We all know the phrase “Childhood Obesity”, we hear about it in the news. Our schools have programs to fight it. Mrs. Obama, the first lady, has been shining a light on this issue aggressively. So what do we need to know about childhood obesity that hasn’t already been said before a thousand times? Well, it continues. And because of that, it is enough that Theravive…and hopefully you…will tackle it head on.
In 2010, nearly one third of all kids through age 17 in the United States were overweight or obese. Canada fares better with nearly a quarter of kids overweight, however Canada is also at an all time high, so the problem is just as severe in both countries. And if we peel back the veil of time, a few decades ago, this was hardly an issue. So what is going on here?
At first glance it would seem like such a simple issue. A parent can control the food that is in the house, and this should be a slam dunk win. But if that were true, then why do leaders throughout psychology and academia continually come together to brainstorm ways to combat this struggle? The health implications of childhood obesity are enormous and real. Why does it go all the way up to the highest levels in government? The answer is that leaders are dealing with the problem on a large scale- a macro scale if you will. But your role is not to do that. Your role is simply your family, and your immediate circle. So we believe that looking at the issue as individuals, empowering families to make long term healthy food choices, and to also teach children through healthy modeling provides the best possible outcome for a lifetime of healthy eating habits and choices. So let’s focus on your solution, and the impressionable children you are raising
But before we begin, we need to say that if this issue is relevant in your life, please seek a professional therapist and/or speak to your child’s primary care doctor / nutritionist. There is no "self-help" solution to this that will even come remotely close to the far superior help that you will get from a well trained professional counselor or nutritionist. You can browse the web, post on Facebook, talk on forums all you want, but in the end, only one on one time with a nutritional counselor will be your best chance at coming out of this free and with a healthy, vibrant child. And it's a good bet if you have any insurance, you can find a therapist who will accept the coverage. Counseling can work wonders, and we strongly advise every parent dealing with this to find a counselor trained in this area. We have more information and resources about that at the end of this article.
A Self Test For You, The Parent
So, you are going to see a therapist, right? We hope so. So let's delve in. Because one out of three children are overweight, the odds are pretty good that if you have kids, at least one of them is too heavy, or there is a child in your family or close circle that is overweight making this a relevant topic among most parenting circles.
So let’s start with just a few questions. First, think of a child that is close to you that you know is overweight….it may be your child, or a niece or nephew, grandchild…bring that child to your mind. Now answer these questions and try to be aware of which questions may cause you to become frustrated or angry, this may be a signal or trigger about an area that may need further work.
- Do you agree that being overweight is unhealthy for this child?
- Are you willing to consider that this child is at increased risk for health issues such as diabetes, heart attack, and other health and mental health issues later in life?
- Do you consider being overweight to be a real, and serious problem?
- Are you willing to see obesity as a real issue, separate from some of the common “excuses” that are used when faced with a child struggling with their weight (i.e. “its genetic!”, “Oh, its hormonal he can’t help it”) unless a doctor has specifically said it was?
- Are you able to admit that part of the responsibility for this problem happening is because of you (or the caregiver)?
In regards to #4, there are indeed hormonal conditions and genetic diseases that can make a child prone to being obese, however these are not common, and too frequently, a parent may use these claims as an excuse for the child to avoid taking action or when feeling helpless to find options and solutions to the child’s weight. If this child does indeed have a genetic disease that is contributing to obesity then there are other factors to consider, and they should be done with the help of a doctor or licensed therapist. But most of the time, childhood obesity is not due to hormones or genetics, and due nearly entirely to lifestyle and eating.
The first step in combating any emotional, psychological, or health problem is to acknowledge that it exists – this actually begins to empower you towards healthy change! Accept that there is a problem. Admit that there is a problem, and now you can feel empowered to begin to solve the problem. Since parents are intimately involved in the food intake and lifestyle of a child (especially young children), the parent is a direct contributing factor to the success of overcoming a child’s obesity. Combating childhood obesity begins first with the parent.
Our Scope:The rest of this article is from a perspective of young obese children, who are not yet teenagers. The role of a parent in this issue changes as children move through developmental phases. If your child is a teenager, a lot of things here will still apply, however, our focus in this article is children who are not yet adolescents.
So let’s begin the wonderful work of reversing this, and take heart, this can be reversed!
- Admit the problem.
- Make a plan for change
- Implement your plan for change
- Have Accountability for your plan
- Stick with your plan!
So if you have already accomplished step one, that is fabulous. Sad to say, just getting past step one is a major hurdle for parents, as pride and denial are huge stumbling blocks in this issue.
Make A Plan For Change
So lets put together a plan. There are two parts to this plan, they are easy.
Now addressing these 2 areas may sometimes seem impossible for us adults…but do not underestimate your kids. Kids love to be active. They just need better reasons to be. This society is wild and chaotic and pushes all kinds of garbage on us, in all forms. So take away the IPAD, the game station. Turn off the TV. You must remove the sedentary time sinks in your child's life. Cancel cable if you have to. Take that money and buy your child a bike, or some swimming lessons. Sign your child up for a sports team. Invest in hobbies that require activity. Join a local hiking group, try some geo-caching, kayaking, skating, local scavenger hunts, dance lessons, gymnastics, rowing, frisbee golf, a big trampoline, basketball hoop...the ideas are endless. Do not assume that just because you might not ever get out to the gym and be active, that your child won’t either. Your child is just starting their journey in life. If you need help getting your child active, your school will help you. There are many programs available, just ask.
