Helping Children Lose Weight Without Losing Their Self-Esteem
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Helping Children Lose Weight Without Losing Their Self-Esteem

1. Identify the Problem

Kids today are in an uphill battle against obesity. As the number of video games, television channels, and fast-food restaurants increases, so do their waistlines. Adults know how hard it is to diet and keep the weight off. Asking a child to do it in the face of birthday cake and junk food at school can be an even tougher proposition. Jennifer Trachtenberg, MD, a pediatrician and the author of Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children, says that rather than putting your child on a weight-loss program, it will be more effective to create healthy habits for the entire family to follow. Getting the whole family involved will help keep your child motivated and her self-esteem intact. Get started by using Dr. Trachtenberg's Four I method:

This one is easy: Identify the problem. You want to help your child lose weight.

2. Inform

Telling your child that she has a weight program needs to be done very tactfully and sensitively. Blurting out that she needs to diet, for example, would likely hurt her feelings and do damage to her self-esteem. Instead, introduce the subject gently by letting your child know how beautiful you think she is. Raise the subject of individual body size and the feeling of comfort in one's own skin. Rather than a discussion about dieting, focus on improving the family's eating and exercise habits to ensure better long-term health. For example, if your child's grandmother suffers from heart disease or diabetes, you can let your child know that what he does now to improve his health can make a difference later.

3. Instruct

Take a trip to the grocery store to teach your child about the benefits of eating whole foods to nourish her body with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, instead of how many calories they contain. Replace soft drinks and juice with plain ol' water. Discuss the importance of eating a healthy breakfast to give her body good fuel to burn throughout the day. Most important, practice what you preach. That means if you are asking your child to get off the couch, for example, you'll need to get moving too. Sneak in exercise whenever possible. Suggest taking walks or going for bike rides more often. Leave your car at the far end of a parking lot to make the walk to the store longer. Or take the stairs instead of an elevator. Making little changes like these will add up to big results.

4. Instill

Be sure to positively reinforce your family's efforts by acknowledging how well everyone is doing. Try not to be discouraged if you don't see immediate results. It's better for the weight to come off slowly. And avoid being too restrictive. Let your child eat cake at a birthday party. Just make the portion size smaller and add fruit to the plate to give her a boost of fiber and vitamins. The key is to help your child develop habits that she can use for a lifetime, not just until she reaches her goal weight.

Originally published on, August 2007.