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Healthy Weight Loss Takes Time

I am not  a fan of diets.  They don’t work.  Especially with kids. 

The truth is, healthy weight loss takes time. Many adults argue that a calorie-restricted diet is just the nudge they need to launch their new eating habits and the resulting weight loss they desire.

But for kids, restrictive approaches to weight management just don’t seem to work well. Maybe it’s the aspect of hunger, or the emotional responses that erupt, the growth influence, or just human nature that complicates weight loss for kids.  

I suspect many adults would agree that some of these obstacles exist for them when using restriction as a diet attitude.  Maybe that’s why ‘diets’ aren’t working in a lasting way for adults.

Overhead of Gardening Woman Weeding Vegetable Garden

We know that there are significant risks associated with dieting in teens, such as increased eating disorders and disordered eating, continued weight gain despite efforts at weight loss, and lowered self-esteem.  

Diets dish up a mind-set of  “I can’t have this…”  Human nature shows us that when we cannot have something we want, we want it even more…in the case of dieting and children, you can see where this path leads to: overeating.

Having worked with many children and teens who need and begin the path to a healthier weight, I know first-hand how difficult and frustrating the process can be. And how much time it can take.

But I am here to tell you: Be patient, a healthy weight takes time. Especially for kids.

As we all get ready to begin the year 2011, I have compiled an analogy to describe the process and patience required for you and your child as you better your eating habits and your lifestyle.  It’s the Garden-Planting Analogy. I won’t get into the details of foods, portions, exercise, TV/screen time here, because you can find that in my Healthy Living blog series from last year.

Real change takes time. Whether it’s starting a new exercise routine, trying to be a better mom or dad, or getting to church regularly, making real change in your life requires a commitment to practice new behaviors every day. This is true for new health behaviors as well.  So how is planting a garden similar to waiting for weight loss?
Let’s take a look, step by step:

The Garden-Planting Analogy

STEP 1: Prepare the soil Just like you prepare the ground to plant your crops, your child’s body must prepare for weight loss. This means getting rid of excess nutrients (like calories, sugar, and fat) and including nutrients that are missing from their diet.  Start a movement program that your child (and family) can stick with.

STEP 2: Plant the seeds Seeds are the nuggets of information from which change can root and thrive. Educate your child with credible nutrition advice that includes what to eat, hunger management, and fun, healthy activity. Educate yourself with how to feed your child, using positive attitudes and actions that include role modeling, daily movement, and meal routines that support healthy eating.

STEP 3: Water regularly Crops die without regular water and nutrients.  So will your efforts at weight loss if you don’t pay attention to your healthy behaviors every day. Practice good nutrition, adequate sleep and physical activity daily.

STEP 4: Wait for the roots to take hold Herein lies the frustration.  We want to plant the seeds and see an immediate garden.  But you and I know, an abundant garden requires daily care.  This same nurturing and care-taking is needed for child weight loss too.  It takes time for nutrition education and daily health practices to synchronize and internalize. Practice your health management techniques everyday, and wait.

STEP 5: Watch the plants bloom and grow Before you know it, a plant sprouts and takes hold.  The same will happen with your family efforts for better health. Soon, kids will be sleeping better, be more active, and eat healthier. And the scale will begin to move (or stay the same, depending on the weight goals for your child).  But even better than that, your family will have practiced and adopted skills and health behaviors that can last a lifetime!

A cup of  “Good things come to those who wait” blended with a pound of  “Practice makes perfect” and you’ll have a recipe with the right attitude, level of commitment, and patience to see your child (and your whole family) succeed with weight loss.

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  2. Thank you Jill! I guess I just have a hard time talking about it with her because I don’t want her to take it the wrong way and think I am criticizing her. Do you find that kids tend to stay on board with that type of thinking (the 90/10 type of attitude)?

  3. I don’t necessarily want my daughter to lose weight but she is heavier than she should be and I think I have contributed to it because for almost a year I have been restricting more than I should. I recently came across an Ellyn Satter that pretty much confirmed that what I was doing was just making matters worse. I am having such a hard time with this issue because I certainly want her to be healthy but everywhere we go there is food that is meant to be “fun” for the kids and I always freak out because it’s just ridiculous. It’s easy to mostly serve healthy food at home but how to REALLY teach moderation without sounding like you are being controlling is still a mystery for me.

    1. Vicky, I appreciate your struggles–you are not alone. Many parents are trying very hard to get the balance of healthy nutrition and moderate “Fun Foods” right for their child. I don’t believe we should eliminate Fun Foods in children’s diets (it is associated with obsessing and eating those foods–just under the radar), but we do have to teach balance. Take a look at my post on the 90:10 Rule–it’s an easy way to teach your child how to make choices around sweets/soda/savory snacks. Let her decide WHICH fun food she’ll eat for the day, and keep it to a serving size. I say one, as you indicate that she is overweight. if she is normal weight, active, she could have 2 per day. Kids tend to get about 40% of their diet from these foods, and we need to taper it back to around 10%–meanwhile, filling her diet with healthy fare that is tasty and satisfying. If she gets a lot of these FUn foods at school/parties, etc, then help her understand and anticipate when they are going to be available so she can make her choice. You’ll have to do a little bit of teaching, but b/c kids are black-and-white thinkers, this guideline often works well.