Chunky Monkeys

Mar 6, 2013 by

Something you need to know before you read any further.  I am NOT one of those moms who questions every molecule that goes into my child’s body.  Those moms make me roll my eyes.  OR they make me feel like a shitty mom.  Honestly, I’m impressed they can do it; you know grow their own organic produce, milk their own cow, collect their own eggs, weave their own baskets.  It’s truly astonishing.  But do they really have to be so friggin’ self righteous about it?  We all know how amazing you are, do you really need to make us feel any worse for not rising to your level of awesomeness?

I am also not a doctor or a nutritionist. I have no technical expertise, and I certainly would never suggest you take my advice over that of a health practitioner.

I am just a mom who heard a really disturbing interview on the radio about childhood obesity and got angry.  How can a parent do that to their kids?  Then I look around, and read the statistics and realize I’m surrounded by those moms.  Well meaning, hard working moms who love their children and want to give them a great life.  And those same moms aren’t seeing what’s happening right in front of them.  So when I ask you if your kid is looking a little chunky these days, can you see it?  You might not, because 70% of parents of obese children, NOT just overweight but Obese children, think their child is a normal, healthy weight.  Is your child healthy or are you telling yourself that it’s just a phase and he’ll grow out of it.  Perhaps you’re right and this is a phase.  It’s hardly unusual for very healthy kids under 4 to be eating a perfectly balanced diet but carry a little extra baby fat.  Your kid will find his or her right balance in the next few years and those healthy eating habits will reap a lifetime of social and physical benefits.

However, let’s take an honest look at the statistics. 1 out of 4 children between the ages of four and eight are considered overweight or obese, in some parts of the country that number jumps up to 1 in 3.  That’s a staggering number.  That means, in an average class of 24 students, between 6 and 8 of them are overweight.  If your little darling is a little thick around the middle then perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at what’s going on, because the reality is, he doesn’t get to choose how his lifelong eating habits are formed.  You do.

Now take a deep breath and find your happy place, because I’m going to use the F-word.  That’s right, FAT.  I do not use it casually or callously.  I have been fat, and am halfway through a long 100+ pound battle that I have come to learn will always be a struggle in my life.  But I, like my kids, started out skinny. My struggle with weight came on as an adult, via pregnancy, a too sedentary lifestyle and horribly uninformed choices when it came to what and how much I stuck in my body.  To be fair, I didn’t know any better.  My parents’ idea of food education was along the lines of “clean your plate”, “eat your vegetables”, “that’s not good for you”, and “no, because I said so”.  Food quickly became a control issue.  When I ate a lot I felt in control, because for so much of my life I was being told what to eat, but not WHY to eat.  I didn’t know anything about calories or nutrition.  And I certainly didn’t know how to stop eating before my plate was cleared.  After a number of years learning and re-learning how and why to eat, I’m finally starting to figure it out.  It has not been an easy journey.  It is a struggle every day, and I fluctuate between anger, fear and depression when things are going poorly, to euphoria and pride when it goes well.  What I wouldn’t give to know what normal feels like, not what my head tells me it is, but to know it in my core.  The likelihood is that I won’t ever truly know that feeling, this will be a lifelong struggle no matter how thin I get.  I tell you all of this so that those of you with thin children, thin like I was, thin like my kids, so that all of you will know that you are not off the hook.  Without putting in the work now your kid could be suffering my fate, and they won’t thank you for it.

As hard as my journey has been, I am thankful every single day that I did not grow up fat, cursed with believing that this fat body is simply the shitty hand I’ve been dealt.  These kids who’ve grown up being tubby, then chunky and finally leaping straight into obesity, having never experienced an adult sized body without the burden of an additional 50, 100 or even more pounds, cannot help but believe that they have simply been betrayed by fate, genetics, or God.  Understandably, they cannot even imagine that it’s possible for them to be a healthy size.  Notice here that I’m NOT saying thin, or slim.  Most of us fight feeling less than the images we see in the magazines or TV, pointing out our bulges, wrinkles and hairloss.  Even the most beautiful people in the world will admit to being highly critical of themselves, even more so than the average person.  But unless you’ve actually been fat, obese, you cannot understand the helplessness and self loathing that comes with those extra pounds.  How did I get here?  Will I ever be able to get out of this body?  Even having been thin most of my young life, I regularly question if I will ever kick these cursed extra pounds to the curb, and I had the luxury of knowing exactly how I gained my weight.  Your obese child will simply feel that she has been made that way, and in some regards she’ll be right.  Because you, her loving parent, did make her that way.  Not in the womb, but in the practices you taught her throughout her entire existence.  She will try to master the impossible and figure out a way to learn to love her body even when every indication in the outside world tells her she should be ashamed.  Ironically, loving and respecting our bodies is probably one of the most important components of lasting weight loss, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.  For now, let’s stick with you, your kid and the life I know you want for her.  But if you’re going to have any hope of sending your child down the garden path of health and happiness, you’re going to have to take a very honest look at your choices, her behaviors, and get educated.

