“Don’t eat any between meals,” she instructed.
But did I listen? Nooooooooooo. There was no one to play with and I was bored out of my gourd. Those cookies were made with lard, love, and chocolate chips.
At age 10, I gained the same number of pounds in about eight short weeks. When I got home, my mother was furious with her mom because none of the cute fall school clothes we had picked out before I left fit me anymore. She had angry words with her mater.
And I was stuck with a sugar addiction that lasted decades. I never knew when I was full and ate when I was anxious or depressed. I yo-yo dieted, purging and then gradually gaining the weight back.
Only three years following the Dr. Atkins regime (this is no diet, it’s a lifestyle change full of food and activity substitutions) could break that bad health habit.
In the meantime, I was teased relentlessly by my schoolmates as the new chubby chick in class. That was no fun, let me tell you.
My mom and I played the “What If?” game a few times about that unhappy and unfortunate summer. What if Grandma had stored the addictive confections out of my reach and kept them secret? What if I had exercised more self-control and stopped myself from gorging on cookies?
What if my mother had put me on a weight-loss diet the moment she laid eyes on the new overweight me and those 10 pounds hadn’t plagued me for most of my mortal existence?
We’ll never know, Dear Readers, but I urge all parents whose children are already heavy for their age and height to take immediate action. Don’t be satisfied letting your kids suffer the lifelong negative health consequences linked to hauling around those extra pounds day after day, year after year.
At this point, I’m going to stop and say that my purpose is not to fat-shame anyone. Thank goodness society is expanding its acceptance of overweight people. Television and movies now feature actors of all shapes and sizes – which is commendable.
But the medical reality is that health risks abound with those excess pounds.
Furthermore, childhood obesity has become epidemic. Did you know that more than 30 percent of children have been diagnosed with pediatric overweight and obesity, making it the most common chronic childhood disease?
Children are born with extra edipose tissue – we call it “baby fat.” Plumpness is one of the characteristics that makes newborns appear cute and cuddly. But by age 5, a normally-developing child has lost those extra fat reserves and has the lowest fat and body mass index (BMI) of her or his life. (The BMI is a single number that factors in both weight and height to gauge overall health.)
Weight gain in any child between 2-5 years old is not normal and it’s not baby fat. It’s future-adult fat if that child doesn’t shed the blubber before then.
The good news is that babies and young children are highly adaptable. The sooner they get diet help, the easier it is for them to adjust to the life-enhancing changes.
Below are some nutrition tips to guide a child toward better eating habits. Couple these with more physical exercise and watch the pounds disappear, revealing the slimmer version your kid was originally destined to become.
- Avoid sugar rushes. The glycemic load is a measure of the speed food that contains carbohydrates converts into glucose (blood sugar) to provide energy as fuel for the body’s cells. Carby foods, including bread and sugary fruit drinks, send a power surge to a kid, only to be followed by a crash and a crazy case of the hungries.
- Substitute protein and fats for breakfast to start your kid’s day off with a steady power supply. Rolled slices of cheese and lunch meat with a few sugar-lean fruits and veggies are far better than a bowl of cereal, donut or toast.
- One parenting source advised: “Avoid foods that your great-grandparents couldn’t have recognized.” These are words to live by no matter how old you are. When possible, shun highly-processed foods that don’t look like anything made by Mother Nature.
- Distract your child from eating. One excellent way to curb a demanding appetite is to engage in a fun physical activity such as dancing or taking a walk. Reward a kid who breaks a sweat with a sensible snack that provides protein and fiber to create that “I’m full” feeling.
- Set realistic goals with praise and forgiveness. Although your kid might not understand why you think it’s important that s/he slims down, every kid I ever met loves to count – up, down, and sideways. Make weight loss a game. Draw a simple chart or just write the numbers down on a sheet of paper. For goals met, don’t hold back on words of encouragement, back-patting, and appropriate treats.
- If your best efforts fail and your child remains at an unhealthy weight, talk to your pediatrician and consider enrolling your offspring in a weight loss program. Just know that programs designed for 4-year-olds are different from those for older children, especially regarding how much responsibility goes to the child and parents.
Nobody’s perfect – don’t I know it? There will be times when your kid falls off the diet wagon. Never lay on a guilt-trip. Be understanding and review the goals. Talk about pursuing perfection to catch excellence, as Vince Lombardi encouraged. Get up and dance.
Prevent playing the “What if?” game with your kid. Take action now. Your child will thank you later.