So, we bogged you down with the dilemma of the pediatric obesity epidemic yesterday. Then we told you that you shouldn’t have your child diet if he or she is obese. And, to top it all off, we gave you the vague solution of “lifestyle change” as an alternative to dieting.
We’re aware of how ineffective that advice would be without more details. So, we went back to our clinical dietiatian and pediatric obesity expert, Deborah Stern, to get some specific ways to encourage your child to adopt a healthy lifestyle instead of a one- or two-month dieting fad.
1)It all starts with you – Stern sees patients who struggle with obesity every day. The ones who succeed, she says, are the ones who have parents not only encouraging, but participating in the weight-loss process. “It’s the parents who have instilled these behaviors in the kids. So, the parents need to decide to change as a family. It’s nice when the parents switch their eating and exercise habits, too. That shows the kids that getting healthy isn’t a punishment for something they’ve done wrong and that they aren’t in it alone.”
2)Make activity changes before diet changes - Increasing activity can be a fun way of easing children into a healthy lifestyle, Stern says. “That way, you’re making it more about what you can do instead of what you can’t do. You can go to the park and play ball as a family, or you can go to the mall and walk if it’s cold outside. You can also set up the Nintendo Wii or Xbox Kinect and do a dance video together.”
3)Make fruits and veggies plentiful and available - Repeatedly offer fruits and veggies to your children throughout the day. Leave some (ones that don’t go bad in room temperature) out on display. Basically, inundate your kids with the idea of eating fruits and veggies. “If children aren’t offered fruits and vegetables multiple times, then they aren’t going to choose fruits and vegetables,” Stern said.
4)Pack their lunches - Although it’s getting better in some places, our children are still basically offered what we were offered in school cafeterias – soggy, greasy pizza; french fries; sodas; corn nuggets; taquitos; and other various non-green things. They aren’t exposed to a whole lot of variety there. And since they spend more waking hours at school than at home, guess where they’re forming their eating habits? “I know that packing a lunch is a time and money challenge for families, but if you can do it, I think it’s very helpful,” Stern said.
One basic packed-lunch menu she suggested: a wholegrain or wheat sandwich/wrap with lean protein like ham or chicken; chopped up cucumbers or carrot sticks; granola bar; light yogurt; and a bottle of water.
5) Do it all gradually - “I would advise against bombarding them with lifestyle changes,” Stern said. “Maybe there are three things they can work on one month. When the month is over and those are accomplished, we can give them three new goals. But when they have 10 things to change at once, they generally get more discouraged – especially if it’s 10 things thrown at them at the beginning of the weight-loss process.”