If you’ve ever tried to lose a few excess pounds yourself, you know that the journey toward weight loss is filled with challenges. It’s no different when your child walks along that same path toward a healthier life. No matter how conscientious you and your child are, problems will arise and obstacles will surface. Here we’ll describe some common hurdles—and solutions—that you might have already confronted or could encounter in the weeks and months ahead.
So often, the questions or statements posed by parents are in the format of, “Yes…but.” For example, “Yes, my child should exercise more, but there’s just no time,” or “Yes, I’d like to get the cookies out of our house, but what should I tell the other kids who still want cookies here?”
All of the following parental questions or statements are presented in this format. The solutions may help you troubleshoot problems that arise in your own household.
“Yes, I’d like to give my kids more fruits and vegetables, but fresh produce is too expensive!”
Fresh fruits and vegetables may be more affordable than you think. Particularly if you buy them when they’re in season, they’ll be much more reasonably priced than at other times of the year. Also, compare the costs of produce to other foods that you may already be buying for your child. For example, processed foods—from cookies to potato chips—are not only more expensive, but they certainly aren’t as nutritious as fresh fruits and vegetables.
A number of studies have confirmed that fresh produce is more affordable than you might think. In 2004, the US Department of Agriculture analyzed and released data from household food purchases made in 1999, including multiple types of fruits and vegetables. The researchers concluded that the average American can purchase 4 servings of vegetables and 3 servings of fruits for just 64 cents a day. If this figure were adjusted to today’s costs, the price might be an average of less than a dollar a day. No matter how you analyze the numbers, that’s a great deal.
By the way, the same study found that two thirds of all fresh fruits and more than half of all fresh vegetables are less costly than processed versions of the same produce.
“Yes, I’d prefer to feed a variety of vegetables to my overweight child, but he absolutely hates vegetables. The only ‘vegetables’ he’ll eat are french fries. That’s it!”
As a parent, your job is to provide your child with well-balanced meals, including a variety of vegetables. Once the food is on the plate in front of him, he may choose whether to eat it. Sure, it can be frustrating when kids push the plate away and refuse to even try something new, but be persistent. The good news is that over time, most children will develop a taste for enough healthy foods—even some vegetables—to be eating a balanced diet.
Some children may be more agreeable to consuming vegetables if you ask them to help you in the kitchen while you’re preparing meals. They may be more receptive if you add vegetables to a pasta dish or put them in soups or meat loaf. Some youngsters prefer raw vegetables over cooked, and they’ll often snack on cherry tomatoes or cut-up vegetables with yogurt dip. When eating in restaurants, accompany children on trips through the salad bar; expose them to vegetables they may never have tried at home.
Meanwhile, continue to serve as a role model. If your child sees you eating vegetables, he’s more likely to try them. Have him get used to the idea that vegetables are part of every lunch and dinner. Remember your child will need to have at least 1 serving of fruits and vegetables with every meal and snack to meet the recommended 5 servings a day.
“Yes, I know my overweight child shouldn’t have dessert with dinner every night or sweetened juices whenever he wants them, but I feel terrible if he complains about feeling deprived.”
Don’t lose sight of why you’re making these dietary changes. As a parent, your child’s health must be a top priority, and that may require making some adjustments in what he eats and the amount of physical activity he gets.
Of course, you don’t want your youngster to feel deprived, and there’s no need for you to completely eliminate his favorite desserts from his life. However, save those treats, like rich ice cream or chocolate chip cookies, for special occasions and serve appropriate portion sizes when you do. At the same time, introduce him to healthier desserts such as a dish of strawberries or a piece of angel food cake. When beverages are concerned, rely more often on low-fat milk or water rather than sugar-laden soft drinks or juices. Before long, he’ll stop demanding the high-calorie, high-fat treats that he once craved.
“Yes, I’m willing to get unhealthy foods out of the house, but other adults in the home haven’t come onboard yet. They tell me that they’ve been drinking sugary soft drinks all their lives, and they’re not willing to give them up.”
If other adults in the home insist on keeping high-fat snacks or high-calorie drinks in the cupboard or refrigerator, those kinds of temptations aren’t fair to your child. To support your youngster’s efforts to lose weight, it’s essential for the entire family to get involved. The family needs to sit down and discuss the implications of continuing to live a lifestyle of poor eating choices. If the others still can’t be convinced of the potential consequences of doing their own things, perhaps your pediatrician can talk to them. With your youngster’s health at stake, your pediatrician may be able to motivate the others to give some ground. If they need to have sugary soft drinks, ask them to indulge at work and leave those kinds of snacks out of the house.
“Yes, my own mother seems to understand how important it is for my child to lose weight, but she still thinks it’s a grandmother’s prerogative to give my child candy whenever we visit. How can I convince her to get rid of that candy dish?”
The answer to this question is not much different than the previous one about others in the home having an attachment to soft drinks. You need to talk to your child’s grandmother about the health risks your youngster faces unless he eats more nutritiously, one meal and one snack after another. As accustomed as grandma may be to baking cookies when the grandchildren visit, you can probably appeal to her strong desire to give your child the best possible chance of living a healthy life. Let grandma know about the nutritious food choices she can have available for the next family visit.
“Yes, I realize that when the family goes out to dinner, we should stay away from fast-food restaurants most of the time, but whenever we drive by one of those places, my child pleads with me to stop.”
It’s fine to eat at fast-food restaurants once in a while. Because of their high-fat fare, though, don’t make it a habit. Try and encourage lower fat options at fast-food restaurants.
