Weight problems plagued my family as I was growing up. My siblings and my mother all struggled with being “heavy” or outright obese. From the sixth grade to the eighth grade I was one of the few “chubby” boys in my class. I had a pot belly that hung over my belt. I was about 25-30 pounds overweight, and unfortunately I heard all the hurtful names. Everyone in my family ate too much. None of us exercised. And the food we ate was not good for us (growing up in the South everything was fried or cooked in bacon grease or chicken fat).
Then one day I noticed something that changed my life: girls. I wondered if they would notice me. Well, I couldn’t change my height (I’m still short). And I knew it would take years before my acne would clear up. But I could do something about my weight. (It never occurred to me that my weight could later cause Type 2 Diabetes, or heart disease, or high blood pressure, or any number of illnesses that we are NOW seeing in overweight children! I just wanted girls to notice me, that’s all!)
I had no books or videos to teach me anything. I just figured that anything that was greasy or starchy or filled with sugar was probably not what the good Lord intended for me to eat. So, for a whole year I gave up potato chips, candy bars, bacon, sausage, bologna, hot dogs, and even hamburgers. I lived on salads, bread, eggs, and lean meat.
That diet, coupled with my karate training, burned away the fat! Well, at the age of 13 and 14 it worked! Took me a year, but by the time I entered the ninth grade (and a new school where nobody knew me) I had lost all the weight!! Girls still did not notice me, but that was OK. I felt great about myself.
Back then, I was only one of a few who were overweight. Today, however, the CDC tells us that obesity is the fastest-growing health concern in America. The number of overweight or obese children has tripled from 1971 to 2011. According to some reports I have read, it is estimated that almost one-third of American children are overweight or obese. That would be 25 million kids. Here are two articles that give more details on the problem.
You and I know it is a problem. When you go grocery shopping, try to find kids who are NOT overweight. Maybe it’s just where I live, but wherever I go, I see more and more children who can barely walk straight because of the heavy weight they are carrying. It is a tragedy. And it does not have to be. So what can parents do?
1. Recognize the problem.
First, recognize the problem. If your children are overweight, own up to it. Don’t give up. Don’t excuse it. If the doctor says they could lose some pounds, and they do not have a legitimate illness such as hyperthyroidism that can cause weight gain, then accept the facts as they are and determine to change direction. Make it a lifestyle change that the WHOLE family will get into.
2. Be patient.
Rome was not built in a day, and kids (and parents) did not get overweight in a day. It took me a year to lose what I wanted to lose. Get a plan to incorporate both diet AND exercise into your daily living. You won’t see the change at the end of the month. But in six months you will. Keep at it. Think of where you want to be … and steadily make those small but permanent changes. And don’t go back.
3. Change your family’s diet.
The typical American diet is a disaster. Pizza. Hamburgers. Fried everything. Milkshakes. Chocolatey-sugaried-whip-creamed-lattes, dinners out of a box or squirted out of a tube. Most things pre-packaged and sitting in a box loaded with preservatives.
Is that real food? It is not. It is toxic waste. Sewage. This is what we want for our kids? Whenever I have been tempted to go into Dunkin’ Donuts or a Taco Bell, all I had to do was remind myself that that stuff was sewage. That thought right there turned me off to the temptation. It’s easy to eat junk. But you pay for it … by being sick and tired all the time, hypertension, heart disease … you know the drill.
So, eat what you know is good for you. Personally, I eat a “Mediterranean diet.” I am almost a vegetarian now (after two heart surgeries), but I still eat some meat. For the past 20 years or so my wife and I have prepared fresh food in our home for the kids. (Here’s a tip: get the kids involved in cooking with you! It’s fun, kids love it, and they are learning a valuable skill!)
We cook from scratch. We make homemade vegetarian pizzas. Homemade whole wheat pancakes. Homemade lentil stew. Homemade soups, and salads, and snacks. Meals rich in fresh vegetables and fruit, and lean (organic) meat is what we’ve been eating for years now. Here are some great healthy (and delicious!) recipes.
Lose the sugar. How much processed sugar does the typical American kid eat in a year? Forty-nine POUNDS of sugar in a year!! (The typical adult consumes 46 pounds in a year.) Here’s the data on it.
Personally I don’t care if you choose a vegan diet or a paleo diet for your family. Just lose the sugar. We drink water all the time (sometimes with lemon or lime in it). Our kids would drink maybe two or three cans of Coca-Cola or Pepsi in a single year (at parties). And that was it. Did we ever have cake or pie or brownies or cookies? Of course we did! But they were never every day. Or even every week. Get rid of the sugar and you will see the difference in your kids (and yourself too).
4. Lead your kids in activity.
Not necessarily formal exercise like getting up at the crack of dawn for calisthenics. Who’s gonna do that? Make it FUN! Go with them on bike rides, swimming, hiking in the woods, playing volleyball, walking in the park. Sign up for 5K runs! When they’re a little older, sign up for half-marathons or full marathons. (When I ran the marathon I saw teens and adults of ALL shapes and sizes and handicaps running alongside me. It was just plain wonderful.)
We got our kids OUTSIDE and playing from the time they could walk. Why are kids gaining so much weight? Part of the reason is the diet. The other reason is that they spend wayyyy too much time sitting around, looking at their phones or playing video games. Our kids played video games too. We limited it to only 30 minutes a day. And it was not more than about 3 days a week. The rest of the time they were up and moving.
True confession time. For the first eight years of my marriage I was a couch potato. I ate right. But I did not exercise. Then my father died (of a heart attack). To get through the grief I started walking. Then that turned into running. Pretty soon I was running miles and miles. Since then, my kids have seen my wife and I as serious about exercise. Whether it’s running or martial arts or doing P90X (video exercise series), the kids saw us as the leaders in keeping our bodies in the best shape possible. So what did they do? They followed after us and got involved too!
Our boys took soccer and martial arts (all achieved black belt!). Our daughter wanted to be a ballerina, so for the last ten years she’s been working hard in the very physically demanding world of dance. But just get the kids outside and play: baseball, tennis, basketball, track, weightlifting, or just riding their bikes. Our kids were involved in some kind of physical activity like this six days a week. Rest one day. Exercise is addicting. My boys got hooked into weightlifting in their teens. Now they cannot imagine going more than two days in a row without lifting.
Don’t forget chores are exercise too. Cleaning windows, vacuuming the house, cutting the grass, shoveling snow (in my neck of the woods), pulling weeds, trimming trees. It all adds up. Our children learned early on that EVERYONE in the family works … no one sits around.
5. Start now.
Don’t put off this change for your family. Even if you are the only one to start, then start. You can lead the way. If your kids are small, they will come with you (what choice do they have?). If they are adolescents or teens, when they see the satisfaction YOU have, they might just want to join in the fun!
But start taking charge and changing the direction of your family. Being overweight or obese DOESN’T have to be in anyone’s future.