A Fat Kid’s Tips for Raising Healthy Children

My weight was the center-focus of my childhood. I was raised to view foods as either “good” or “bad” I was acutely aware that everyone in my life wanted me to lose weight.

We rarely had junk food in the house. I was discouraged from getting seconds at a meal and having any type of sweet was usually frowned upon.

From my mom’s standpoint, she felt that by stocking the fridge with healthy options, discouraging sweets and encouraging exercise, she was helping me to be healthy. Seemingly, she did most things right. From my perspective, however, the constant focus on food and exercise turned it into an unhealthy an obsession.

Fundamentally, food restriction encouraged me to sneak food and it increased the appeal of sugary junk foods. As with most things, knowing that certain things were “off limits” made them larger than life. Sneaking food quickly snowballed into overindulging, food obsession and bingeing.

I’m not a parent but I do understand that you don’t want food to be a free-for-all and you need to set healthy boundaries for kids. However, there’s a fine line between healthy boundaries and an unhealthy focus on food restriction and limitations.

Based on my own personal experiences and my educational and professional background in nutrition and health education, here are my thoughts on walking that fine line and raising healthy, fit kids free of food obsession and unhealthy relationships with food or exercise.

  • As cliché as it is, lead by example. This goes far beyond making good food choices. This is about the way you talk about food, dieting, exercise and body weight. It can be just as damaging for your children to see you restricting, dieting down and stressing as to see you overindulging and constantly making unhealthy choices. Show your children that you choose healthy foods because you enjoy them and they fuel your body best. Show your children that you workout because it makes you feel strong and vibrant. Show your kids that you love your body – show them by how you talk, how you eat and how you move.
  • Don’t use food as a reward. What adult can’t relate to thinking “I’m ordering pizza tonight because it was a long day and I deserve it” or “I’m stressed and the only thing that will make me feel better is ice cream! I deserve it!”. That is food-rewarding at it’s worst. If you want pizza, have pizza. If you want ice cream, enjoy every bite! But teaching kids (or yourself!) that food is comfort or reward is a very slippery slope.
  • Get them involved in food and fitness choices. Encourage them to try new, healthy foods until they find one they really love. Avoid forcing foods on them just because they’re “healthy”. Involve them in cooking, or even better, in growing veggies, herbs or fruits in a garden. The more ownership they feel, the more likely they are to enjoy it. Similarly, let them try out lots of activities until they find one they really enjoy. Try not to force activities on them that they don’t look forward to.
  • Relax a little. Food, fitness and exercise should not be the daily focus of energy and conversation. Kids need to be kids. Yes, they should absolutely understand the value of quality nutrition but let’s not stop the world over the gluten-containing cupcake your kid was served at school. Food is fuel. Can we all agree to please stop attaching strong emotion to it?

I don’t have kids. It makes me nervous. I don’t want my kids to be bullied the way I was. I don’t want them to feel ashamed of their bodies. I don’t want them to feel pressured to diet or lose weight in elementary school. I want them to love and cherish their bodies! I want them to understand that food helps us become strong, fit and capable. I want them to enjoy a cupcake without attaching emotions like guilt, shame or regret to it. It’s sugar and flour and butter. There’s no emotion in the recipe and I want them to keep it that way.


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4 replies
  1. Renata
    Renata says:

    I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I have a 7 year old who has gained a lot of weight over the last year. He dad died earlier this year and I used food as my salve and so did my entire family. If she was sad we ate, bored we ate, to avoid we ate. I’ve gone on a weight loss journey and lost 40 pounds but the same way my parents taught me about food is how I teach her. FAT is bad THIN is good, but eat and you will feel better for a time, and then be ashamed of what you just did. I hate that I shame her about it, its a terrible cycle, and its going to be my first 4 WEEK goal. HELP MADY, 1) Say positive things to her about her appearance or something she achieved each night, week 2) hug her every night and arrange some alone time just her and I , week 3) go to the gyms pool and swim with her, she loves that 4) Try and do all these things in that week.

    I know I’ve done the wrong thing, I can only change the from today!

    Reply
  2. Katrina
    Katrina says:

    Hi Elizabeth – I have an 11 year old son who has been off the charts tall since he was born and is now 5’5″ and 140-ish pounds. For the past couple of years he has gained weight and in a bathing suit you can certainly see his big belly but fully dressed he looks like a big kid. I have made a conscious decision to not restrict him because I don’t want him to focus on what he can or can’t have. Both my husband and I could definitely lose 20 pounds but my 14 year old daughter is fit.

    Anyway, a couple of days ago he said “Mom, I think I am getting a little chunky and running at basketball was tough tonight after all the Christmas cookies. I think I need to go on a diet.” I was positive and said “That’s great but we aren’t going to go on a “diet”. Let’s both just work on nutrition and make good choices, etc.”

    My question for you is how encouraging should I be? I feel like if I say “Wow, you made a great choice by skipping dessert” or “I am so proud that you are focusing on your health” that I am bringing too much attention to his weight. I don’t want it to be a focus, I just want it to be a way of life – does that make sense? Your 4th bullet in this blog post says “relax” but I don’t want to ignore his acknowledgement or desire to make changes. I am so torn!

    My mom always made comments about skipping french fries or wearing her normal jeans when she left the hospital after having a baby and it drove me CRAZY. I don’t want food to be an obsession one way or another.

    Thanks for reading my ramble, hopefully I made sense and you have some advice given your struggles in childhood.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Benton
      Elizabeth Benton says:

      Hi Katrina! Kudos to you for asking these important questions! Instead of praising his food choices (which implies that others you praise aren’t “good”), praise his effort and his attitude and WHO he is. Build his confidence by calling attention to ways he works hard at basketball, ways he is a good teammate, ways he shows effort or hard work or a great attitude. If he asks for something specific re: help with weight loss, meet the need an healthy, encouraging way, but otherwise, focus on who he is, not what he eats or his weight.

      Reply

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