When you visit these types of restaurants, order carefully for the family, finding choices to keep your child happy without sabotaging his healthier eating efforts. Whenever possible, for example, select a grilled chicken sandwich without any dressing for your youngster. If he insists on a hamburger, choose the smaller size, not the supersized double burger that looks like it could feed the entire family. Order a salad with low-fat dressing that he can eat as part of his meal.
Rather than over relying on fast-food restaurants, choose to eat at sit-down family restaurants more frequently and look for healthy options on the menu. Split a dinner between the two of you. You will save money and eat healthier!
“Yes, snacking before bedtime may not be a good idea for my child while he’s trying to lose weight, but when I was growing up, my mother always gave us cookies and milk before we went to bed. It’s just something that I feel comfortable doing, and it would be hard to do things differently.”
Habits may be difficult to break, but for the well-being of your child, you need to make some adjustments. Nothing’s inherently wrong with a bedtime snack, but you may need to adjust the kinds of snacks you’re offering your youngster.
In general, try to limit the number of snacks to 2 per day. For those late-night munchies, make choices that contribute to overall healthy eating. You might turn to
Air-popped popcorn rather than high-fat cheeses on crackers
Frozen yogurt instead of ice cream
Baked tortilla chips rather than potato chips
Graham crackers (and milk) instead of chocolate chip cookies
A piece of fruit rather than sugary sweets
“Yes, I understand that healthy eating is the best way for my child to lose weight, but I sometimes think that he could benefit from a little kick start, and the latest fad diets promise fast results. What’s wrong with following one of these diets for a few weeks to get him off to a good start?”
Most people have lost weight at some point in their lives—but then gained it all back. They know that fad diets don’t work, at least over the long term, but the alluring promises on magazine covers and book jackets are often too tempting to resist.
Unfortunately, fad diets can be dangerous. They often emphasize a single food or food group, and they can be particularly risky for growing children for whom balanced nutrition is extremely important.
You need to put your child’s health and well-being first. Don’t be persuaded by promises of overnight weight loss. Instead, stick with a plan for good nutrition and physical activity. Your child’s weight loss will be gradual and safe and have the best chance for permanent success.
“Yes, I feel that I can control what my child eats at home, but when he’s at child care, I have no control over what the child care provider gives him. He’s served whatever the other kids eat.”
Express your concerns to the child care staff. Even if the facility serves identical meals to all the children, make some suggestions for fine-tuning the menu in the direction of healthier foods. The staff may turn out to be much more flexible than you expected and might be willing to bend to your requests, perhaps serving your youngster a turkey sandwich and small salad for lunch instead of a hamburger and french fries.
If you’re sensing some reluctance on their part, offer to pack your child’s lunch and/or snacks to make sure that he’s eating foods supportive of the family’s commitment to more nutritious eating.
“Yes, I’d love to sign my overweight child up for a fitness program at the Y, but we just can’t afford it.”
Kids can enjoy the benefits of physical activity without busting the family budget. Play is the major way kids can increase their activity. You don’t need costly exercise equipment like treadmills, nor do you have to enroll them in classes with expensive sign-up fees. Outdoor play in a safe area can be a major help to increasing physical activity.
Walking, for example, is one of the best forms of exercise, and it doesn’t require any special equipment, other than a good pair of walking shoes. If the entire family gets involved, your overweight child is more likely to be motivated to walk regularly. In fact, the best forms of physical activity are family activities. Keep them fun, and your child won’t feel that he’s missing out on the formal program at the Y.
“Yes, my child knows that he needs to become more physically active, but he has so much homework, plus piano lessons after school, and there’s just no time for exercise.”
So many of today’s kids lead very busy lives. It seems as though their planned activities start immediately after school and continue until well after nightfall. If you think about it, there’s probably some time in your child’s afternoon and evening, even just 15 or 20 minutes, when he could fit in some physical activity.
Remember, activity needs to become a priority in your child’s life. That means that exercise wins out over video games or surfing the Web almost every time. After school, can he play catch with the neighborhood kids in the park down the block, or work out to an exercise video that you put into the VCR?
Frankly, there aren’t too many kids who don’t have a few minutes to spare each day for squeezing in some physical activity. Physical activity promotes motor and mental development and is essential for developing coordination.
“Yes, my overweight child should be getting more physical activity, but in our neighborhood, I just don’t think it’s safe for him to be playing outdoors.”
Don’t let safety concerns keep your child sedentary. There are plenty of ways for him to stay active other than playing in your front yard or on the neighborhood playground. He can participate in a swimming program at the Boys & Girls Club or join a karate class. He can stay active indoors at home by dancing to his favorite music, spinning a hula hoop, jumping rope, or doing chores like straightening up his room.
“Yes, eating right and being active makes sense, but my teenager has so much weight to lose that we’ve been talking about weight-loss surgery. Is that something we should consider?”
Although the overwhelming majority of gastric-bypass surgeries are being performed in adults, a relatively small number of teenagers have undergone the procedure. However, this is major surgery, and the decision to have the operation should not be made hastily.
Weight-loss surgery is only advisable for extremely overweight adolescents for whom more conservative weight-loss measures haven’t worked, particularly if they also have developed serious obesity-related medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and sleep apnea.
Your pediatrician can provide an initial assessment of whether your teenager might be a candidate for surgery. If the pediatrician refers you for a consultation to a weight-loss surgeon who performs these procedures, you and your adolescent will meet with the surgeon as well as a number of other specialists, including clinical psychologists and nutritionists. You and your teenager will have the opportunity to discuss the potential benefits of the operation, plus get your questions answered about the complications sometimes associated with the operation like infections, bleeding, and blood clots.