- Mental Health
How To Tackle Childhood Obesity In Bipolar Children
The Overweight Bipolar Child
Overweight children have increased for a number for several reasons. The enormous hold television has on children especially those who are socially isolated has resulted in excessive amounts of sedentary play. At the same time the increasing number of households in which there is a single parent or in which both parents work full time has led to a more frequent consumption of fast foods. When the metabolic influences of psychiatric medications are added to increasing amounts of sedentary play combined with a reliance on fast foods the risk for obesity in a child with bipolar disorder becomes formidable.
How Carbohydrates Affect Bipolar Children
Controlling weight in a child with bipolar disorder is complicated by several connections between carbohydrate metabolism and brain chemistry that predispose a child with anxiety or depression to overeat. Anxiety frequently appears in the disguise of a vague abdominal discomfort that can be mistaken for hunger. There is also a specific connection between carbohydrate metabolism and the brain's regulation of anxiety. Ingesting carbohydrates increase levels of serotonin in the brain and in the gut. Serotonin plays a crucial role in anxiety and it also modulates eating patterns. The anxiety seen in bipolar disorder can lead to compulsive carbohydrate consumption as people try to calm their anxiety and lift their mood. Depression is also affected by carbohydrates. When a child eats carbohydrates their blood sugar rises rapidly. The effects of a sugar high are initially pleasurable when brain metabolism speeds up and serotonin levels rise because anxiety and depression are relieved. Some children become hyperactive or silly. However, the body responds to a surge in blood sugar by releasing large amounts of insulin to direct this sugar into body cells. The surge of insulin then causes blood sugar to fall off rapidly. The brain activity is directly dependent on blood sugar and because levels of blood sugar affect levels of serotonin the drop in blood sugar has an emotional as well as a metabolic impact.
The Bipolar Child And Insulin Resistance
The increased consumption of carbohydrates skews emotional and behavioral control and also upset the body resistance that is accompanied by an increase in fats in the Insulin blood and the release of certain inflammatory proteins. Inflammation damages the walls of arteries which then accumulate fatty deposits. These deposits later calcify causing hardening and narrowing of arteries. Before developing high blood sugar a vulnerable child experiences unstable blood sugar with episodes of low blood sugar and becomes irritable or inattentive if she does not eat frequently. She also craves carbohydrates more than most children. Consequently, the child has a high risk of both mood instability and obesity in which both complicate the course of a child with bipolar disorder. Because anxiety and depression are aggravated there is a higher risk of social isolation.
Watch What You Eat And Keep Fit
A diet with proportionately more protein and fiber moderates both glucose and insulin levels and improves mental alertness throughout the day. Adjust the ratio of protein to carbohydrates and eat more protein earlier in the day. Protein stimulates the release of a hormone which has an opposite effect from insulin. It directs blood sugar into muscle cells more than into fat cells and directs it into the liver to be converted into glycogen a substance the body uses to maintain stable blood sugar. Therefore muscles developing blood sugar is more stable and the release of insulin is moderated. Protein early in the day gets the body off in the right direction. Children with a breakfast high in carbohydrates such as sugar cereal and pancakes with syrup will by mid morning have difficulty concentrating and crave more carbohydrates at lunchtime. Fiber found in vegetables and whole grain prevents surges in blood sugar and promotes more moderate insulin levels.
Triumph Over Obesity
To begin with understand that weight gain is psychotherapeutic as well as a medical problem. Before approaching the problem with your child discuss the situation with his therapist so you can learn how to help your child with the powerful emotional currents surrounding eating and obesity. Beyond the metabolic connection between carbohydrates and anxiety the psychological connection between eating and safety is among the earliest and most powerful of associations. Your child needs the full protection of his relationship with you to give up this source of emotional comfort. If your child is already overweight in addition to a metabolic balance working against him there will be problems with self-esteem.
Changing Your Child's Diet
The next step in controlling weight is a dietary modification which can be particularly difficult with a child. Setting an example is crucial. Our children frequently do not do what we tell them but they almost always do what we do. With a boy, this is especially true in relation to his father. Setting an example often is a challenge however a child who suffers from obesity usually has at least one parent who shares the problem from whom he probably inherited his metabolic tendency. The goal is to cut down on sugar and potatoes and to increase vegetables and other sources of fiber. Consumption of fat must be reduced especially the fat carbohydrate combination found in fries and most fast foods. Find snacks that are low in sugar such as nuts and raw carrots. Preparing bite-sized portions of these snacks in advance makes them more available and more palatable.
Increasing your child's physical activity helps burn weight. Look for ways to increase walking particularly if you live in the suburbs where almost all traveling is done in a car. Take an evening walk and see the stars and take a regular weekend hike. Have your child spend less time watching television and playing computer games. Involve him in outdoor activities especially in the winter when skiing and hiking are active alternatives to staying inside. These activities provide sunlight as well as exercise and are a great remedy for cabin fever. Some children do not have the personality to play team sports so they need activities that can be pursued alone or in parallel with peers such as running and climbing. Here again, active parenting is required. It is necessary for you to accompany and encourage your child even when you do not actually share in the activity. As with dietary changes what you do is more important than what you say. The upside is that you and your child will spend more time together and deepen your relationship.