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Helping Your Child Lose Weight a Few Calories at a Time

Updated on July 28, 2009

Diets Are Not for Children

Telling your child that you are going to put him or her on a diet is not the way to get your child to lose weight. Besides, diets are not for children. Good nutrition is.

Before you begin thinking about putting your child on a diet and reminding him that he is overweight or fat, take a step back and look at yourself. While not suggesting that all parents of overweight children are themselves overweight, the suggestion is that parents control what their children eat and in which activities their children participate.

The question becomes, "Are you enabling your child's obesity?"

Take Inventory of What Your Child Eats

If you are concerned about your son or daughter's weight, before you jump to all sorts of conclusions or make wild assumptions, take inventory of what you child eats.  Do not make a big production of it, just make a note of everything you see go into his or her mouth.  The child does not have to be aware that you are monitoring his intake.

And, most importantly, while you are taking inventory of what and how much your child consumes, do not try to influence what he eats any more than you would any other day.  In other words, if you child has free run of the kitchen and the refrigerator do nothing to curtail it while you are taking inventory of his consumption.

You will need a baseline for future comparison.

Take Inventory of Your Child's Daily Activities

Watch you child for a few days. Make a note of how long he or she sits in front of the television or the computer. Make a note of the amount of time your child plays --- actual physical play. Again, while taking this inventory, over a week or so, do not intervene or try to persuade your child to do more or less activity.

While you are taking the inventory of your child, take note of what you eat and your physical activities. Be sure to make a note of what you prepare for your family meals.

Child at Play

Children who play outside for a period of time each day generally are not as likely to become obese.
Children who play outside for a period of time each day generally are not as likely to become obese.

Subtle Changes in Behavior Make Lasting Differences

 As adults, most of us have a tendency to make drastic changes when we diet.  These changes in our eating habits usually cause the yo-yo effect in weight loss that we hear about all too often.  We should not teach our children our bad habits.

Instead, once the child's baselines for food intake and activities are determined begin to make small changes that will be lasting.  Do not take away all the potato chips or sodas at one time.  For example, if you have discovered that your child is drinking 2 liters of soda a day, eliminate a few ounces at a time.  Instead of completely filling each glass of soda, fill the glass 3/4 full for a few days, then cut back to 1/2 glass.  Make the changes so small that the child will hardly notice.  Removing one glass of soda a day can reduce your child's caloric intake by 250 calories. 

While not going through every food or beverage your child probably eats during the course of the day, you get the idea of reducing the high calorie high sugar content foods and beverages gradually.  You will changing your child's intake and habits so subtly that it will hardly be noticeable.

If your child spends four hours a day in front of the television or computer, do not eliminate this television/computer time completely.  The child will rebel.  Instead, ask the child which 30 minute television program he likes the least.  Tell him that during that time you would like to take a walk with him.

And, yes!  You do have to participate.  Substitute your child's mindless inactive time in front of a screen with quality time with you.  It is not necessary to tell the child that you are going for a walk to help him (and you) lose a few pounds.  Instead, suggest that you want to spend quality time with the child.  Thirty minutes a day spent walking or playing with an otherwise inactive child will help both of you.

Talk to your child while you walk.  A morning or afternoon walk can have the same benefit as riding in a car on a trip as far as learning what is on your child's mind.  You may discover that there are factors that are influencing your child's behavior. 

Learn to listen.  Do not become defensive if the child tells you that he gets upset when you and your spouse argue or he wishes that his dad were home for dinner in the evenings rather than the two of you going out for fast food.

Children are very perceptive.  They can give you an insight into what makes them eat, if you are willing to listen.  Just like adults in many cases, children eat for comfort.  Know your child.  Know his needs.  As a parent you are responsible for meeting those needs.  Unlike an adult, a child cannot always determine what he eats or what activities he participates in. 

Once you have an understanding of your child's eating behavior or why your child chooses not to play little league ball, you can take positive action to redirect those behaviors.

A Few Simple Steps to Prevent Childhood Obesity

Some children may need medical help or psychological help to overcome obesity. We fully recognize this. These are not the children we are discussing.

The children we are talking about are those who are basically inactive and over eat or do not eat a healthy nutritious diet. These are things parents can control. However, to make these changes parents must be aware and willing to put in the time necessary to keep their child healthy and happy.

  • Know what your child eats
  • Know what your child does
  • Spend quality time with your child
  • Listen, listen, listen
  • Begin to gradually remove high sugar content foods and replace them with healthy foods
  • Engage your child in physical activity. Spend time with your child doing something, anything!

Chances are a few subtle changes in food intake and activity will not only help your child lose weight a little bit at a time, but will help you, the parent, as well.  Parents are the child's primary teachers.  Teach your children well.


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