How can you raise children in the United States today that don’t struggle with weight?
Aren’t school lunches, snacks, and too much time on electronics to blame?
How can a well-intentioned parent contend with all of those cultural faux-pas?
As an Obesity Medicine certified Family Physician, Life and Weight Loss Coach, and former gestational diabetic, I took this topic on whole-heartedly only when I saw my 1-year-old becoming a sugar addict. It is amazing how motivated we Moms become where our children are involved. And I’m here to share my answers, based in science and psychology of course.
The Good (and Not So Good) News About Children and Weight
There is good news out there for our children: obesity in kids in the US is decreasing overall. The not so good news: class 3 (the highest weight percentage) obesity is increasing drastically. In simple terms, the heaviest kids are growing in numbers and getting heavier.
These kids are struggling with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes at young ages. That’s a serious problem for the rest of their lives. And no Mom wants to put that on her child if there is any way to avoid it.
Is Mom to Blame for her Child’s Weight Struggle?
Here’s what we do know: Mom’s weight does affect her fertility, complication rates during pregnancy, and environmental gene expression (epigenetics). Yes, you could potentially pass on a genetic disease affecting weight BUT that is not the case most of the time.
What matters most: the primary “food preparer” for the family is responsible for 80% of their child’s food choices. You read that right – 80%. And, for most families, that’s Moms. It’s not the schools, the advertising, or your child’s friends that have the biggest influence on their weight. You do.
I know – that hurt. But, the good news is that you equally have the power to turn this whole thing around. You have more power than you even realized – and your education is key.
Should Your Child Lose Weight?
Most children don’t need to “lose weight” to be healthy. Just let them grow into the weight they are already at by changing a few habits. And many programs focus on the parents alone as they are the primary food influence for their children. That’s why I recommend Mamas consider joining Weight Loss for Modern American Moms, of course.
For kids, I like to start with the Brenner Fit Training for Families. It’s simple for parents to institute and effective. We like simplicity with kids – it doesn’t have to be perfect especially at first.
Brenner Families in Training Guidelines
5 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables Every Day
And I don’t mean french fries please. Many families skip fruits and vegetables altogether these days because they eat out frequently and just add the fries. There is SO much nutritional value in these foods – making them a staple for your kids is key.
Starting young and modeling with your own eating will help a ton. You can’t fake a kids into liking things they don’t see you eating yourself. And, you also can’t fake them out of wanting the foods they see you crave. I’ll never forget hiding from my now 16-year-old while drinking Diet Dr. Pepper when she was young. If the adults want it, it is gold to kids.
If your kids are tiny, check out my post https://doctormome.com/post/what-should-my-one-year-old-be-eating/ and https://doctormome.com/post/when-should-my-baby-start-solid-foods/ for dietary help as well.
4 Meals Together as a Family a Week
It’s not about the food. It’s about the connection. Mindless eating in front of the TV, passing through the kitchen, and in the car after the drive-through has become a norm in American culture today and leads to weight issues.
Kids that eat meals as a family do better in school, eat healthier, and are less likely to abuse drugs. Turn the TV and electronics off, sit down at the table, and have that chat that you long for anyway while enjoying a balanced meal with your kids. It is so good for everyone.
3 Meals a Day
Consistent meals without snacking is KEY to weight loss. I work with my weight loss clients on scheduling this for themselves and your kids are no different. Snacking nearly always increases intake of high calorie and low nutrient foods.
When kids get too hungry they will always grab what is easy, convenient, and tastes good. Scheduling meals alone fixing so many of these problems. Make sure that your child eats enough to get them through to the next meal and skip the snacks altogether.
2 Hours or Less of Screen Time a Day
You knew this was coming. See below …
1 Hour of Activity a Day
Being active WITH your kids creates a love of being active in kids. And studies show that adults who are more active throughout the day have less weight problems. General activity does matter. And it matters more than “exercise.”
It doesn’t have to be marathon hours on the treadmill or dreadful push-ups and squats. I still remember the nights when my Dad came home a little early and we all baseball on the front lawn. Those are memories for life. Try something fun with your kids – we love walks, pickle ball, and dance parties.
0 Sugar-Sweetened Drinks a Day
Sugar is addictive for kids. And where you go with that is tricky for parents in our culture today. But, don’t let those sugar-sweetened drinks become an unnecessary high calorie dietary addition to your child’s diet. Studies show that liquids alone or with a meal do nothing to decrease food consumption and simply add extra wasted calories.
My husband loves Coke. And after watching my husband order it with meals, my 2-year-old thinks it is the greatest thing ever. He tries to fake her out but, at the age of 2, she already says, “That’s not Coke.” Kids will learn from your example – remember that.
How to Raise Children that Don’t Struggle with Emotional Eating
And then there is the whole emotional eating aspect of our culture today. The side that says, “You fell down! Here’s your ice cream.” The family gatherings or dinners out with friends. The vacations with others, birthday parties, and ice cream after school programs. Everything in American culture revolves around food these days leaving parents wondering how to get this under control for their own children.
If you have that teen or preteen child who is growing on the scale and you sense emotions are to blame, I will have a whole post on this next week. Be sure to check it out!
For the parents of young kids, I have 2 life coaching recommendations to follow to raise children that don’t struggle with weight:
Let Your Child Feel Emotions without Judgment
We are taught to avoid negative emotions and celebrate positive emotions with food. Raising children without that connection is key to preventing inappropriate food relationships for life.
When my toddler cries, falls down, or is sad, I simply say, “It’s ok to be sad, Eliza. You are sad right now and being sad is part of life. It will pass.” That easy.
I want my children to know that having a negative emotion is simply part of the human experience. It means nothing about how bad her life is, how bad she is, or her doing something wrong. Negative emotions are simply negative emotions. That’s all.
I don’t reward with ice cream. I sit and hold her while she’s sad. And it passes. In toddlers, it passes really quickly. In teens, it can last a bit longer. I’m there and they are secure either way.
Fix Your Own Relationship with Food
It is so much easier for me to get my little one to eat veggies when she sees me do it. When my teen sees me cry and say, “It’s ok. I’m sad right now and it will pass,” she sees processing emotions differently.
My weight loss client Kelly is such a great example of this. Kelly lost 80 lbs to be a better example for her kids. She was terrified of the example she was setting for her young daughter. So, she changed things.
Kelly now is active with her husband and son in jui juitsu classes weekly. She recently came to my home with her husband who quoted SO many things I have taught Kelly. Turns out he, like so many husbands, sits on the side while we have classes and takes in everything as well.
Their children are learning by their example.
And that is a lesson that will change their lives.