Body & Fitness

How to help your kids build healthy habits

Losing weight can be a touchy subject, especially with kids.

It’s a difficult predicament to be in. Your duty as a parent is to help your kids be as healthy as possible – and that includes keeping an eye on their eating habits and assisting them to lose weight, if they need to.

But telling your child they’re overweight and need to shed kilos can lead to self-esteem issues, and may even trigger an eating disorder.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School have found that conversations with adolescents that focus on body weight are linked to an increased risk of unhealthy dieting, binging and other weight-controlling behaviours in young people.

So what do you do?

Here are some dos and don’ts, recommended by experts, to help you tackle the situation:

• Do be low-key about bringing up the subject. Try not to make it seem like a big deal.

• Don’t tell them they can never eat “bad” food such as chocolate and chips again – let them know that those types of food aren’t banned but they are only to be eaten occasionally.

• Do seize a suitable opportunity to discuss their weight, for example if they are upset about clothes not fitting or others calling them names. Ask if their size bothers them and if they would like you to help them do something about it.

• Don’t use the D word. Diets make people think of short-term, restricted eating plans. You want to change what they eat for life, not just a few weeks. Plus, using the words “on a diet” can make them feel like the emphasis is on how they look.

• Do emphasise the health aspect of losing weight, rather than focusing on appearances. But do it without telling them horror stories about illnesses linked to obesity that can leave them feeling scared.

• Don’t use the F word (fat). Also steer clear of the words “thin” or “skinny”.

• Do use simple language if you’re explaining things to a young child.

• Don’t expect to get the message about the importance of being a healthy weight across in one session. You may need to have a few discussions on the subject for the information to fully sink in.

• Do praise them when they eat healthily.

• Don’t make them feel guilty about their eating and drinking practices. Point out they’ve got into habits that aren’t the best, but it is possible to break them.

• Do set a good example. If you want them to eat healthy foods and steer clear of unhealthy ones, you need to do the same thing.

• Don’t constantly weigh them. It can make them obsessive about their weight.

• Do be positive. If you’ve struggled with your weight, don’t moan about how hard it is to lose weight and keep it off.

• Don’t tell your child they will only be happy/popular/confident if they lose weight.

• Do consult an expert if you think that would help. Your child may be more inclined to take advice from a doctor or a nutritionist than you. But don’t make a big deal of it.

• Do let them know that being physically active is important and you can help them with that. To start with, suggest going for some short walks together.

• Don’t suddenly become the food police. Make changes to their diet slowly or they could feel like they are being punished. For example, if they eat dessert every day, don’t suddenly refuse it. Instead replace puddings with fruit.

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