What a sad thing when weight already becomes an issue at an early age.
This has become so common these days, it's heartbreaking, and not just for the emotional aspects of it, also for the many health problems it can cause. Each situation is different, but if you have a child in your life that struggles with weight issues, here are some ways to help.
Ways to Help Overweight Kids
- Keep it as low key as you absolutely can, don't let this begin a life of worrying about their weight. Avoid long conversations about their size, do not bring it up much (if at all), and try not to let them hear you lamenting about your weight or how you look. If they mention how they see themselves, reply matter-of-factly, “It's good that you want to be healthy, I should eat better and get more exercise, too. For dinner, let's try…(fill in the blank) and then go for a walk, doesn't that sound like fun?!”
- If they ask for a snack, give them some cheese, a meat stick (we get ours at the farm), or other healthy snack options. Or just matter-of-factly say, “We'll have dinner soon, why don't you see if your friend can play until then?”
- Involve them in making dinner. I've heard kids are more apt to eat what they help make, and I've seen it myself with our kids – you could use this strategy when introducing new recipes or for getting them to eat more veggies. You could also take advantage of this time to talk about why you use foods with certain ingredients and avoid others, and help them learn about basic nutrition. Take them to the farm (or farm market) with you so they can see where healthy food comes from, or even better, grow a garden together!
- Find whatever it is that they're good at and help them develop this skill or hobby more. It is inevitable, kids with weight issues are going to struggle with low self-esteem, at least to some degree, so confidence in some area of their life will be crucial.
- Quietly watch the portions, especially the carbs: breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, and sweets. When you know they've had enough, drum up some distractions and transition to something else fun – a puzzle, books, playing outside, or whatever works for your child. Maybe even bring it up before you eat, “after we're done with dinner, we're going to ….” and that could help to get the focus off food, too. Be careful with this one, though. If they start feeling deprived, you could cause more harm than good and turn food into an obsession. Fill them up with healthy fats, and keep it all VERY low-key, and unless their weight is at a level you or your doctor are really concerned about, you may not even want to worry about this one much and focus more on getting them outside and active. (Especially if you've cut out the junk and are only giving them healthy foods – keep reading for more on that!)
- Absolutely NO TV's or phones in their bedrooms! Possibly no video games there, either. Even better, no video games at all unless they're ONLY a Wii-type of game where lots of motions are involved. This is a great way to get them moving! (Have you ever tried it? It's fun, and I've had sore muscles the next day after playing!)
- Get moving together! You can't just tell a kid who has always been more sedentary (or who isn't in the habit of being on the move) to go exercise without joining in and making it fun. More ideas are in this exercise post for ways to work it into your life. We need them to see us enjoying being active. Unfortunately, kids are always watching… we have a responsibility to model healthy behavior, like it or not.
- Don't have junk around the house, so there are fewer battles – they can't hound you for what isn't there. I can't stress this one enough! Eventually they'll find something else to eat and if only good choices are available, you're ahead of the game. Trust me on this, it works. Not that you won't hear complaints sometimes about how “there's nothing good here to eat”, but even kids with houses full of junk use that complaint – it must be built into their wiring.
- Pack a lunch with them for school! This is very important. Read more at the school lunches post.
- One idea is to not have treats at home (or very few), but don't make a big deal about it if you go out for ice cream or have another treat now and then. Also, if you do want to give them a sweet, make it homemade so you know what's in it (and what's not in it), and you can lower the amount of sugar in the recipe, use sprouted grains, etc.
- Read labels like crazy and avoid trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup like the plague! These have both been strongly linked with obesity, diabetes, and other health issues. Thankfully, these aren't difficult to avoid anymore. Also, there are so many preservatives, fake colors and flavors in foods at the store, beware of these as well!
- Read this post about coconut oil & weight loss (this also explains which fats and oils to avoid), and be sure to read the related links at the bottom of this post.
- This post on cod liver oil explains all the benefits (don't worry, you can take capsules instead of the oil), including how it helps to balance out the fatty-acid ratios in our bodies, which has been shown to reduce heart disease, diabetes & obesity. You and your kids should all be taking a daily dose!
- Get plenty of good fats and NO low-fat dairy! (Read this post about healthy milk for more info on why low-fat dairy is so unhealthy and also see the links below.) When their body gets what it needs, it will even out more and not store fat in “fear” that it won't get more – this is a natural response in our body to store up for later. Also, enough healthy fats will fill them up more at mealtime so they're less apt to bug you for a snack. If this one still doesn't set right with you, read this article on healthy fats. (One more healthy dairy benefit: the calcium in milk is said to help the body regulate weight.)
- Lastly, other kids (or adults) can be cruel, as we all know, and your child is bound to hear about how they look from some little snot. Praise them for all their many wonderful qualities often (without being fakey or giving empty praise – kids see through that), and tell them how great you think they are and how much you love them. Be that safe person in their life who they can always come to when they're sad. Let them know you understand how they feel, and share whatever it was that you were teased about as a kid (we've all got something). Role play with them and give them ideas for how to handle a similar situation in the future. (This also may be a good way to get them giggling a little and lighten up the issue for them a bit.) Most importantly, teach them about God's unconditional love for each of us, no matter how we look!
I'm sure you all have more ideas, share a comment below!
If all this makes you feel overwhelmed, read these Rookie Tips as a place to start.
- New York Times: Should kids have TV's in their bedrooms?
- Support from your spouse in the kitchen
- Diabetes, overweight kids & the fat-free fallacy
- U.S. News article on kids and weight issues
- U.S. News: 5 things NOT to say to your overweight child!
- More great suggestions from U.S. News
- One more from the Biblical Health Institute