So let’s start with the key question, is your kid fat?  For one in five of you, the answer is an obvious yes.  Your child is obese.  Your pediatrician has probably already said something, your child is already struggling with self-esteem issues, but you haven’t found the time, energy or knowledge to do anything about it.  So before we go any further, take a moment to read this article about what’s in your child’s future.  Let’s just call it a healthy dose of motivation in just 10 minutes.

There’s another group of you who’ve got kids in elementary school carrying a little extra weight, but they’re young and active, and you figure they can get away with eating all the crap you’re not supposed to touch because, well.. they’re kids.  The problem is, while you’re caving on the sweets and happy meals because it makes the kids happy (there’s a reason they call them “happy” meals afterall) or keeps them quiet, time is cruising by.  Precious time in their young lives when you actually have influence in their eating habits.  But it doesn’t last very long, because before you know it they’ll be entirely capable of feeding themselves, raiding your pantry at will, and picking up junk food with that extra cash they’ve earned.  That slightly tubby 9 year old has blossomed into a fully fat teenager with no idea how any of it happened.  But you’ll know, you’ll look back and wonder why you didn’t try harder.  Because now she’s angry and alone, and any help you try to provide them is quite likely to be ignored or angrily rebuffed.  That’s not to say this is the time to give-up, nope, you got her here, now you’ve gotta double down and really get to work.

So what do you do?  Well let me tell you what you won’t do.  You won’t get angry with that precious and perfect little soul, tell them they’re getting fat, and “don’t they want to be skinny?”  You won’t nit-pick every choice they make about food – which is only reinforcing the idea that they are somehow broken.  Their inner monologue telling them, “Not only am I fat, I can’t even make good decisions about food.”  That’s just not helping.  Remember that part about learning how to love your body?  Well guess what?  That’s where you start.  Need some inspiration?  Read this beautiful article.  It’s human nature.  We take such great care with the people and items we consider to be important, beautiful and /or precious. But the things we see as broken and worthless?  We bury them in a corner, or maybe even give them an extra kick when we are down.  Why would it be any different with how we treat ourselves.  If your child gets in the practice of loving his body then he will be more motivated to take care of that body and make healthy choices.  So instead talk about all the things that are right and beautiful and strong.  Under no circumstances should you give up just because he can’t or won’t hear it right away.  It’s your job as his parent to keep at it.  Forever. Sooner or later those words, that intention, will begin to seep into his consciousness.  Educate him about anatomy.  Where does food go when he puts it in his body?  If you don’t know, then learn together.  There are some wonderful books out there that will teach your kids all about how their bodies work.  Which foods make their bones, brains and muscles strong.  If you can get this far, the rest gets a lot easier.

My son, like just about every other 7 year old, will quickly pass up his veggies for fries and a cheeseburger.  He was regularly begging me to take him for happy meals, and regularly got denied.  Then one day he asked why I neeeeeeeever let him have happy meals, his friends get them all the time.  Fortunately we had built a wealth of knowledge about his body, so I explained about the experiment done by Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation.  I explained how he started out as a very fit grown man, and after only a few weeks of eating fast food for breakfast lunch and dinner the doctors became very concerned for his health.  We talked about arteries clogging, heart failure, exhaustion and hardly touched on weight gain.  You know what happened?  My son made his own decision and wrote off McDonalds forever.  In fact, he’s practically on a mission to protect his friends from this food.  I swear to you, it was as simple as that one conversation.

Now you can’t just educate your child and then leave them in a sea of temptations.  Do yourself and your kids a favor and make a few simple changes to your household:

1)  No more soda.  The sweetest thing they need to drink is juice and even then it should be a treat.  If they like the carbonation, get unsweetened, flavored bubble water (or make your own with a soda stream), and add a little scoop of Stevia if they’re looking for something sweet.  It’s delicious without the calories or other nasty-tooth-decaying chemicals.  And forget diet soda.  I’ll admit that I put that crap in my body on occasion, but the chemicals in it are even worse than the corn syrup in sugared sodas.

