My child’s condition has definitely affected our family. I love to cook, especially Italian foods like pasta dishes. But I just channeled that creativity into making healthy foods. Instead of regular lasagna, I’ll make vegetable lasagna. And we all eat the same way; we’ve all changed.
Not a big deal
Because my daughter is so young, I have not wanted to make a huge deal about her weight. We call the program our “food plan,” not a diet. I try to lead by example every day by eating healthfully, and we try to exercise together.
To help my daughter cope, I am eating better too. I am her partner in this, so we are both eating better and exercising more.
I think that the most stressful thing, as a mother, is that her health and wellbeing are what I live for. I just want her to be healthy and happy with who she is, and to learn that she is who she is. Some people aren’t rail thin, some people are, and I want her to be comfortable with who she is so that she can deal with the outside world, because there is some meanness out there. You get stressed out worrying about your child; my biggest concern is that she is happy and healthy. I don’t really know how I deal with it, but I am a big exerciser, so maybe that is what helps me.
Another big stressor is that you don’t want to become the food police for your child. You don’t ever want them to look at you as this negative person in their life– this person holding a stick over them all the time and saying, “Don’t eat this” and, “Don’t eat that.” I try hard not to do that. Sometimes I’ll find myself edging into that, and I have to catch myself and step backwards. I remove myself completely from the situation, and if she makes a decision to eat something that I am saying she maybe shouldn’t eat, that’s fine; I let it go. I just say, “Okay, the next meal, or the next incident, we’ll deal with it. Let’s just see how she deals with it.” So I do step away when I find myself becoming a pain in the neck for her, because that’s not what I want to be. I want to be her partner in this, and for it to be a happy thing– something that she will look back on and say, “I’m really glad my mom and I did that together.”
I think the best thing to do is to make sure that the child knows that he is accepted for who he is, and that it doesn’t matter what he looks like. You have to let him know that it’s okay. We need to eat better for health reasons– to keep our hearts healthy, and to keep us energetic. I think that too many people put too much emphasis on how they look.
We try not to bring up the weight issue; we try to make it a health issue. We try to limit how much soda we drink. We try to explain to our child, who is nine, “This is soda, and it has a lot of sugar. It doesn’t provide anything good for you. You need to drink water to re-hydrate yourself.” Try to be specific about why they can’t have things, because children want to know why. The problem with soda is that it is the top thing served at so many events. It’s even harder if you have friends who can eat and drink whatever they want and never gain weight; the kids my son hangs around with are beanpoles– they could eat all day and never gain weight. So we had to explain to him that there are different body types and different metabolisms. It’s important for them to know that some people’s bodies can absorb things much more quickly than other people’s.
I’m overweight myself, so I know how hard it is for my children. I know how hard it is when you go out to eat. And when we have an appointment here at the hospital, they cannot eat anything; they have to fast because they get blood work done. On those days, I try to pack them a lunch with sandwiches, apples, and water; I try to stay away from things like fast food. I love certain foods, so I try not to put the kids in a situation where they’re hungry and the first thing we see is a fast food place, so we go get fast food. Basically, I’m trying to teach the kids that I’m trying, so I want them to try too. Since I have the same problem, I don’t think it would be fair if I pushed them to do this and to do that when I’m not trying myself. I’m trying to be a role model. I want them to look up to me and say, “Okay, she’s doing it, so I can do it too.”
Mostly, one on one talking helps her set goals; we have to work together on this. For example, she will ask me, “Can you give me a ride there?” and I’ll say, “Why don’t you get your friend and go for a walk?” So I know that she has been active.
We set a goal about limiting how much soda he drinks, and he’s done very well with that. I try not to nag. And if he says, “Oh, mom, I messed up; I had two sodas today,” I’ll say, “Let’s just try to do better next time.” I try not to make him feel like he’s a failure just because he failed one time– that’s a big thing. You’ve got to let them know that they should just try harder next time. We’re also trying to make portions smaller.
I help her by providing encouragement about how much healthier she is and how she breathes better now. And if she continues, it’s all going to be beneficial for her; everything she encounters is going to be a lot easier. She’s asthmatic too, so she couldn’t go up a flight of stairs without coughing and coughing before.
Not focusing on body image
I think one concern would be that you would stigmatize the child and they would get too focused on eating and develop an eating disorder if you brought them into a diet management program– they would be too focused on it. But that is really not the way that they present it; they present it as a way to help the family and the child make healthy choices about exercise and diet. We told Greg that when he becomes leaner he will be able to run faster and feel healthier, instead of focusing on body image.
Talking about weight
We try not to bring weight up. We make Greg aware that he is in the Optimal Weight for Life clinic. He has been very accepting of that program. We say, “You can’t have that, but you can have this.” He might ask to have a cookie or chips, and we’ll say, “You know Greg, why don’t you have some watermelon instead?” Instead of ice cream I make smoothies for myself. What I do is mix some artificial sweetener with some yogurt, some frozen fruit, and some milk in a blender and serve it. It is actually pretty thick, so it comes out looking like soft serve ice cream. It’s quite delicious, and he likes it a lot too. There will be times when he’ll want to eat something unhealthy and we will have to say no. But as far as goals go, we really don’t set rigid goals; we just do our best. We aim to make sure that he is eating properly and in a way that will serve him well.
There was a lot of anger in me when I was in high school; I felt a lot of depression. Also, my parents would tell me I was fat and tell me what I should and shouldn’t eat. I found this humiliating. That is just the way that my parents raised me; I don’t fault them for that. But I even had an uncle who taunted me about my weight. My wife and I know better now– we know not to treat our child like that. We are trying to go off the lessons that I had to endure as child, and we are doing our best so that Greg will not have to endure that in any way, shape, or form.