Diet doesn't have to be an impossible task either. We make it harder than it is. Your child cannot go grocery shopping like you can. Your child does not have the ability to go to the store and buy a chocolate cake like you do. Controlling our diet as adults is much harder, because we can easily “give in” to temptations and run down to the burger joint and indulge. Our children cannot do those things. They can only eat what is available. For us adults, a cheesecake is always available, because we can go buy one at any time. For a child, only the food in the home is available. So if the food options in your home are only healthy selections, then your child will not have the option to indulge in junk food. Yes they may whine and fuss, and yes you can be strong and do this firmly while still being loving and emotionally sensitive to your child (remember that your child has emotional needs and at all times should feel accepted and loved unconditionally!). And yes it will be intensely emotionally draining for a while, but they will adjust. Children are resilient, strong, and adaptable. We should not underestimate them to be helpless. You control the food while they are children…so do it! Don’t wait until they are teenagers or adults when you no longer have that control and now they are giving into temptations. Give them a chance, and raise them healthy now. Don’t let them grow up as adults and have a weight issue for the rest of their lives. It is just not fair to them! You love them too much to do that.
So make sure your plan contains both diet and exercise. And remember that while your participation in being healthy as well is greatly hoped for, and will immensely increase the chances of success for your child, it is not an absolute requirement. We will cover more of that shortly.
Implement Your Plan for Change
Once you make your plan, its time to put it in place. Talk to your child, let them know things are going to change. Treats don’t have to vanish entirely, but they should be the exception, and not the norm. Clean out your cupboards. Throw away the junk. Then go shopping, and from now on, fill your fridge and cupboards with items that are healthy. Get your child outside…to the park, to the swimming pool. Even if you aren’t healthy enough to run around with them, that is ok. You are still setting a wonderful example, because you are actively involved in their lives and spending quality time with them, even if it means you sit on a bench while they run around on the grass. And you never know…eventually you just might join in, too. But remember, this is for your child…your participation is not required.
Many experts out there will tell a parent “lead by example”. While this is certainly a great ideal, (and one we advise as well), it is not required. If a parent is unable or unwilling to engage in physical activity, that should not prevent the child from doing so. For example, an obese parent who just feels too exhausted to get up and run around to play soccer should in no way hinder the act of taking their child to the park to play soccer. A parent can still sit on a bleacher while their child plays. We need to stop mandating that overweight parents must eat healthy and be active in order for their children to be. We certainly want that, and we certainly agree that if a parent is able to lead by example, it is a far better outcome for everyone, but that should not be a make or break deal.
If a parent does not have the discipline to be healthy, there is still opportunity for the child. If you are a parent who is demanding healthiness from your child, while you yourself are giving in to bad eating and not exercising, then talk to your child about it.
Also, be careful not to “single out” a child who is overweight from siblings that are not. Implement family activities so that the child who needs them most doesn’t feel isolated. We must always, always be sensitive to the emotional state of the child. An overweight child may already be experiencing emotional issues, so implementing your plan should always take that into account. You don’t have to implement cold turkey, you can implement gradually.
This won’t be easy. You need someone in your life who will help you along, and keep you strong. If this is going to work long term, have a support system. Share your changes and your plans with someone else close to you, and keep them well informed of your progress. Accountability goes a long way towards success. And having accountability will also help you, the parent, be a leader and eat and live healthy right along side your child. (Avoiding the unwanted double standard we talked about earlier).
Stick With Your Plan!
Giving up is not optional. If this gets difficult, just remind yourself this is for your child. Most parents would sacrifice anything for their child. Is that you? Would you really sacrifice anything for your child? Of course you would. Then you just cannot give up. It’s so easy to give up when it’s us trying to get healthy for ourselves. We start a diet, we go for a while, then we fall back into the old ways. But remember, this is not for us, this is for our child. If you also are struggling with eating and lifestyle, then absolutely make it about you as well, but don't make your child's success contingent on yours. If you fall back into the old ways, that should not mean allowing your child to as well.
What If My Spouse Isn’t On Board? What If I Just Can’t Do It?
There are times when things are just too hard. We’ve tried it all, and we can’t seem to work. Maybe you have a spouse who undermines your efforts by feeding your child junk food. Or maybe you are undermining your efforts because it's too difficult for you to keep your diet and lifestyle in balance. These are times when you should seek a professional. Counseling is a wonderful resource that can give you incredibly powerful tools that you never knew you had. In fact, even for those of you out there who think you can do this right now, we still suggest contacting a therapist because a trained counselor will take all these items and personalize them just for you, and give you the best chance to be entirely successful.
You can find a great therapist by searching on our Therapist page here, just enter your ZIP code and someone will be near you to lend you a hand. We sincerely wish all of you the best in health...both for you, and your beloved little ones.
Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at - theravive.com.