No miracle cures
There are a lot of consumer traps directed towards those who are overweight. And there are a lot of “miracle cures.” The bottom line is: eat less, exercise more. That would not make a best-selling book, but it’s what we all have to do. There are no miracle cures, period. There are many foods with claims that are not accurate. Remember that diet books have been around since the time of Abraham Lincoln, so this is not new. People have been trying to lose weight since the birth of our nation. It’s gotten more press recently, because there are more people who are overweight today, but it all goes back to eating less and exercising more.
Jan Hangen, Clinical Nutritionist
The media’s influence
A lot of times the media creates this environment where there is a “quick fix;” where you can find some fad diet that says it will help you lose weight quickly. There are lots of ads about pills and lots of food labels talking about the latest no carb or fat free diet. I have had some people come in with bottles of weight loss pills that they’ve seen at the pharmacy or seen advertised, wanting to know my opinion. I recently told a patient, “Don’t you think that if this really worked– if there was a pill out there that was healthy and that would really help you lose weight– don’t you think that I would give it to you? I don’t want to keep that from you! If it really worked, I’d give it to you. But it doesn’t work, and that’s why you come here to see me– so I can teach you what does work to help you be healthier.” I think sometimes the media can create this idea that there is a quick fix, and there isn’t. I think it goes back to the kids who see success and then go back to their old habits again. They feel like, “I got to where I need to be, and now I can revert back to all of these foods that I get bombarded with.” The one thing I’m really disappointed about is the constant advertising of food to children. It just seems to be everywhere, all the time– relentless advertising.
That’s why I try to discourage kids and families from eating in front of the television– meals in particular, but also snacks. Because when you turn on the television, even if you weren’t hungry to start with, there’s going to be a commercial about food that sparks, “Hey, I should go get something to eat before I sit down.” Also, if you’re always eating in front of the television, turning on the TV becomes a cue for eating; your brain just starts to link those two things together. So try to break that link and keep the two separate. Eating is in the kitchen, sitting at the table; watching television is a completely separate activity.
Also, in the media children see images about what their body should be like, and certainly the people on TV are at a low weight. There is this idea that some kids would like to achieve these ideals that just aren’t realistic for their bodies. That’s why I try to stress that they just maintain weight. Especially if they’re still going to grow, I just want them to grow into the weight, rather than pushing weight loss. With older kids who have stopped growing, I want to try to help them lose weight, but also to set a realistic body image of where you’re going to get to, rather than this extremely thin image that the media is always advocating.
Kelly Sinclair, Clinical Nutritionist
Ups and Downs
In talking to families about their expectations, I tend to describe weight loss not as a linear progression. There are up and downs and I think that this is one of the reasons we really try to stay away from just focusing on the numbers, meaning the child’s weight in pounds. I think that just focusing on pounds lost can actually sometimes be a real mistake. You can see this when a child comes in [to the OWL clinic], having gained two pounds but having tried very hard to make some positive changes, and you can see how disappointed that child is.
Disappointment– I have found– can sometimes be a real obstacle to motivating a child. I think it is important to warn children and their parents that there are going to be ups and downs. For example, at holiday seasons like Thanksgiving and Christmas or Hanukkah, families get together and frequently celebrate with elaborate family meals. As clinicians, we want our patients to make healthy food choices, but we also want them to be able to enjoy the holidays, and we help them recognize that this time of year might be a bit of a difficult period. Luckily, January will come and we will be able to refocus, but we do want them to enjoy themselves and their time with their extended families.
I think it is like anything; it’s allowing families to know that every visit they come in for will not necessarily have the child moving in a positive direction. The hope is that children and their families are creating and developing a mindset in which they want the change to happen.
Nicole Eldridge Marcus, PhD, Behavioral Therapist