5:54 PM EDT, June 8, 2012
I've worked with a lot of parents who ask me how they can help their overweight pre-teen or teen lose weight.
This is becoming more and more of a request as the nation gets fatter and fatter. Chronic inactivity, paired with increasingly subpar nutrition habits in and out of school are causing our young people to develop "grown folk" diseases like type-2 diabetes earlier and earlier.
However, during middle and high school years you don't want to focus on severe calorie restriction or excess weight loss. You want to ingrain those healthy habits to continue throughout the rest of your kid's development. The easiest way to do that is to make it easy on your child — to live a healthy life. Here are some ways to start doing it today.
1. For an after-school snack, prepare some cut-up vegetables or other healthful snack. Berries, apples, oranges, bananas, mixed nuts and other grab-and-go foods are very easy to have around and much better than those pre-packaged foods.
2. Don't set a lock and key on any treats. It's OK to treat yourself or reward with those not-so-healthful foods, just keep those to the special times or on weekends. It's all about moderation and control — not dictatorship. Having those foods available, rather than forced, is a better approach and will encourage compliance with all served foods.
3. Play together. Encouraging activities are often easier and more successful then stressing "exercise sessions." Even something like taking a family walk or going to the park to play on the equipment is at least something. Playing a sport, going for a swim, riding a bike, any of these are great activities that help burn additional calories.
4. As discussed before: Set an example. Eat more healthful foods in front of your children, turn off the TV and go for a walk with them, maintain a healthy body and healthy appearance. Make sure your children see you doing the same habits that you want them to pick up and maintain throughout life.
5. Have fun with cooking. If your kids want to help with cooking or want to try a new or creative dish, don't be the party pooper. Encourage healthy meals and variety in eating.
6. Replace all calorie-containing beverages with either water or a milk variety. Often the supposed healthful juice "drinks" are condensed sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, which are not healthful nutrients.
7. Have a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (celery, carrots, peppers, cucumbers, etc.) available to grab and go either in the fridge or on the counter top. As the rule goes, you can only eat what is there, and you can't eat what isn't there.
8. Create healthful foods that are also high on the taste-o-meter by adding tasty treats such as fruit slices, various nuts or textured vegetables to a regular salad.
9. Have healthy cereals around for breakfast with low-fat or skim milk. Almond milk is another option. Good old-fashioned quaker oats are about the best you can get.
Other options such as Cheerios, or Wheat Chex are also acceptable and much better than the high sugar cereals with their cartoon counterparts.
10. Focus on addition rather than restriction. Where fast-food restaurants like McDonald's might not be the best option, it's not the worst thing to have once every other week, just to keep the kids happy.
11. Limit time-wasting activities like video games and watching TV. While these activities are OK in moderation, excess amounts tend to limit more beneficial activities.
All and all, it's a cultural shift in the home that will be the biggest determining factor of how you help your overweight child get healthier. Just hiring a trainer won't do it. Make the shift, and you'll make the difference.
Chad Smith is a Hagerstown personal trainer and co-owner of Home Team Fitness LLC. Go to www.hometeamfitness.net for more information.
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