2) Give them control of their sweets, to an extent.  In our house we have treat jars.  Every Sunday the kids can pick 7 sweets for the week and put it in their jar.  They know they can eat them all at once, or one per day.  The candy is not held hostage based on how much of their dinner they’ve eaten.  The only rules are that they cannot eat it after they’ve brushed their teeth and they cannot eat it before or during school.  On Halloween and Easter the kids get free reign over their haul for that one day.  Whatever is left gets combined into a big container and put out of reach.  You will be shocked at how long your Halloween, Easter and Birthday Party candies last when they are only accessed once a week.  You will also be surprised at how quickly arguments about sweets disappear.  Now when your kids are begging for sweets, you send them to their treat jar.  If they run out too early in the week, just remind them that it’ll get refilled on Sunday and next week they can make different choices, if that’s what they want, but it’s up to them.  This technique isn’t just about limiting sugar intake.  It’s also a way to start teaching them to self-monitor – an essential component of maintaining a healthy weight.

3) Come up with healthier fast food alternatives.  I get it, you are busy.  Sometimes cooking a meal at home is simply impossible.  So do a little homework ahead of time.  Right now your kids don’t need to know the calorie counts of the foods they’re eating, but you sure should.  Just spend a little time surfing the internet learning more about your favorite meals and how many calories they are.  Then, when you get over the sticker shock, start looking for alternatives.   Here’s a good place to start.  What you need to know is that most kids between 4-8 should be consuming between 1200-1400 calories a day – which breaks down to approximately three 300-350 calorie meals, one 200 calorie snack and a goodie from their treat jar.  A happy meal?  well you’re looking at north of 650 calories.  That’s half your child’s calories for the DAY.  It’s simple math.  Eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight.  It only takes 3000 extra calories to gain a pound and once you start looking at these fast food menus, you will realize how quickly that adds up.  Hopefully you won’t have to count every calorie, just start by educating yourself about the calories of the foods they’re already eating and save the outrageous stuff for the occasional splurge.

4) Kids don’t like their fruits and veggies?  Take a page out of Pamela Druckerman’s book Bringing Up Bebe.  No free range snacking.  Stick to 3 good meals and one scheduled snack.  Your kids will be hungry come mealtime, and that’s a good thing.  So when you set down a pre-dinner appetizer of  fruits and cut up veggies (and dip if you like), they might just eat them.

5) Finally, help your kids find a physical activity that interest them. Karate, Track, Soccer, Baseball, Dance and the list goes on and on.  There’s no one right answer.  The right answer is that your kid is excited to do it.  Most organizations and facilities will give you a chance to try them out for free or at a reduced rate, take them up on it and keep sampling until something lights your kid up.  If their excitement, rather than your insistence, is driving them to go to every class or practice, and maybe even practice on their own, then you may have given your child the gift of a lifelong interest in fitness.

Now you’ve read all of this, and perhaps you don’t think you can’t do it on a tight budget.  Well here’s a little help.  There have been a number of experiments trying to feed a family of four healthy meals and snacks on a food stamp diet (roughly $1 -$2 per day), just do a google search for “healthy eating on food stamps”.  It’s pretty impressive.  Still don’t think it’s possible?  This season The Biggest Loser challenged their ADULT contestants to feed themselves with $10 a day – and they did it!  And whatever you do, definitely bookmark this great website (and twitter feed) dedicated to helping families get the most bang for their buck in grocery shopping.

Finally, just remember that setbacks are a normal part of learning any new habit or lifestyle.  If you believe every falter is actually a huge fail, then your’e destined to see yourself as a failure.   Instead, give yourself the benefit of a fair and friendly inner critic.  One who knows that EVERYONE falters.  One that tells you that you’re on the right track even when you make a mistake.  That you’ll get there, so just be patient and positive and keep at it.  Set the example.  I know it’s hard.  I’m still working on it. But give yourself the same positive reinforcement you’re going to give your kids and you can all succeed together.  Of course there is more you can do, this is only the beginning, but do yourself and your child a favor and set reasonable goals and congratulate yourselves for meeting every one of them.  Master a few habits at a time, or one really hard one, then add more when you’re ready.  It’s an ever changing process, but when pursued without shame it can also be a way to build better communication and connection within your family.  Your children may fight against these suggestions initially, but they will get used to it.  It will become normal, and that is the goal after all.  A healthy lifestyle as the norm, not the exception.

 

 

 

 

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