Reality television is big business these days. Shows about weight loss are particularly popular, with “The Biggest Loser” leading the pack. Every week, millions of people tune in to watch contestants who are severely, dangerously overweight struggle to overcome not only size-related physical limitations, but also deconstruct the emotional and mental obstacles that contributed to their weight gains in the first place.
As an overweight child who grew into an obese teenager, I can personally testify to the role parents can play or not play in the prevention of obesity in adulthood: sweets were always readily available in my household, along with some healthier options, but as long as I had those sugary foods at the ready, it was my snack of choice. My Midwestern diet was full of meat, dairy, canned vegetables full of sodium and lots of bread and butter – all of which seemed to fit the conventional wisdom of the time and culture. I was tall for my age, so my heaviness was often written off as “baby fat,” and I can even recall doctor’s appointments when my pediatrician dismissed my mother’s concerns by saying, “She will simply grow into it.” As with most parents who love their children, she did the best with what she knew and followed the advice of my doctor.
Granted, this was the early 90’s, before obesity had reached the near-epidemic proportions it has now, and long before doctors started seeing Type-2 diabetes pop up in grammar-school-aged children.
What, Then, Can We Do If We Suspect Our Child Might Be Developing A Weight Problem?
One of the first things to do is talk to your pediatrician, who can confirm whether or not actions need to be taken. With younger children, it is recommended to maintain weight rather than lose it, and closely monitor growth and weight gain to make sure they are in proportion with each other. It is not recommended to reduce calories, as children are still growing and have a lot of energy! Instead, make sure there are a lot of fresh fruits and veggies within easy reach of little hands, and be sure they see you eating your daily doses of produce as well! The Biggest Loser contestants who are parents are right to strive to be better role-models for their children, as kids are known to mirror the behavior of the adults in their lives.
What If Our Kids Refuse To Eat Their Veggies?
This is some of the most common feedback we receive at Red Rabbit. If your children are already insisting on a diet consisting of chicken nuggets, cookies or macaroni and cheese, fear not! Young children are very adaptable and open to new things. Because they are learning how to voice their opinion and exert some control in their life, making food choices is often their first doses of independence. At Red Rabbit, we encourage children to try new foods in our cooking labs by talking about the food and where it comes from, followed by preparing a simple dish together and then sharing it. The excitement children have when they are invited to participate in meal preparation tends to overshadow any initial skepticism. By encouraging kids to eat their veggies and fruits by involving them in the cooking prep, we lay the groundwork for the wholesome eating habits needed to maintain a healthy weight well into adulthood!
What If My Child Is Older, Is Overweight And Has Voiced Concern About It?
Talking to a pre-teen or teenager about their weight can be a sensitive topic, and it’s very important to keep communication open and encouraging. A benefit here is that the older a child is, the more involved he or she can be in having a dialogue about how to be healthier. Sometimes, this can mean us adults taking a closer look at our own habits and adjusting how we eat as family. The more support a tween or teen feels, the easier it will be to talk about making changes to support weight loss if needed.
When I was 13, my height had reached my current 5’3,” but my weight had risen to 207 pounds. By that point I had matured enough to ponder what my future would look like if I continued to eat the things I was eating. The thing that ultimately helped me was education: I took a health class in school that talked about the nature of calories in, calories out as well as the importance of eating fresh vegetables – not the canned kind to which I was accustomed. It also introduced to me the concept of serving sizes. My dad bought me a calorie counting book, and instead of going to our favorite fast-food place on Saturdays for our daddy-daughter dates, we visited the local sandwich shop that supplied an array of fresh ingredients. Having my parents show such support as I endeavored to improve my health was the key to my success, and ultimately I lost 100 pounds – the majority of which I have kept off to this day.
Exercise is also an important factor for teenagers who are looking to lose weight, and playing sports is a great way to complement healthier eating habits. The more weight I lost, the more active I was able to be. I joined the tennis team, track and softball team. Those of us who play sports can attest to its benefits: it instills confidence, builds social skills and fosters a sense of belonging. It can also shift the focus away from weight in general, and onto meeting performance milestones and achieving a goal as part of a team. If playing team sports isnt an option, then making exercise a part of family time by hiking, going for a walk after dinner or for bike rides on the weekends will reinforce to a teenager how important it is that she not only meet her goals, but that fitness plays a factor in our lives, too!
There are plenty of ways to stop the spread of obesity in children, and as the contestants on "The Biggest Loser" have found, it all begins with us adults! As the parents and educators, we have the power to positively influence the choices kids make in their eating and activity habits. The more healthy choices they see us making, the more likely they will make these same decisions for themselves. The more excited we are about trying new foods and eating our fruits and vegetables, the less skeptical they will be! At Red Rabbit, we are proud to be a part of this exciting journey of providing access to fresh, wholesome meals to kids and fostering an interest in healthy eating for a lifetime.
Here’s to health!