work for you.
Eat Breakfast: your mother was right! Eating breakfast correlates with weight control. Give your child a choice of two breakfasts, maybe lower-sugar cereal, nonfat milk or yogurt, or whole grain waffles with yogurt and fruit. Even a breakfast sandwich is great; a picky child can choose their own bread, lean meat or egg, lowfat cheese, and if you’re lucky, a bit of vegetable too (tomato, onion, lettuce, etc.) Tip: Try to include some lean protein to increase satiety and give your child a slow-burning fuel throughout the morning. See Breakfast Bites: 10 Protein-Packed Ideas that Celebrate the Egg and Power-Up Breakfast with Protein-Packed Oatmeal.
Meal Time Rituals: Eat sitting down, on smaller plates, and enjoy time together while you eat. Each child and each parent can pick at least one topic of discussion. Try not to eat in front of a screen. Studies show that people tend to eat more when they’re not paying attention to their food (and are under the influence of food ads on TV!)
Limit screen time to 1-2 hours a day, after homework is done. Don’t allow screens in the bedroom, only e-readers.
Go shopping with a list: Make the list with your child, including all of your generic staple foods, “milk,” “broccoli,” “oatmeal,” “whole-grain crackers.” Avoid buying junk foods or less nutritious snack foods like chips and cookies, especially in bulk sizes.
Playtime: make time for you and your child to spend active time together daily-maybe put on a video and dance, or go for a walk or bike ride together. Keep a family “move it” calendar on the fridge to keep track of your accomplishments!
Registered and Licensed Dietitian Susan Burke March is the author of Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally—a fun and informative book intended to liberate serial dieters and make healthy living and weight control both possible and instinctual over the long term. Her latest project is her new eBook for convenient weight loss, The Common Cent$ Diet for Busy Girls, www.thecommoncentsdiet.com. Susan consults with individuals and companies to create personalized and practical weight management solutions. Email her at Susan@SusanBurkeMarch.com
Photo courtesy of Rivard
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