Please settle an argument between my wife and me. Our eleven-year-old son is about twenty pounds overweight. My wife, who has been thin all her life, wants to put him on a diet to get him on the right track. I am against the idea of a diet. What do you think?
While your son may be overweight, it is wise to approach this problem with a lasting solution instead of a weight loss diet. For the main reason, a diet is likely to begin a “yo-yo cycle,” a pattern of repeatedly gaining and losing weight. If calories are restricted, the natural consequence is to overeat later. This may set up a lifetime struggle with weight problems and possible self-esteem issues.
Eating healthy does not mean eating all things green; it is eating a variety of foods that you love. Like adults, children should eat a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and unsaturated fats. Follow the 90/10 rule for the entire family. Eat healthy 90% of the time, and allow regular foods like pizza and burgers the remaining 10%.
Almost no one would be overweight if we all ate according to appetite. Teach your son to pay attention to his body’s signals – eat when hungry and stop when full. Start with three square meals each day with planned healthy snacks. This will set the body into a routine of being hungry at mealtimes. Have your son fill his plate with the foods he likes, including vegetables, but before he goes back for seconds, ask him if he is truly hungry.
Prepare healthy snacks and make them easily accessible and visible. Examples include a fresh fruit bowl, low-fat, low-sugar yogurt, veggies with hummus, or light popcorn.
When embarking on a healthy lifestyle, exercise has to be a part of the plan, and it’s a great way to build family community. Take the family for a walk, or play a sport together. If your son isn’t part of a team sport, encourage him to try out for one. It’s a great way to build self-esteem while making new friends and learning the value of teamwork.
Another trait of a healthy family is dining together, not just for nutritious reasons but also to get to know one another. You find out who your kids’ friends are, what school subjects they like or dislike, and the struggles they are having. Other benefits of eating together include better academic performance, fewer behavioral problems, and fewer risky behaviors (drugs, sex, alcohol) (1).
Finally, model the behavior you want to see in your child. Be positive and reward healthy behavior. Be patient and remember, change happens over time, not overnight!
Miller, Daniel, Waldfogel, Jane, Han, Wen-Jui. Family Meals and Child Academic and Behavioral Outcomes. Child Dev. 2012 Nov; 83(6):2104-2120.
Until next time, be healthy!
Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans.
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