Weighty Kid Issues

We’re battling weight issues in my household. We have for a while. It started with my daughter who packed on the pounds around the age of 8 or 9. For a couple years, my daughter was at that awkward stage of being wide enough to fit into a certain pants size, but too short for them to fit her correctly. And she was embarrassed by her body. She wouldn’t wear bathing suits, preferring the much more concealing bathing suits of boys’ swim trunks and a tank top. And I didn’t fight her on it because I knew she’d be mortified to show so much skin publicly.

But something happened around the age of 11. She grew tired of being chubby. She had been teased too many times by senseless jerks at school. She hated the clothes she was forced to wear, and the way her belly poked out. She hated the body issues she harbored. She was motivated enough by this desire to slim up that she took it upon herself to change. She cut out snacking. She was more strategic in her lunch planning. She took less food at dinner time and skipped desserts altogether. She asked me to take walks with her, and we did every day. And through her changes, plus a little help from a growth spurt, she is the slender girl she is today. She’s now an avid soccer player, and she’s discovered an appreciation for running.

My son has been going through the very same weight issues his sister went through, and is actually wanting to make changes of his own to avoid growing up overweight. He’s been feeling that way for over a year now. Someone emailed me this weekend, asking how the Taz’ progress has been going. And I’m pleased to say that he has slimmed up a little with help from better food choices and some natural growth. But eating is still a major problem for him, and he still battles weight issues. I don’t keep any high calorie foods or snacks in our house, nor do I have sodas here. Desserts are treated as a once in awhile indulgence. And his lunches avoid sugars and salty snacks. The physical activity could admittedly be improved, though he did match me in an amateur game of tennis over the weekend. As the weather warms up, we’ll be outside a lot more, stretching our muscles – even more so when baseball season gets into full swing.

Of course, if I were to leave him with a bag of potato chips or a whole pizza, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he finished off the whole thing. At almost 10 years old, he isn’t capable of making personal choices for eating correctly and with purpose, though he is more aware of what is healthy and what isn’t. Food addictions are a very real thing in his life, something that runs in our family and can be abused if any of us aren’t careful. When he is away from my house and my help with food choices, he has no qualms about eating large quantities of unhealthy foods. And only afterwards does he think about the results these foods might have on his body. It’s sad that a 10 year old even has to worry about such things. But it’s also the reality of the nation as most kids could be considered overweight, even obese, as the caloric value of meals goes up and activity levels go down.

This was the story of Dara Pettinelli who confessed to being on Jenny Craig since the age of 9. She had been teased, even beaten up, by bullies who hated that she was fat. And the ridicule eventually made her want to make a change, prompting her mother to help her turn to Jenny Craig for help. Through the prepackaged meals supplied to her, she lost the weight quickly. Of course, once the weight was gone she thought she could go back to eating like she did before. And she put the weight back on again. Back with Jenny Craig, she lost the weight again, learned changes she has to make for the rest of her life, and managed to keep the weight off for good. She was then known as the “pretty girl”, the “slender girl”, graceful and beautiful. She was still the same girl. But she was viewed differently because that is the way society is – they judge by the outer cover rather than what’s inside.

And this was why she defends her mother in the choice of allowing her to diet so early on, even as people ridicule that choice as unhealthy in itself. It would be nice if she had been accepted as just Dara, no matter what weight she was.  But that’s not the case.  People judge by beauty, and her weight made her feel less than beautiful – especially when this was reinforced by the ridicule from her classmates.  Her mother knew she was unhappy. And she helped by giving her an avenue to turn to so she could make a real change. And to this day, Dara is at a healthy weight – and happy.

Would you allow your child to diet if they were unhappy with their weight? Are you dealing with this issue now? What are some of the changes you’ve made to promote a healthier lifestyle?

For tips on weight loss and a healthy lifestyle, check out the Healthy Living section that published this weekend, and is now available online.

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5 thoughts on “Weighty Kid Issues”

  1. I don’t think I would sign my kid up for a diet, in my family too we have struggled with weight. My daughter is now 3.5 and I am just now taking control of my lifestyle and making changes. I am learning about nutrition and incorporating movement into my and my families day-everyday. The diet cycle ends with me. I think that if more parents took this approach to incorporate nutrition and good choices into their families life then we wouldn’t have to put our kids in programs like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers. But the education needs to happen at all levels including the parents who do the best they can with what they have.

  2. I think it IS important to teach a child healthy eating habits, and to have foods to offer them that are not full of fat and sugar (my 10-year-old self is looking forward through the years in horror right now), and to encourage physical activity. On the other hand, putting children on an actual diet plan like Jenny Craig or WW, I feel is somewhat inadvisable. Children often have different nutritional needs than adults, what with all that growing, and being on an adult diet plan could deprive them of nutrients that their bodies require. Also, a lot of times, young bodies will put on a few extra pounds now and then, but will burn them off later during a growth spurt. As long as they aren’t obese, I don’t feel that children should go onto strict diet plans (and if they are, they should probably go on a plan that a pediatrician or nutritionist sets up for them). They SHOULD be fed wholesome and healthy foods in reasonable portions, and get exercise, but for most children, just those precautions will keep them at a healthy weight. (Even so, they shouldn’t be denied the chance to have an occasional ice-cream-cone — especially if it is something like Haagan-Daas ‘Five’ or some of Screaming Mimi’s made-on-site decadence…i mean, when again in their lives will they get to enjoy foods like that without the measure of guilt that being an adult brings most of us?)

  3. I think people need to realize that fat is not the enemy. We have been doing lowfat for 20+ years and are, as a nation, fatter than ever. Carbs are the enemy, not fat. Potatoes, breads, pastas – these are the foods that convert directly to sugar and spike our blood sugar levels.

    As for the 9 year old on Jenny Craig – I feel her pain. That was me. Still is. But considering a growth spurt could come along any day and change everything, I think I would have just started at home with a healthy diet of lots of veggies, meats, and healthy fats; and also lots of movement. It doesn’t have to be labeled exercise when they are that young. Just fun! Walking, riding bikes, swimming, playing volleyball. Whatever works to get them away from PCs and video games, and up and MOVING. That would have probably gotten the job done without the expense and possible health risks of Jenny Craig so young.

  4. For the record, no food group is ‘The Enemy’. Just as the human body needs fats to synthesize certain chemicals and hormones, carbs are important too…among other things, they promote brain activity! Fats…well, they make you fat if you eat too many. So do carbs. But in reasonable portions, they are both an important part of the diet, especially for young people who are still developing.
    Crash diets AREN’T necessary…feed your children snacks and meals that are mostly low in saturated fats and not full of tons of weighty carbs either — lots of fresh fruits and veggies are always great, but don’t forget the other food groups, because they DO need protein, carbohydrates, and fats….just keep portions reasonable.

  5. I agree carbs are neccesary, as long as they are complex carbs. If you are going to eat a potato, at least eat the skin. Pasta? Make it whole wheat. Bread? Same thing. White starches have nothing of value to offer.

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