The gentle (and tricky) art of helping your child lose weight
Is a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children’s Center for Digestive Health Care / GI Care for Kids, whose books on nutrition for parents led him to start Nutrition4Kids with his co-founders.
In other blogposts, I've discussed the medical aspects of being overweight and the risks that rise as a child's weight increases. But their problems are limited to the eventual diabetes, heart and lung disease they may have as they get older.
They often suffer first from psychological issues and social isolation that comes along with the pounds they've put on. They are often teased and shunned by schoolmates. They tend to be less active and have few places to go, socially. As a result, they can have low self-esteem and significant depression or anxiety or both. They stay home more, there they remain inactive and turn to food for comfort, adding to their weight and psychological problems.
Understandably, parents become frustrated and confused about what to do. Directly addressing the issues of their weight or even their inactivity or eating habits sometimes just seems to make matters worse. The kids sneak food from friends or at school, if they have friends at all, and they become more sullen and isolated at home.
And if someone else brings the topic up, the parents often become defensive, even more so than the children. In a study I performed with the Georgia WIC Program, pediatricians felt that parents resented their bringing up the problems an obese child might face later on.
So, What's a Parent To Do?
- Remain positive. Let all your children know how much you love them. Their lives don't need to just revolve around their weight and appetite. And of course, you don't want to punish a child for not following these suggestions.
- Focus on and encourage their talents and wonderful attributes. Enroll them in after school programs and help them enjoy their lives and remain active.
- Be a role model for them in developing A Healthy Lifestyle for a Lifetime, by eating healthy and staying active yourself. (My blogposts go into considerable detail on this topic).
- Stock up on healthy foods (primarily fruits and vegetables), so that when your child does raid the snack cupboard, at least they'll have healthy choices. Do this for the entire family, so you don't single out the overweight child.
- Limit TV and screen time (other than for school projects), to 2 hours a day on the weekends and holidays; and 1 hour a day on school nights
- Serve smaller portions (a person's fist size is the size of a healthy portion). And balance the meal with a protein source, vegetables and fruit. And make smaller amounts of pastas, rice and breads, so that if extra helpings are desired, they come from the other three food groups you fixed.
- Insist that all foods are eaten in the kitchen or dining room, to avoid aimless eating.
- Bioactive substances and hormones that that help.
But breastmilk may also help by the way babies learn to feed—and those lessons can apply for babies who are bottle-fed. Breastfed babies don't look to see if they've finished the last ounce or watch the clock to see if it's time to latch on. They turn the breast into a pacifier when they finish, sucking with less intention.
Bottle-feeding mothers can adopt the same "on-demand" principles. When it simply seems like a convenient time to feed your baby after a nap, try to resist that temptation and play with the baby instead. When he or she starts to fret, check to see if his or her diaper needs to be changed. Early hunger signals are more reliable. You can often watch to see when he or she is beginning to suck, smack his or her lips or bringing hands to mouth, then he or she is ready.
And when he's pulling away or looking around the room, those are good indicators he's full, that he is satisfied. And when he's hungry again in 2-4 hours, he'll show his interest. You just have to be sensitive to his needs, to recognize his hunger cues, and to distinguish those from signs of discomfort.
The important part is letting him take the lead—and not worry about how much he should take or when he should feed. You'll know if he's getting enough if he's producing wet diapers, if he has bowel movements once or twice a day, and if he or she is gaining appropriately.
- 1 1/2 – 2 pounds per month up to 4 months
- 1 – 1 1/2 pounds per month from 4 – 6 months
- 1/2 – 3/4 pound per month from 6 – 12 months
- Discuss these suggestions as your efforts to adopt a Healthy Lifestyle for everyone, not just as a way to control your weight. And hopefully, all the benefits of these changes will last a lifetime.
- If needed, review the situation with your doctor and consider one of the weight control programs through your local children's hospital, a physician, community or school recommended program or a commercial one.
- Refer to our Product and Restaurant Reviews insert link to help you make these healthy choices.
- Let us know if you have other suggestions for parents. We look forward to publishing our members' responses.
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