What a difficult situation when weight already becomes an issue at a young age.
Sadly, this has become increasingly common and it's a huge stress for both the parents and the child. Not only due to the obvious emotional distress, but also because of the many health issues that go along with obesity. Each situation will be unique of course, but if you have a child in your life who struggles with their weight, here are some suggestions and ideas to help them.
20 Ways to Help Overweight Kids
Note that it is assumed if you're reading this that you're already familiar with the Weston Price/real foodie way of eating and are implementing many of these principles already, so the following suggestions build on that foundation. If you need some help with the basics, or if any of this makes you feel overwhelmed, look over these Rookie Tips as a good place to start.
- Keep the issue as low key as you absolutely can, don't let this be the start of an obsession about their weight the rest of their lives. 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, just reply matter-of-factly, “It's good that you want to be healthy, we should all eat better and get moving more. For dinner, let's try finding a new healthy recipe that looks good and later go for a walk together!” (Or go play tennis, or go for a swim, etc.)
- 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. Our kids are always watching and they need to see us enjoy being active, too.
- Limit in-between meal snacks but if they ask for one, again keep it low-key. Give them cheese, a meat stick from a farmer you trust, or other healthy snack options. Or just matter-of-factly say, “We'll have dinner soon and I want you to be hungry, why don't you see if your friend can play until then?” Also it's good to have a no-snacking-after-dinner rule.
- Involve them in the kitchen. Kids are more likely to eat what they help make, I've seen it over and over again with our own kids. You could use this strategy when introducing new recipes and also take advantage of this time to talk about why you use foods with certain ingredients and avoid others. This is one of THE best lifelong gifts you can give your kids, to teach them to cook. Then take them to the farm or farmers market with you so they can see where their healthy food comes from, and grow a garden together, even if it's just in some pots on your patio. Teach them another important lesson as they help you: that real, healthy foods taste much better too! If their palate doesn't appreciate this yet, it will in time.
- Quietly watch the portions, especially the carbs, such as breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, and especially 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, eat more lower carb foods as a family and don't have separate foods just for them, because that just won't fly.
- Talk to them about good choices to make when they're at parties or at school. Some kids will be able to handle this and others won't. In that case you'll just need to focus on home where you can control the choices much more easily.
- NO TV's or video games in their bedrooms. Even better, really limit video game time unless they're playing a game like the Wii where lots of motions are involved — that one is a great way to get the whole family moving! Limiting screen time is not easy to implement — trust me, I know, I've had 3 teenage boys. At the very least, limit their time to an hour a day if you can. When they know their time is up, they become “sooooo bored” and then I cheer inside and think, “PERFECT”. Bored kids will inevitably go find something to do outside!
- 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! You may still hear complaints sometimes about how “there's nothing good here to eat”, but they'll get over it. Eventually they'll find a snack and if they don't, even better, because then they'll be nice and hungry for their next nutrient-dense meal. This really works.
- Always send them to school with lunch! This is very important because what passes for “food” in most school hot lunches is downright disgusting and it's no wonder kids are struggling not just with their weight, but also being unable to sit still and learn. Read more and get ideas at the school lunches post. Here's another list with good ideas.
- Limit the sweets at home, but don't make a big deal about it if you go out for ice cream or have another treat now and then. Making your own desserts is so much better because you'll know what's in it and what's not in it. You could even play with the recipe a bit to lower the amount of sugar, use better grains, etc. ALSO, these days there are many “keto dessert” recipes online — make it a challenge to find more of those recipes that you can whip up together. Just make sure there are plenty of “better” options at home that taste good, so they can more easily avoid all of the junky temptations out in the world.
- Read labels like crazy and avoid trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oils, usually soybean, corn, or canola), MSG, and high fructose corn syrup like the plague! These have been strongly linked with obesity, diabetes, and other health issues. Most of us Weston Price followers have known to avoid those scary ingredients for a while now, but even the mainstream media recently mentioned a study showing that “ultra-processed” diets cause weight gain. Also, there are so many chemical preservatives, fake colors and flavors in foods at the store, beware of these as well. Thankfully, none of these are difficult to avoid if you buy organic, however, that does not guarantee nutrient-dense foods, it only helps you avoid a lot of the bad ingredients. Mostly we should all be eating and cooking with whole foods, but buying organic for an occasional “junk food” is sometimes a necessary compromise with kids and especially teenagers.
- 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, including how it helps to balance out the fatty-acid ratios in our bodies, which has been shown to reduce heart disease, diabetes and obesity. You and your kids should all be taking a daily dose!
- Watch out for the endocrine disrupters in your kids' environment that can wreak havoc on their growing bodies. These chemicals are in most plastics, in non-stick pans, and in almost all skincare and makeup products as well. (Read here about where I get our skincare and makeup now.)
- Be sure to address their gut health as this plays a huge role in maintaining a healthy weight. Overweight kids definitely need to be on a this probiotic, as well as getting fermented foods such as sauerkraut or homemade fermented pickles into them as much as possible. (Consider making kefir soda or kombucha with them for a healthier soda pop!)
- Get plenty of good fats and NO low-fat dairy! Healthy fats like butter, other animals fats, and full-fat dairy fill us up so we're less likely to need a snack later or crave empty carbs. Also, Nina Planck in her book “Real Food, What to Eat and Why”, explains that calcium absorption may be the key to why studies show that people who consume more milk, yogurt, and cheese lose fat, especially belly fat, and gain lean muscle. She quotes a nutrition professor, Michael Zemel, who found that calcium from dairy foods is “strikingly more effective than calcium from fortified foods or supplements” for stimulating weight loss. When our bodies are nourished well, they don't store extra fat in “fear” that it won't have what it needs. If any of this still doesn't set right with you, read more here about healthy fats. Bonus: these foods taste great too!
- Find whatever it is that they're good at and help them develop this skill or hobby more. It's 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. This will also keep them more active.
- A reader reminded me of something very important that I've seen with our kids and many others too! Often kids will “plump up” a bit right before a big growth spurt, this is totally normal and nothing to freak out over! Just buy the “husky” size pants if needed for a time, keep it super low-key, tell them this is a normal part of growth and move on to other things. 🙂
- 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, because kids see through that), and tell them how great you think they are and how much you love them no matter what. 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, because we've all got something! Role play with them and try out 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 for other ways to help overweight kids, please share in the comments below!
More you might like:
- ALTERNATIVES TO CANDY
In her 2010 Wise Traditions article on “zapping sugar cravings,” Jen Allbritton shared the following strategies for rewards that are not candy-based.10When it comes to food, I am quite the negotiator. Brainstorm on what your child enjoys most. Maybe you limit your child’s time with the TV. A piece of candy received at school can be traded for an extra half-hour show, staying up fifteen minutes past normal bedtime, or an extra trip to the pool over the weekend. A ticket system could be devised to work up to something bigger, such as a doll or a pair of in-line skates. Use your imagination to make active family fun more tempting than sugar. Also, you can offer your child’s teacher or Girl Scout group leader ideas for rewards or gifts instead of candy. Depending on the age, consider nickels or dimes, balloons, pencils, bookmarks, crayons, ribbons, glow bracelets, stickers, and other little trinkets from the dollar store. It may even be worth purchasing these alternatives to make the switch happen.
- Getting teens to eat real food
- New York Times: Should kids have TV's in their bedrooms?
- Support from your spouse in the kitchen
- This article was featured in the WAPF's quarterly journal!