By Susan Davis Gryder 2017-01-05 02:29:48
Ideas for handling weighty matters on the home front. ONE DAY, IT HITS YOU LIKE A BOLT FROM THE BLUE. You look around the dinner table and realize that everyone in your family has a few (or more) pounds to lose. Gathered around the television watching the big game, you try to recall the last time any one of you has gone for a walk or headed to the gym. Your teen is holed up in his room insisting he “doesn’t care” about staying home from the winter dance, when you know it’s that he’s too self-conscious about his size to invite a date or get a suit. The pediatrician informs you that your tween-age daughter is officially pre-diabetic. Whether it’s an acute weight-related wake-up call, a gradual realization of developing problems or simply a New Year’s resolution-inspired desire to get the entire family onboard with improved health behaviors, use that motivation to spring into action! Research shows that family-based approaches to weight loss are the most effective ways to help overweight kids reach an appropriate weight and instill lifelong healthy habits in your children. Your influence has far-reaching effects—for better and worse. Studies find that the food and activity choices that parents model, along with the environment they create at home, have profound effects on children’s weight. But where do you begin? Experts in the science of weight loss are beginning to develop practical solutions and provide healthcare practitioners with tools designed to support families who are struggling with obesity. For example, a five-year, $8.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health is supporting an innovative new program, starting in Spring 2017, to treat more than 500 families in four mid-size cities in three states (Buffalo, N.Y., Rochester, N.Y., Columbus, Ohio, and St. Louis, Mo.). The program will place weight-control counselors and coaches in primary care physician offices in these cities, while identifying and collecting best practices of services that help families achieve weight loss. Until programs like these are more widely available in your community, it’s up to you to do some reflection and research. DYSFUNCTIONAL DYNAMICS? The first step to addressing family weight issues is to take a hard look at the dynamics, attitudes and practices of your family when it comes to food and exercise. For example, do you offer treats to placate your kids when they’re acting up—or to reward them when they are not? This is a very common response to the stresses of parenting, but it can create emotional eating patterns in your children that may stick with them for a lifetime. Similarly, the different approaches you and your spouse have about food—and how you communicate these—can send unspoken messages to all family members. Is one of you continually sneaking the kids off to McDonald’s, while the other valiantly cuts up carrots for a healthy snack? This might lead the offspring to pit one parent against the other in food battles. It also teaches them to be covert and even lie when it comes to eating “forbidden” foods. Perhaps one of you is committed to losing weight and getting into shape, but the rest of the family opposes any changes. This puts tremendous pressure on the dieter, who is regularly tempted by other family members to cheat “just a little bit” or “just this once.” This kind of passive sabotage comes from different motivations. Sometimes, family members fear change. Others don’t take the dieter’s anxieties seriously or disrespect their efforts. Family members may feel threatened by the prospect of a successfully slimmer partner or sibling. Perhaps most common are the family members who resist taking a hard look at the consequences of habits they are still unwilling to break. In some cases, an honest review of your family’s relationship with food may steer you toward a meeting with a counselor or registered dietitian to get some solid professional advice. But many families can take matters into their own hands and find the path to health and fitness together. Whether you go it alone or with professional help, it’s critical for all adults in the household to be on the same page about family weight-loss goals and priorities. AGES AND STAGES When you embark on a family project to lose weight and get healthy, it’s important to consider the ages of the children in the family. Your plan should be appropriate for younger family members’ physiological needs and their emotional readiness. Dietitians say that younger children rarely should be put on an actual diet, even when they exhibit early signs of overweight. The preferred approach is to expose them to nutritious choices and exercise, letting kids “grow into” their weight and slim down as they do so. For parents of young children, this means exercising firm control over the youngsters’ food environment: » Be the ruler of the family menu, and ensure that meals are healthful and feature a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. » Cook at home as much as possible, and avoid fastfood except on rare occasions. » Remove high-calorie snacks and sodas from the house. » Make sure kids stay active, either through organized sports or lots of free play or both! It’s easy to do this for the younger set. But as kids age, they seek greater independence and choice. To encourage consumption of weight-friendly foods, parents should explore ways of teaching early elementary-age children about nutritious options that they can make and serve themselves—being sure to keep ingredients on hand in the refrigerator and pantry! These can include prepared carrot sticks paired with lower-calorie dips, easy-peel clementines and grab ‘n’ go packs of apple slices. Part-skim mozzarella sticks and a few handfuls of nuts can provide quick protein, while fizzy water may satisfy the quest for a soda. When tweens and teens are in the mix, the formula for success gets considerably more complicated. Children of these age groups have significant autonomy, and usually pocket money, too. Your control is virtually nil, as they are faced with many food choices outside the home, along with peer influences. The bottom line for parents is to avoid attempts to micromanage a tween/teen’s dietary habits. Doing so leads to power struggles over food, with no good outcomes and a lot of angst. Instead, try to incorporate teen-friendly approaches in your