Tips to help and support children struggling with their weight

Childhood obesity is a topic that is front and center these days. So many children and teens are struggling with their weight and are unaware that those extra pounds may be harming their mental, emotional and physical health.

Below are five suggestions to help and support children struggling with their weight. Change is not easy, especially when we are overworked and exhausted from the stresses of modern living, but small, incremental shifts can, and will, lead to positive results. 

Addressing the concerns

In thousands of studies, obesity has been proven to be a major contributing factor in a myriad of health issues including diabetes, heart disease, depression and anxiety. When carrying extra weight moving, playing and doing other daily activities are harder to perform and this leads to further discontent. The desire to do the things that enrich life and expand experiences becomes limited; this is further exaggerated in overweight children.

Convenient snacks and meals on the go in our fast-paced lives is a major contributing factor to children being less connected to family, to themselves, and to their bodies. You simply cannot listen, connect, understand and explore if you are running too fast and not taking the time to stop. Other causes of childhood obesity are discussed here.

A further concern contributing to problems of obesity in our children are the toxins and chemicals they are exposed to on a daily basis, whether those chemicals enter their bodies by way of environmental pollutants, through spraying crops, off-gassing from building supplies, carpets or plastics, personal care products or household cleaners to name a few. It is hard on a child's young, developing body to process harsh chemicals – and the toxins bugs, parasites and viruses these leave behind are a further contributing factor, not to mention any medications they may be taking.

We couldn’t come away from this conversation without addressing food. It is not reasonable to assume that only certain foods are suitable for children and that a child will only eat these foods. Our society is overfed and undernourished. Many people have developed the habit of eating too much because we never feel satisfied as the food we do eat tends to be devoid of nutrition. It is also common to find affordable ‘food-like products’ that are laden with chemicals, additives and preservatives on grocery store shelves. As modern life moves at a frenetic pace, we frequently turn to convenient, less healthy meals rather than cooking with basic ingredients. Soft drinks, chips, fried food and high sugar condiments common at birthday parties and school cafeterias are becoming the norm for children in place of real, whole food.

Supporting children struggling with their weight

1.    Teach them to eat well

Redefine the concept “treats” and emphasize that the body is not a waste disposal center. Avoid using food as a reward for good behaviour (for more about this topic, read this post). If there is only junk food on the children’s menu, order from the adult menu. If there are only cakes, cookies and candies at the party feed them before you go to minimize the temptation. If you go to a potluck, bring a delicious, healthy dish. Take them along to the grocery store. Teach them to read labels, allow them to help chose the foods your family eats and educate them about the foods you buy. Get them involved and inspired by what they learn about their health because if they have no caring or understanding they will be eating that chocolate bar they had hidden in their backpack when your attention is elsewhere! Be the change and let your children see that.

2.    Love them up

Children need to be taught that they are beautiful in their own right, no matter what their size. And, celebratory thoughts about the individual child optimizing their individual health is important. Obese individuals may feel sluggish, heavy or not at home in their bodies but it can be much more complex for a child struggling with obesity compared to an adult. This is because of their developing brains, delicate immature emotional skills, erratic hormones and constant inundation of self-deprecating messages broadcasted in the media about fitting in with peers, looking good, being popular, or measuring up to the stereotypes of femininity or masculinity. This can lead to an unhappy child or one that perseveres with many obstacles. 

When a child is satiated, they are less likely to fill any holes with junk food, bad relationships, false senses of self-esteem (attempts to gain outside approval), make-up and addictions (children can develop addictions, especially to electronics and food). Children will also want the love of their peers and other family members – if they feel supported and they have the time and space to feel that love, they will have a much better time of dealing with whatever they face in the world. As parents we do our best every day, but there are some things we need to remind ourselves of when we get busy and our attention is scattered (or when we get grumpy or frustrated). Like us, children might appreciate a reminder every now and then too.

3.    Try a media/technology diet

Consider creating healthy boundaries around the technology we use and or participate in a ‘media diet’. Ask yourself how many hours you need to spend in a virtual world?

We are living in a time and space where working on the computer or connecting by cell phone is inevitable. This is all the more reason to consciously reduce the amount of time children can spend on their devices and phones. Avoid sitting at the table as a family texting each other or friends or colleagues at work, or allowing your child to play computer games inside for hours at a time on a glorious summer day. Children will be much more likely to move their bodies, gather with friends doing activities, living and experiencing their lives, if they are not constantly distracted by those blinking lights or beeping texts or filling up their emotional holes with those distractions. Depression, anxiety and apathy go hand in hand with weight problems because either the weight causes emotional, hormonal, and chemical disruption or this emotional, hormonal, and chemical disruption causes the weight problems. Whether it is the chicken or the egg, technology plays a BIG part in the health (or ill health) of your children.

For more about how long children should be allowed to watch TV or use electronic devices for each day read this post. Find out how much exercise children should get each day here.

4.    Slow down

Stress is associated with illnesses. The need to slow down and carve out the time needed to think, connect and communicate is paramount and essential, not only for healing but for prevention and maintaining good health. Children who are always in ‘fight or flight’ mode are never able to properly digest food, rest and recover with a good night’s sleep, or give their brains and minds a reprieve from the swiftly moving world around them.

To find out how much sleep children should be getting each night read this post. 

5.    Lead by example

This is always the ultimate advice given to parents about how to support their families in developing healthy habits and becoming strong, happy, capable people. None of my recommendations or any of the teachings of health experts, spiritual gurus, teachers, researchers, doctors, practitioners, psychologists and parenting experts will make any impact on your children if you are not following them yourself.

Studies have shown that children struggling with weight issues were predisposed to being overweight. The recent explosion of the study of epigenetics combined with a growing understanding of bio-individuality and functional health reveals that this does not have to be the case. It is important to embrace and celebrate each child for who they are. It is as important to love them, teach them, spend time with them, and give them the tools to be as healthy, happy, and vital as they can be!

For more about preventing childhood obesity read this post.

Sign up to receive bi-weekly updates about nutrition, health and wellness for you and your family here. As a free gift Michal will send you her eBook 10 Step Guide to Ultimate Wellness.

For more about nutrition, tips to improve overall health and wellbeing, recipes and meal plans, visit Integrative Health.

Related posts:
What are food sensitivities?
5 things to make a healthy lunchbox 
5 tips for introducing new foods to children
10 shifts to shun sugar
5 ways we sabotage healthy eating and how to avoid them
How to deal with picky eaters, even if one of them is you