Not in front of the children

To drop a bombshell – Almost like sex, diet should also not be discussed in front of the children. At lease not until the age of 12. Children do not always interpret correctly what they hear or see. Adults frequently discuss diets and their weight in the presence of children and the children take it in. You have probably heard young girls discussing what they should and should not eat so that they do not become “as fat as a cow”, while both of them are clearly thin.

The sooner the better

You are probably wondering: how can you not share the dieting process with a child, especially if the diet is necessary, until the age of 12? Is it not true that “the sooner the better”? Well, an early start in the treatment of overweight problems in children does reduce their chances of being overweight as adults as well as the risks of disease (such as diabetes) and self esteem and psychological strength problems. However, going back to the first paragraph, the “bombshell” means that it is necessary, and sometimes crucial, to treat the overweight problem without sharing the process with the children.
The weight of our children has always been up for discussion. If in the past parents were concerned that children were not eating enough, today the opposite concern, that children may be earing too much, has become prevalent. Overweight has become an epidemic in the 20th century and today one of every four children in Israel is overweight. In today’s modern society, being thin is perceived as a symbol of success and overweight children are even more miserable than before.

What does diet stand for?

The word diet originates in Greek and signifies “a way of life”. Diet is not a temporary occurrence, but a chronic state. It is comprised of patterns and principles that we must implement through life. Diet should be treated as an integral part of our existence and the quality of our life and dietary habits should be adopted similarly to other daily habits, such as hygiene (brushing your teeth and showering daily) or leisure (watching television or taking classes). As adults, it is our responsibility to pass theses habits on to our children, so that they too may develop healthy habits that would be beneficial to their development and health.

If the child is diagnosed as being overweight (by a professional, such as a pediatrician, a dietitian or a nurse) or you, as parents, subjectively believe that your child is overweight, you should initiate remedial and proactive measures. Until the age of 12, a child’s diet is in fact dictated by the parents. They are in charge of the household’s grocery shopping, cooking, entertaining and pastime activities outside the home. Even if the child has some influence over what goes into the shopping cart and insists on a specific product, the parents ultimately decide what they allow into their home and what the children will eat. Allow your children to enjoy all types of foods, in appropriate quantities. Make sure that they do not frequently consume unhealthy or potentially harmful foods (that have a high content of fat, sugar, salt, artificial food coloring etc.). As children grow up, they spend more time outside the home without parental supervision. It is important that they acquire healthy eating habits beforehand.
Children who grow up in homes with healthy eating habits accept this naturally and apply such practices outside the home as well. Therefore, in birthday parties or when vising friends they will stick to the diet to which they are accustomed. Similarly to Jews who observe the kashrut laws or to vegetarians who adhere to a specific diet, individuals who watch their figure and health enthusiasts will exclude from their diet certain items that may be detrimental to their health.

Assuming responsibility

Sharing the weight loss process with the child requires him or her to assume responsibility or even to be accountable for the results. At the younger ages, they are unable to assume such responsibility, even if they seem to “understand their problem of being fat” and even if they are motivated. Sometimes, the motivation to lose weight is only the parents’.
Even adults who are overweight find the weight loss process to be difficult. It is all the more difficult for children, who often do not even understand why they need to lose weight. The diet should become a way of life that fits into the routine of the child. An undertaking by the parents and the child that requires self-restraint and abstinence will turn the diet into a burden and its success will be short-lived. The chances of the child gaining back the weight are high and when the child reaches an age at which a weight loss process can really be undertaken, he or she will already have experienced diet as a failure. For this reason, diet should fit into the life of the child. The goal is long-term success.

Education is part of the success

Several studies have shown that in order for the weight loss process of the child to succeed, the parents should attend seminars on nutrition and eating habits without the child.
In these seminars, the parents learn the principles of the allocation of responsibility between the parent and the child as regarding food. The parent is responsible for what the child eats, the menu (fried food or a cheese sandwich), meal times (every half-hour or every two hours) and the manner of eating (seasoned or unseasoned food, lying in front of the TV or seated at the table).
You should not ask the child: “what would you like to eat?” And if he does not like the food that is offered, do not immediately offer alternatives. Clearly, the menu should be child-friendly and a professional (such as a dietitian) should create a customized menu that incorporates the nutrients that are necessary for the health of the child in a manner that is appealing to children. It is very important that the parents be aware of which food choices are more preferable – for example, the calorie count of 3 baked potatoes is identical to that of a single fried potato. Therefore, it is preferable to serve the child 2 baked potatoes rather than a single fried potato. This way, the child consumes less calories while eating a double portion. The parents should receive training on how to implement the aspect of food portions without it becoming a burden on their part. Parents should develop skills in relation to eating habits and learn to implement them in a manner that is logical, friendly and practical. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to persevere.

As the child grows up and requests assistance in losing weight, his or her chances of succeeding increase. We should be supportive of the child and avoid criticizing him or her at home and not burden the child with the full responsibility for his or her condition. Children who are overweight are often a target for disparaging comments and verbal abuse. Even if you mean well, do not make it a habit to comment on the child’s eating choices and appearance. It is your duty to guide the child toward a healthy, diversified and well-balanced diet. It is highly recommended for parents to seek professional advice as to the best course of action for achieving positive and sustainable results.