By Joanna Dolgoff, MD, Child Obesity Specialist for The Biggest Loser Author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right
As parents, we need to walk a fine line between helping our kids get to a healthy weight while continuing to support their emotional needs. Studies seem to indicate that if you treat an overweight child in a sensitive manner, you decrease the risk of disordered eating. Here are some tips to make sure your approach is as sensitive as possible!
1. Talk to your kids about what is happening.
Open communication is very important throughout the entire weight-loss (get-healthy!) process. Let your kids know that losing weight is not always easy and that you are they to support them. Share some stories of your own weight-loss victories and setbacks. Encourage them to talk to you about their feelings.
2. Make sure they know your love is unconditional.
Remember the reason you are concerned with your child’s weight is for their health. That really needs to be communicated to your child. Tell them that you love them at any size and want them to live a long and healthy life.
3. Teach your children to like what they see in the mirror.
Focus on their great legs or strong arms. Remind them that their bodies have many wonderful attributes. Dieters with higher self-esteem lose more weight!
4. Help them lose their inner negative voice.
We all have that little voice in our heads telling us that everything we do is wrong: "You shouldn't have eaten that..." "Why didn't you go to the gym today?" This voice makes us feel worthless. When that voice arises, tell your kids to tell the voice to shut up! Or teach them to counter back with something positive. For example:
- "Maybe I shouldn't have eaten that, but I only had a half portion. To make up for it, I will cut back on my afternoon snack."
- "I really didn't feel like going to the gym today, but I will go tomorrow, even though tomorrow is usually my off day. I don't want exercise to seem like a chore; I can reschedule my gym sessions as long as I get in my 4 or 5 days."
5. Celebrate small milestones.
You don't have to wait until long-term goals are fully reached to congratulate your children. Set smaller mini-goals so they have that sense of accomplishment. And pick a non-food reward. Maybe let them buy that new shirt they've been wanting, or let them go with their friends to the movies on a school night. Just find something that they want that doesn't involve food. And it needn't be expensive!
6. Dieting can be stressful.
Help your children find a non-food way to deal with stress. Some people like yoga. Others try deep breathing. I like taking a long, hot bath with a good book! Your child may want to spend a few minutes playing a video game. Exercise can also be a stress release. Plan in advance – make sure they know how to handle stressful situations so they don't instinctively turn to food.
7. Teach your children to enjoy food!
It may seem counter-intuitive, but if your children really enjoy a meal, they may eat less. First, teach them to eat slowly. Savor the flavors. Notice the feeling of the food on their tongues. They should not just throw the food down their throats. Have them pay attention to the food and allow their bodies the time it takes to realize that it is full.
Ignoring your child’s weight problem is not the answer. But over-focusing on weight – as opposed to health – is also not the answer. The key is to give your kids the tools they need to make healthy choices on their own while showering them with love and positive messages throughout the process.