We all know that childhood obesity is a problem in the United States. Weight issues have been linked to early onset heart disease, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure and joint problems, not to mention teasing and discrimination at school. But the threat of obesity shouldn’t blind us to the beauty of our children, just as they are right now.
Our daughters are more vulnerable to weight issues than our sons. Girls are bombarded with images of stick-thin beauties, unrealistically proportioned dolls, early dieting advice, and popular media that equate thinness and physical beauty with worth. Although boys are endangered by obesity too, they are not so endangered as girls are by unrealistic expectations.
It’s easy for parents to get caught up in the hype. We want our kids to reflect well on us. We’d like them to be perfect. We don’t want our kids to embarrass us. And we don’t want people to think we let our girls get fat.
So we over-react. We make our girl’s appearance a big deal. We fuss over slimming clothes. We buy her diet books. We give her grief any time she eats. We make fun of her, thinking somehow we are doing her a favor. “Better coming from me,” one mother said. “She might as well get used to it.”
It’s obvious this is abuse. It’s no surprise that most of the misery of being overweight is caused by unkind behavior. And, since eating makes us feel better – that’s why there’s “comfort food,” after all – heaping abuse on a chubby child doesn’t make her any slimmer. It only makes everything worse.
So, what to do? If your child – of any age – is overweight, how should you respond?
- Quality time. Spend time with your daughter doing fun stuff. Physical activity is great – walking, bicycling, doing yoga – but anything you both enjoy is fine. Could you both take up painting or garage sale-ing? Could you start a business? Turn off the television and do good things. Spend time with your daughter and you’ll send her the message, “I love you and I think you’re terrific.”
- Quality food. Give up junk food and don’t let it in the house. Yes, your daughter may find other places to get it, but if it’s not at home you won’t be put in the position of standing guarding over it. Food – junk food – won’t appear to be more important than your child. And if everything at home is okay to eat, then eating at home is not a problem. This means, of course, that no one in your home eats junk food. Good.
- Quality support. If your child is dangerously overweight, get advice from your family doctor. But don’t take advice from your best friend, your worst friend, magazines, TV, and other unreliable, even dangerous sources. Shut your ears to comments intended to hurt. Know that your child’s happiness means more than others’ opinions. Be there for your girl.
At one time, body image issues were limited to teens. These days elementary school children – even preschool girls – talk about diets and worry about their weight. This is unnatural and unhealthy. This is something we adults have done to our kids. It’s time to stop.
The best way to encourage health is to encourage life: “Does this life make me look fat?”
“No, my dear. This life makes you look pretty and funny and very smart.”
The teen years are a time of heightened growth and development, a time when optimal nutrition is critical, and a time when our children’s bodies become adult-like. Yet, many teens have bad habits that sacrifice good nutrition!
Your teen’s diet and eating habits can contribute to hunger, tiredness, a lack of focus, weight gain, and disordered eating. Here’s how to turn those unhealthy teen habits into a healthy advantage:
Correct the breakfast balk
Breakfast is “the most important meal of the day,” giving a jump start to your teen’s metabolism, waking up the brain for learning, and setting the tone for hunger management throughout the day. Some teens don’t have the time to eat breakfast before they head out the door for school. Opt for a “grab-n-go” breakfast like these: a mixture of dry cereal, raisins, and nuts or a piece of fruit with a wedge of cheese. Teens can drink their breakfast too, with options such as fruit smoothies or milk-based breakfast drinks, both of which provide vitamins and minerals in addition to calories and protein.
Refuel with Lunch
Lunch provides the nutrients your teen requires to continue learning at school and also keeps hunger under control at the end of the day. When buying or packing a lunch, encourage your teen to select a variety of items from at least 3 food groups, such as dairy, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat or protein. Remember, brown bagging doesn’t have to mean a sandwich! Try microwaving a potato, sending a chef salad, or assembling whole grain crackers with lean deli meat and cheese at the lunch table. Round these entrees out with a piece of fresh fruit and a container of low-fat milk or yogurt. If buying lunch at school, check out the menu and plan food choices ahead of time. Chances are with a healthy lunch in his belly, your teen won’t come home and clean out your refrigerator and pantry!
Tiredness is a symptom of inadequate sleep, but can also represent dehydration. Be sure your teen is drinking about 2 liters of fluid per day and even more if he is playing a sport. A good rule of thumb: if your teen feels thirsty, he is behind on drinking fluids. Help your teen recognize thirst as dehydration and look for times during his day that fluid intake can be increased. The best fluid source is water!
Eat breakfast, refuel at lunch, and drink plenty of fluids. These are the strategies to keep your teen healthy, energetic, and getting the nutrients he needs to grow into a healthy adult.