Should Kids Diet?

Is it ever appropriate for children to go on diets? Should you ever put your child on Atkins or Sugar Busters or any similar program? Some school districts have begun to partner with Atkins, and their actions have sparked a big uproar. Why all the fuss?

Most health experts agree that diets and children do not go together. Data shows that dieting in childhood is neither fun nor effective-and may be harmful. Pennsylvania State University researchers, for example, found that young girls who weighed too much and who tried to diet ended up putting on more weight. The unhappier the girls grew with their weight, the more they tried to diet?and the more they failed.

Other researchers concur that restrictive dieting is not the best strategy for overweight children. It's much more effective for children to increase their physical activity and change their nutritional habits. When kids try to diet, more often than not they fail. They're also at a higher risk for eating disorders.

The bottom line is that most adults who choose to diet do not stay on that diet. In fact, they tend to continue with it for an average of just two weeks. So why doom yourself and your children to something very likely to fail?

This problem didn't happen overnight, so you don't have to fix it overnight. The best solution is to find a long-term strategy that's fun and that will work for you and your family. Remember that children are not little adults. They have unique nutritional needs very different from those of adults. Children who diet set themselves up for big trouble later on.

How long did it take to build ancient Rome? Who knows-but it took longer than a day. Very little that's worthwhile in life can be accomplished overnight. The same is true with tackling childhood obesity. One important key to successful family weight management is to start small in changing your nutrition habits-but to make sure you start!

All of us are creatures of habit, and good habits take time to kick in (just as bad habits take time to overcome). Don't try to make wholesale changes in the way you eat; that's a strategy almost certain to fail. Instead, pick one or two small changes, start with them, and after you've enjoyed some success, move on and try a few more. Think "little steps," not "big steps," and you'll be far more likely to reach the destination of your dreams.

Think of it like this: If you've been walking for 10 or 20 or 30 miles into a swamp, you can't just suddenly decide, Oh, I don't like the smell of this swamp, and in that instant find yourself on fragrant dry ground. Remember that you're 30 miles in! To get out, you have to start walking.

If we teach our kids to make small changes now, they can learn habits that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Why teach them to hate dieting when we can teach them to love healthy eating? Small steps work. But they work only for those who take them.

"It's not about trying to make sweeping overhauls that are doomed to fail," declares Katherine Tallmadge of the American Dietetic Association. She says, in fact, that eating just one less tablespoon of fat per day will lead to a 10-pound weight loss in a year.

In its Small Step campaign, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services encourages people to give up one soft drink a day, to walk to a coworker's desk instead of sending an e-mail, to give up a cookie or a candy bar or a bag of potato chips a day, and to take similar small steps.

It's time to sit down and discuss some of these ideas with your spouse and children. Which do they like? Which would they be willing to try? Do you or they have additional ideas about steps you could take that we haven't mentioned? Don?t forget: small changes can result in big health benefits!

Simple steps that work

Are you ready to make a few changes today to begin your journey to good eating? Here are some easy ways to get started:

● Watch portion sizes. Start the meal with small portions. If the child is hungry, going back for seconds is fine, but controlling portion size helps to control calories.

● Make mealtimes fun, not drudgery. Resist the urge to go into lecture mode during mealtimes. Sure, you can make points in your conversation, but don't use family mealtimes to harp on what your children might be doing wrong.

● Slow down! Most adults and children not only eat too much; they eat too fast, even when they have time to relax and enjoy their food. We can help our children eat more slowly by slowing down ourselves.

● Use small plates. Small plates help you and your child gain control over your portion sizes and trick your minds into thinking you've eaten more than you actually have. (The small-plate strategy will not work, however, if your children consume three or four helpings.)

● Serve your meal in courses. Start with vegetable soup, a fruit dish, or a salad. When everyone has finished their first course, clear the table and wait three to five minutes before serving the second course.

● Encourage your children to taste their food. Having children describe the taste of food slows them down. Most of them do not even think about taste.

● Don't skip breakfast. Better still, get up a little earlier and eat breakfast as a family. Educate your child to make the right lunch choices at school. If your child has difficulty finding nutritious food at school, pack a lunch or snacks to go.

● Keep healthy snacks around. Make sure you have items on hand for a fast, healthful after-school snack: fruit and veggies ready to eat, peanut butter, low-fat string cheese, nuts, whole-grain crackers, raisins, cartons of nonfat yogurt. And make sure the healthy snacks in your pantry don't hide on the very top shelf in the back corner.

● Don't use food as a bribe or reward. Food should remain a source of nourishment and enjoyment.

Article excerpt taken from SuperSized Kids: How to Rescue Your Child From the Obesity Threat, by Walt Larimore, M.D., and Sherri Flynt, M.P.H., R.D., L.D., with Hachette Book Group and Florida Hospital. For more information about the book, please visit www.SuperSizedKids.com or find the book at your local Adventist Book Center or wherever you buy books.

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