Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Talking "Health" Rather Than "Weight"

Obesity has been making news this year - first when one of symptoms (binge eating) made it into the DSM-V, and most recently when obesity was recognized by the American Medical Association as a disease. With the increased awareness, some parents may feel that it is time to talk to their overweight or obese children about their weight.

First, it is important to mention that in a survey conducted in 2011, parents ranked talking to their child about their weight as more difficult than talking to their child about drugs, alcohol, and even sex! So don't think it is unusual to be a bit nervous about the topic - most parents are. Also know that you are not alone if you have an overweight or obese child - it is estimated that there are over 25 million children in the United States that currently fall into that category.

A recent study showed that if you want to work on your teen or child's weight loss, it is better to avoid talking about it as weight loss at all and actually better to focus on health instead. That can include talking about fitness, better eating choices, and overall healthy habits rather than just talking about weight-related topics (weight goals, clothing sizes). It also involves setting fun goals and motivating the healthy habits - if you try to focus too much on the negatives ("you need to lose weight" or "the doctor says you should be closer to this ideal") it can cause backlash, including unhealthy diet habits or even laxative use as a form of weight loss.

Here are some helpful tips for tackling the weight talk with your child:
1. The easiest way to approach it, especially if your child is younger, is simply to skip the talk and do something instead! Start modeling good behaviors for health, and look for ways to improve overall family health in a way that is fun  to the child.

2. If you have to talk, be a friend to your child and not an enemy. Don't play the blame game or focus on the negatives, but instead let them know that you'd like to start being healthier and you'd like them to join in.

3. Don't make critical remarks about your child's weight, or what they are eating. This can cause unnecessary stress which can impede weight loss.

4. Focus on the bigger picture of health, rather than specific weight milestones. Celebrate the small victories and make sure you let your child know when they are doing something right.

5. Don't force your child to completely eliminate certain foods. If you eliminate an entire set of foods, but they are offered those foods at a friend's house or at school, they won't know how to control the portion. Instead, allow for small treats and demonstrate what a good portion is and how it can be added to a meal routine.

6. Make exercise fun and spontaneous rather than a chore. If you schedule a walk for the same time every day, chances are the child will get bored (and you probably will too). While certain sports do have scheduled times, everything else can be a little less structured - going to play in the park instead of hitting the gym, or going to the pool in the summer.

7. Sleep is good. Make sure your child is getting the right amount, and not missing sleep or sleeping too much, both of which can hinder weight loss.

Do you have any suggestions on how you tackle weight loss and introducing a healthy lifestyle to your child(ren)?

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