The Healthy Family Project: Helping Children Achieve & Maintain a Healthy Weight

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Having just attended an advance screening of FED UP, a movie produced by Katie Couric & Laurie David about the obesity epidemic and related skyrocketing rates of chronic illness in the American population, it seemed like the right time to post a refresher for parents on a healthy way to help their overweight children achieve a healthy weight. Over 25% of Canadian kids are obese, and on their way to developing a number of chronic illnesses associated with their weight. If you child is one of them, what can you do, in a positive & permanent way, to help them lose weight?

First of all, confirm that they are actually at an unhealthy weight by consulting your family doctor or naturopath. Once you know some changes need to be made, the most important thing to remember is that if you don’t approach weight loss in a positive, non-critical way, your efforts will likely backfire and you run the risk of causing more damage to what is often an already underconfident, sensitive little soul. Concerned parents should focus on healthy living, including eating well and exercising more, and not on calories, carbs and weigh-ins. Talk about the benefits of healthy living, like increased energy & self-confidence, and decreased illness.

Make healthy living a family project, not a weight loss strategy for one family member. Parents need to be great role models for healthy living – your kids are watching everything you do, healthy and unhealthy.

Here are a few tips to get your family started on your own Healthy Family Project:

  • Talk to your kids about what are healthy foods and what are not. Explain the difference between processed food with loads of unpronounceable ingredients (including unhealthy sugars, fats and salt) and “real” food that has only one ingredient, or a short list of healthy ingredients.
  • Commit as a family to eating real, whole foods at least 80% of the time, saving treats and less healthy foods for special occasions.
  • Take responsibility. Parents buy the groceries, prepare the food, and choose to visit restaurants, not your kids. Involve your children in food shopping and meal preparation and combine these activities with education about healthy living.
  • Replace juice and pop with water, and flavoured milk with plain milk or a milk alternative.
  • Replace most of your processed snacks with fruit, vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins.
  • Get moving at least 60 minutes a day (you too, parents!). This can be through an organized sport or activity that your child enjoys or less formal fun activities like bike riding, hoops in the driveway, or a dance party in the family room. If walking to school is an option, consider that as a great way to get a little regular exercise in.
  • Limit TV and computer time and stick to your guns. Consider making it dependent on physical activity and homework both being complete!
  • Make sure your kids are eating a healthy breakfast every day that contains some complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains), protein (like eggs, yoghurt or low fat milk) and a little healthy plant-based fat if you can squeeze it in (maybe olive oil in an omelette, nut butter on toast, walnuts or almonds on yoghurt). Skipping meals does not help with weight loss, and only contributes to sugar cravings and overeating!
  • Make sure your child’s school lunches and snacks are healthy.
  • Above all else, praise your children for making healthy changes and choices. You are teaching crucial lifelong health habits and behaviours. Make healthy living a priority, and your whole family will reap the benefits for years to come!

If you have an overweight child or are looking to get started on your own Healthy Family Project and need some help, I offer Family Food Consultations with parents as well as Healthy Food sessions with kids. I also regularly offer family-focussed food workshops, such as Raising Healthy Eaters and School Lunch Solutions, that are open to the public.

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