I was a fat kid - there's no hiding the secret. It wasn't that I was "unhealthy" per-say, but I was definitely overweight, and I used food as a way to comfort myself emotionally when life got hard. Heck, food was there for any occasion, whether I was celebrating an accomplishment, pitying myself, or just hanging out on a random Saturday afternoon. My parents actually cooked healthy, well-balanced meals, and I always ate fruits and vegetables, but we also had lots of junk food, snacks, and desserts in our home....which I never learned how to consume in moderation. I was a snacker without self-control, and it eventually caught up to me. I think I hit the 200 lb. mark around my 17th birthday, but I stopped weighing myself after that point...
Luckily however, I learned how to develop balance and healthy eating habits as a young adult once I moved away to college, and I slowly started losing weight between the ages of 18-22. I also discovered exercise and how much I LOVED to walk, jog, dance, swim, play tennis, etc. Throughout my 20's I went up and down in weight, but to this day (even after my pregnancy), I've been able to maintain a healthy weight for the past 8 years, no small feat mind you! But thanks to lots of self-control and restraint (especially around baked goods!), and learning my own personal caloric needs, I've finally gotten to a point where I can still splurge and indulge in my favorite foods here and there throughout the week, but overall I eat healthy, exercise regularly, and I've never felt better in my life.
Now that I'm a mother myself, one of my fears is that Zoey will also grow up as a fat kid. I would never wish that social torture on my daughter - life is hard enough, and kids are mean enough already, even when you're an average weight. Plus I want Zoey to have a foundation of healthy lifestyle behaviors that will give her the tools for maintaining lifelong health as she grows up and moves out on her own (yikes - scary thought!) : )
Reading articles like this give me hope that it doesn't have to be a battle, and implementing a healthy lifestyle will actually be a natural, positive experience for all of us. I look forward to exercising together, cooking healthy meals as a family, and becoming a healthy role model for my baby girl. : )
Fight Childhood Obesity as a Family
Preventing childhood obesity and diabetes is part of good parenting. Get tips for working as a family to help an overweight child lose weight and keep it off.
By Katherine Lee
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
Childhood obesity continues to be a significant problem in the United States. And since being overweight has been associated with health problems ranging from diabetes to heart disease, teaching kids to maintain a healthy weight to prevent problems later on is an important part of raising a healthy child. A very effective way to tackle the problem is to have the entire family take part in the prevention or, if necessary, the treatment of childhood obesity.
Dietitian Elisa Zied, MS, RD, author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, offers the following tips to help your kids stay at a healthy weight or achieve weight loss.
Stock Up on Healthy Foods
Keep healthy foods in the fridge and in the pantry. Stock your pantry with mini applesauce cups, whole-grain cereals, nuts, dried fruit, and low-fat, low-sugar granola bars, says Zied.
At the same time that you make healthy foods accessible and visible, put the unhealthy ones, like cookies, on a high shelf. “Keep enough of these types of treats around so that kids don’t feel deprived, but do keep them on a high shelf or inside a cabinet,” says Zied. Completely banning sweets could prompt kids to go out and binge at friends’ houses.
Eat Together in One Spot
Try to eat a healthy breakfast and dinner with your kids, and make a habit of sitting and eating together. “Prioritize mealtimes,” says Zied. “Parents usually can’t watch what their child eats for lunch, but they do have control over breakfast and dinner.”
There are benefits beyond healthy eating when families eat together. “Studies have shown that kids who eat evening meals more frequently with their parents are less likely to use drugs and don’t smoke as much,” says Zied.
Another good approach: Make it a family rule to only eat in the kitchen or dining room, says Zied: “Eating in front of the TV or computer can lead to mindless eating.”
Set a Healthy Example
“Be positive about eating and body image,” says Zied. “Focus on health and fitness instead of weight.” Tell kids what’s in it for them when they eat healthy foods. Ask them to ask you, “What does the milk do for me?” Then explain that it provides calcium, which can make their bones grow and help them get big and strong. Similarly, explain that apples and whole grains have fiber, which can help them go to the bathroom.
“Kids don’t understand health, but kids care about what’s in it for them,” says Zied. “Make it relatable. With preteens and teens, who are more likely to care about their skin, tell them that water-rich vegetables and fruits will help make them look better.”
Practice Portion Control
Make up plates of food in the kitchen rather than serving family style. “That way, you can put small portions of food on the plates and let your family have seconds if they need more,” says Zied.
With slim kids, be sure not to push food onto them, cautions Zied: “Unless they’re slipping on the growth charts, you want kids to follow their own internal cues for hunger. Kids can have food jags.” It’s also important to respect their tastes and food preferences. “If they end up not wanting something, don’t make an issue out of it,” Zied suggests.
Switch to Healthier Cooking Techniques
Adopt healthier cooking habits such as grilling and baking rather than frying. And be wary of condiments. “Go easy on sauces, dressings, and butter,” says Zied. “Don’t drench your salad in dressing.”
When dining out, share portions. And try to cut back on sodium, fat, and calories the rest of the day to make allowances for what you’ll eat at the restaurant.
Put Fitness Out Front
Exercise is an important part of weight loss and the prevention of childhood obesity. Encourage your kids to participate in physical activity and be sure your kids see you being physically active. Even better, share a family walk or other physical activity together. The key is to pick exercise that’s enjoyable to the entire family. Take bike rides or walks; go bowling, skiing, or ice skating. When you get moving together, you’ll not only have more fun, but you’ll also maintain a healthy weight while doing so.
When you work together as a family to achieve weight loss and prevent childhood obesity, everybody benefits.