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Weight Control is Self-Control

“I wish I could lose 25 pounds this summer and wear a cute bathing suit,” lamented a sixth-grader in my office. Fun in the pool for overweight kids is frequently overshadowed by increased anxiety about their appearance. Their well-intentioned efforts to lose weight often fail because they subscribe to the Jiminy Cricket philosophy (“When you wish upon a star…your dreams come true…”) that if you want something bad enough it will suddenly just happen.

Wanting something accomplishes nothing. Weight control takes work not wishing.

My client’s parents described their plans to help their daughter lose two pounds each week during the summer. A nutritionist prescribed a diet that had no chance of success. The parents discussed how weight problems “run in our family.” They lamented how long their daughter watches TV and plays video games on the computer. The mom expressed her anger at the fast food industry that “seduced” the family (that is their word, not mine) into eating out so frequently. This child was set up for failure.

One-third of America’s kids are overweight or obese. In the recent Regional Pediatric Health Assesment done by Dayton Children’s, it was found that there is a disconnect between perception and reality when it comes to a child’s weight. Thirty-seven percent of the respondent’s children are overweight or obese, however, 60 percent of these respondents did not believe their child had a weight issue. While this is influenced significantly by all kinds of cultural and economic factors, here are the five key principles of weight management for kids.

1. Weight control is about self-control. The first step in any weight control program is to accurately describe the problem. Controlling one’s weight is about exerting self-control. That means denying yourself something that feels good today for the benefits of looking better and being more healthy tomorrow. Keep using the words “self-control” with your children, because it captures the dilemma that sometimes it’s better not to do what feels good but rather to anticipate the satisfaction of delayed gratification.

2. Set realistic goals. I asked my young client to lose 5 pounds over 10 weeks. I wanted her to be successful with a very modest goal rather than a failure at an ambitious goal. My real purpose was to help change some very strong habits and focus on living a healthy lifestyle rather than achieving a short-term weight loss.
Here’s what happens when you set very modest goals—success! For the first time in her life, this youngster actually achieved and maintained a modest weight loss. The result was an increase in her motivation to work on more substantial goals in the future.

3. Clean house. It’s just too tempting to have junk food in the cabinets and refrigerator. Get rid of all that stuff.

4. Increase your activity. Focus less attention on the numbers on a scale and more on developing healthy habits. Help kids find something physical that they enjoy doing on a routine basis. Set limits on TV and computer usage. It’s outrageous that the average child spends 4 hours a day in front a television set.

5. Make it a family affair. Your child’s weight management program is likely to fail without active involvement from you. This is a tremendous opportunity to connect with your child in a way that results in a healthier lifestyle for the entire family.

Next week: What kind of relationship do you have with your child?

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We have created this blog as a way to communicate key childrens' health and safety issues to parents and other child advocates. It is managed by Dayton Children's department of marketing communications. Comments can be sent to rodneyg@childrensdayton.org.