Q: My 11 year old is very overweight and not active at all! My doctor has insisted we put our child on a diet and exercise plan but I don’t know where to start! Is there a specific diet we can follow, any advice?
A: This is really tricky as you have to tackle this situation so gently and yet so firmly. This has to become a ‘family’ project, not just putting your child on a DIET! I hate that word, the implication already screams torture and these days, at the age of 11 they already have so much emotional stuff going on!
From an emotional perspective, your child is probably already struggling with body image (which I am sure you are aware of) so putting them on a specific DIET will make them feel even more self conscious of the situation. I know its not easy to hear, but they had help in getting overweight so now they need help getting their body healthy again. If you shift the focus of their needing to lose weight and rather tackling it from a ‘family change of lifestyle’ plan then the chance of their involvement and dedication long term will be greater! They will feel a part of something and not singled out, as such.
Teamwork is always better so my advice to you would be this:
- Sit down as a family and explain that you are all going to be changing your lifestyle habits, as a unit. Explain how you are going to be eating healthier options and moving more! For the greater good, no singling one person out. Explain how you feel you have all deviated a bit and could do with a few changes for long term health.
- Next, clean out your grocery cupboards and fridge of all the evil foods and especially any triggers (foods that cannot be around because the sight of them alone evokes a sudden loss of all reason and ‘binge behaviour’)
- Stick to food that you know can be grown in a garden or found in nature. This golden rule will help you cancel out all the junk food! Any and all vegetables are a MUST any and all fruits are a MUST (quantity less than vegetables because they contain more sugars and tend to cause more acidity in the body) Lean meats are superb, fish, chicken, turkey, game biltong, ostrich or game meat. Healthy grains, like brown rice, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas are great ‘fillers’ and contain excellent fibre content so it helps for weight loss. Healthy fats like avo, nuts, seeds, coconut oil snack on unsalted nuts, lean biltong, veggie sticks with cottage cheese, rye or rice crackers with peanut butter.
- Drink more water! Very few people drink enough water, and I especially see this in younger clients! Cut out anything fizzy, not even Diet cooldrinks – don’t get me started on these. Drink water, drink tea (make ice tea using tea bags, boiling water, fruit cut up into the water and mint leaves or lemon wedges – this is your cooldrink, no additives no disgusting ingredients you can’t pronounce). Buy each member of the family a glass water bottle (unless they are a toddler or a spouse that drops everything, then plastic BPA Free) in different colours. Keep these full! Sip all day. Water keeps energy levels up, hunger levels down, dehydration at bay, cells recharged..the list is endless.
- Now for movement. your child may not be keen on a sport due to their body image, this happens, other kids are mean..I completely understand. Your child doesn’t have to be forced to do a sport yet, this will come..at first make it a part of the ‘family plan’. Movement can happen anywhere, you just have to use your imagination. There is no wrong way to move. Grab your spouse, the kids, the animals, grandma and start moving. It can start with 10 minutes of family soccer in your backyard, yank the ladder out of the garage and plonk it on the grass and see what moves everyone can come up with (see photos of what my son and I did with the ladder for a workout one day), put some music on and every 30seconds swap movements! If you don’t have a backyard, use your garage. If you don’t have a garage use your lounge floor! There are no limits, only excuses. There are millions of ways to train, and sneaky ones at that. Find something they love to do. Don’t force them to do something they hate because they won’t be able to keep it up for long. Boredom is a killer, keep it fun, change it up, buy DVDs and have ‘dance off’s’. make obstacle courses out of tupperware and planks in the backyard. Do aqua aerobics or play volley ball in your pool. I can go on forever.
- alternatively, if your child would prefer to exercise alone, look for someone with a good reputation, who has a private one on one facility. Sign them up for private classes where it is just them and a trainer. Let them choose their trainer! There has to be a connection, someone fun and creative who loves kiddos.
- Lastly, every small change helps! If you readjust the focus and keep the family working as a team, the results will come! I have seen too many youngsters who come to me with such negative connotation to weight loss and bad body image because of tons of torturous DIETS and forced to do exercises they hate.
Find what they love (there is always something) and work from there. Health is addictive, the healthier you feel the more you are willing to change and do. It will be effort on your part, but it will be so worth it once you realise that you are cultivating a love of a healthy lifestyle!