family weight-loss plan—encourage conversation and compromise and always enable and model healthy choices. For example, is the gang coming over for a sleepover? If pizza is disallowed, then peer shaming could ensue. But you don’t have to enable pizza and chips and ice cream. Encourage balance and moderation. Let them order the pizza, but leave ingredients for do-it-yourself side salads. KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL NO MORE Getting family members into the kitchen is a powerful tool for encouraging healthy eating. Cooking every day may feel daunting—but letting your kids “help” can also be a bit exhausting. Still, there are important reasons to make meal planning, shopping and cooking a family affair: » Every meal cooked at home is a meal that isn’t a less-nutritious fastfood choice. » Cooking at home saves money. Track your savings with a chart on the fridge and use the savings for a monthly treat, like a family bowling night or other fun activity you can do together. » By assisting in the decisions of what to cook and helping to shop for it, kids learn important home economic skills in the kitchen and the grocery store—skills that they will be able to use over a lifetime. » With a little practice, kids can take over the preparation of an entire meal once or twice a week, giving their tired parents a welcome break! » Studies show that kids are more likely to eat food they’ve made themselves, so it’s a great way to introduce picky eaters to more healthy choices. There are many cookbooks in stores and in the library that focus on healthy recipes geared to kid cooks. In addition, check out the websites for the The New York Times food page, AllRecipes, Martha Stewart and the Food Network, among many others, and you will find kid-friendly recipe sections. This generation is all about video, so take advantage of how-to cooking videos on YouTube and other sites. It may inspire your children to create their own videos to upload. WALK THE TALK Members of a single family often have different weight-loss needs. Some may need to learn how to maintain a healthy weight, while others should focus on dropping pounds. But one thing everyone in the family needs, regardless of their weight, is exercise! Research shows that sedentary parents tend to raise sedentary kids, so it’s important for you to set a better example. Kids who observe their parents making time for exercise and staying active are more likely to adopt these habits as they grow up. For younger kids, family fitness can take the form of play. Some ideas that will get both adults and kids moving: » Engage your kids in a Wii fitness contest or video dance competition like Dance Dance Revolution. Or make up your own dance contest, with music (and rules) handpicked by the children. » Build and run your own backyard obstacle course, with age-and size-appropriate elements so kids and adults can run it together. » Make a family exercise video. Record a fun routine of family members jumping, walking and dancing and save it so your kids can do it over and over. (And you can use it to embarrass them when they’re older.) » Turn a hike into a scavenger hunt, seeing who can spot the most birds, collect 10 pinecones, discover signs of wildlife and so on. » Hold a family Olympics, with age-appropriate track and field competitions, bicycle races or even swimming heats at the local pool. Older kids may enjoy family bike rides, or deciding as a family to train for a 5K walk or run several months down the line. Browse the Internet for “Couch-to-5K” running plan programs and apps that can help even the most sedentary of families turn into bona fide runners, starting with just a few minutes each day. WEIGH AND SEE For some families, setting a spirited fitness or weight-loss “challenge” is a great way to get everybody motivated. A well-conceived challenge can bring a family together and make weight loss and fitness goals seem less overwhelming. When developing activities, take care that you don’t place too much emphasis on competition and reward. Make sure the overall goals are clear and that you’re promoting fitness and health, rather than a total number or percentage of pounds lost. There’s no shortage of tools to help you determine the best challenge activity for your family—and allow you to track progress along the way. Pinterest, for example, is a source for many individual food and exercise trackers, as well as charts and motivational quotes. Also, consider the following hints when developing a family fitness challenge: » Pick a feasible duration—not so long that the challenge becomes a chore, but long enough to see measurable, encouraging results. Typical challenge periods can be as short as two months or as long as six. » Choose the right focus. Younger children will have fun racing each other to eat five fruits and vegetables a day and tracking their progress with stars on a homemade chart. But teens may opt for 5K training by tracking their progress through a smartphone app like MapMyRun. » Determine measures for success. Will you measure individual weight loss or the number of minutes of exercise per day? If children under 15 are involved, consider making the challenge the achievement of a predetermined goal rather than a competition for the “most” among individuals. Trying a steps-based challenge? Use the Internet to calculate the number of steps to reach a landmark destination, and track progress with a pedometer, fitness tracker or a phone app. (Just be sure everyone is using the same tool!) » Reward results. Will you award individual prizes? A group reward? Will it be lavish (a trip to Disneyworld) or modest ($10 buy-in, winner take all)? If there are younger kids involved in the challenge, will they get rewards simply for their participation? » Celebrate! Plan mini-recognitions along the way, as well as a final celebration in keeping with the group’s achievements. FITNESS FIRST Whatever the specific goals for your family, experts recommend making health the primary focus of your efforts, instead of concentrating too much on the numbers on the scale. Promoting nutritious food choices, regular exercise and healthy weight management among your family members is a wonderful gift that you, as a parent, can give to your children. Susan Davis Gryder is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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