How to help your kids lose weight healthfully
Tips from experts for helping kids maintain a healthy weight.
The Seattle Times
It happens to so many parents: They know their kid is overweight, but they don't know how to bring it up without hurting his or her feelings. It can be paralyzing.
But avoiding the subject isn't helping anyone, experts say.
"Most overweight children know they're overweight," says Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, a professor at the University of Minnesota who wrote a book on how to talk to kids about weight issues.
Oftentimes, she says, they're feeling bad already. Kids can feel isolated among friends; embarrassed to eat and embarrassed to diet; awkward about standing out but unable to fit in. They want someone to listen.
Sometimes, kids will start the conversation themselves, if obliquely. Watch for an opening. Has your kid said he doesn't like gym class? Ask why. Has she confided she's being teased? Find out what's going on. It's all about asking questions and listening, experts say.
Once the door is opened, don't focus on weight per se.
"Don't say, 'let's go on a diet together,' " Neumark-Sztainer advises. "That can just backfire."
Instead, talk about behaviors like making good food choices and getting exercise.
"The focus is really on making sure they're taking care of their bodies and that their bodies can do everything they want them to do," adds Mollie Grow, a Seattle Children's pediatrician who also does research on the subject.
Rather than telling them what to do, ask what they want to do differently. Then ask how you can help — and work at making it happen.
"We often see parents putting responsibility on their kids too early," says Lenna L. Liu, a pediatrician with Odessa Brown Children's Clinic. "They say things to young children like, 'Stop eating so much.' " It's the parents' job to decide what foods they want their kids to eat.
In some ways, talk can be secondary anyway.
Parents should make most of the effort to change the home environment so it's easy for kids to eat right, Neumark-Sztainer says.
Parents can build a healthier lifestyle for the entire family. Even the skinny sibling.
"If you want your kids to change, probably it's best for you to, as well," Liu says. This is especially true if you're overweight yourself.
At the dinner table, when your kids want seconds, suggest they wait a few minutes and listen to their bodies, Liu suggests. Ask, "Are you having that second helping because you're hungry? Or because it tastes good? Because you had a really bad day?"
Recognizing the difference — and acting on it — can take practice. If it's really not about hunger, talk about other things they can do to manage their feelings, she says.
Grow says some parents find it helpful to say the vegetables are available for seconds, but not the starchy foods. Some parents say the children can choose a treat — but just one a day.
And yes, it can be hard to change behavior. But we're not talking about utter deprivation here. No one really needs Cheetos or Coke. And eating vegetables isn't punishment.
Remember: It's good for you.
Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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