Growing up…I loved to EAT! I’m from the southern Virginia and the women in my family could throw down in the kitchen! I lived behind my grandma and within walking distance of my aunt. The two best cooks on my dad’s side! Usually, I ate dinner three times – at my house, my aunt’s house and my grandma’s house. It became the norm. As I aged, my food intake increased, as well as my weight, while my physical activity levels decreased. During the summers, it was really bad. Sitting around, all day, watching the soaps and snacking, eating, snacking, eating; at home, at my aunt’s, at my grandma’s. By the time I was in sixth grade, I was the biggest girl in my class. I couldn’t run fast in gym class or on field day; my clothes didn’t fit well; and I started to be the target for “fat” jokes. I tried to stop my heavy eating, but I just couldn’t. I liked it too much; plus, it made me feel good. Like all children, my favorite foods were the some of the most unhealthy foods – hot dogs, fried chicken, pork chops, pig ears, pig feet, lots of bread, butter, sodas, juice!
My weight issues lead to low self-esteem, reclusiveness and improper nutrition. I didn’t like the rolls that I saw in the mirror. Especially, when all my friends had the flat tummies! I became somewhat reclusive. I didn’t enjoy being around my friends any longer because I felt “different” (i.e. fat). Truth be told, my friends were truly my friends. They never criticized me or made me feel bad. They didn’t have to…I did it all to myself.
The turning point for me was the summer before ninth grade. I made the flag squad for my high school marching band. As a member of the band, I had to go to band camp for a week. Unbeknownst to me prior to joining the band, the flag squad practices outside (in the heat) all day, everyday of band camp. Band members that play instruments practice in an air-conditioning music room. Lucky them! Band camp week and the proceeding weeks of practicing and performing enabled me to drop my weight considerably. In addition, I became more active in school-related activities. I was no longer “bored”; I had something that I enjoyed to occupy my time.
To help children with weight issues, my advice to parents/adults with children in their lives is to:
1) Make weight loss FUN!!
Introducing children to healthy and easy-to-make dishes can be fun! Children can help parents/adults cook meals by setting the table, washing and cutting vegetables, measuring liquids, inventorying ingredients or even reading recipes aloud!
Getting physical activity can be fun too! Easy and fun activities for children to enjoy can be a day at the park, playing Frisbee with the family dog, or riding a bike around the neighborhood.
2) Decrease sugar intake
Sugar is in EVERYTHING good! A high intake of sugar is not only unhealthy in general, but it also is bad for the development of children’s teeth. It can lead to cavities. Children should limit their intake of soft drinks, candy and other sweets such as donuts or honey buns.
3) Eat smaller portions throughout the day
As explained earlier, my problem as a child was that I ate BIG MEALS at dinner. I was always starving when I came home from school and just binged at dinnertime. Encouraging children to eat throughout the day will eliminate the need for overeating at night. Providing snacks, like cheese sticks or yogurt, for them to take to school is an excellent way to provide
4) Increase water consumption
As much as it’s said…as much as the thought may not be liked…everyone, including children, needs to drink more water! So boring! I know…but the benefits are immense. There are products in the market that can add some flavor to the taste of water. I use them a lot, but for children, as with everything, use in moderation.
5) Provide encouragement; don’t criticize or nag
Criticism and nagging are the worst! Children with weight issues place a great deal of negativity on themselves. The last thing they need is someone else add to their guilt. Instead, provide children with weight issues with positive motivation. Congratulate them on small achievements (e.g. losing one pound or not eating dessert one night). Positive messages are powerful!
6) Decrease fast food intake
Who doesn’t love a double-cheeseburger or French fries from their favorite fast food restaurant? I’m not saying children with weight issues should not eat fast foods; I’m only saying they shouldn’t eat fast foods every day or more than once per week. Numerous research studies have been conducted about the unhealthiness of fast foods. So much so that some fast food restaurants have modified their menu to include “healthier” offerings. The effort is applauded, but still….proceed with caution; everything in moderation.