2 in every 3 Australian adults are overweight or obese.
That's a LOT.
Healthy eating habits start in childhood and without early intervention can lead to a host of debilitating chronic diseases such as Heart Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, Asthma, Sleep Apnea and more.
I didn't know how to start writing this article because I know weight is such a trigger for so many of us (myself included), but it's just too important a subject to avoid, simply because it might make some people feel a bit uncomfortable.
I obviously do not want to unintentionally shame parents out there who may be overweight themselves or who are currently raising an overweight child. I know this issue can be complicated and difficult to navigate depending upon a persons context but, as someone who has been a overweight child and an obese adult, I felt like I might have some insights to share with you all so here goes...
Firstly, if you’re a parent of an overweight child and you're reading this, this isn’t about shaming you, this is just some advice from a formerly obese child. Seriously, please don't stop reading and get caught in a guilt and shame spiral (we've all been there), parenting is hard, no one gives you a handbook when your baby comes out. I know and you know that you're doing your very best. However, this issue article is about helping your child and your child depends on you putting your feelings aside and arming yourself with all the tools needed to help them grow into fit and healthy adults.
According to the Australian Institute of Health And Welfare 1 in every 4 Aussie children are overweight or obese.
That’s around 1.2 million children and adolescents according to the 2015 ABS...
That's a lot of overweight little people...
I WAS an overweight child.
Q. Do you know what’s NOT fun for anyone?
A. Being an 'overweight' child.
Also not fun - going to school overweight or playing sports overweight, or summers at the pool overweight, or buying clothes overweight, and it definitely sucks trying to make friends or ask someone on a date when you overweight.
Overweight kids have to do all these things, all the while knowing they are 'overweight' BUT, having zero capacity to change things for themselves.
When I was a kid, my parents didn’t really know anything about nutrition or how to educate their child about nutrition or the importance of whole, plant foods on the gut microbiome and how this in turn impacts upon our ability to have a thriving immune system.
I mean, no one did.
I saw my parents working a lot but I never really saw them exercise and it felt awful exercising in my overweight body and I was ashamed to be seen moving it at school for the very high likelihood that I would be teased, and I was teased.
I was teased during sports, I was teased by my brothers, I was teased by my grandparents, my parents, cousins and even by some of my so-called 'friends'. I felt so completely alone and powerless and the thing is, children are powerless when it comes to this issue. Children don’t purchase the food in the house, children don’t pack the lunch orders and children don’t make the breakfasts and dinners. Well meaning adults do.
These adults love their babies just as much as anyone else, but, like my own parents, they’ve got shit going on in their own lives. These adults might be exhausted and desperately trying to avoid an argument or to make up for not being with their child’s mother or father any longer. They might be trying to make sure their child eats SOMETHING when they’ve been super fussy for a few days. These adults might be dealing with chronic disease, relationship break downs, gambling or drug addiction, domestic violence, or they might simply have zero interest or awareness in ensuring their child eats an adequate diet for their growing body.
Unfortunately, regardless of circumstances there is a HUGE emotional and physical cost to childhood obesity and pretending it doesn’t exist to avoid potential ‘shame’ for ourselves or for our children, isn’t helping anyone.
I’m going to list some of the physical and emotional costs of childhood obesity from the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention and this is also relevant for overweight children because most people were ‘overweight’ before becoming obese.
Physical Costs To Our Children:
- High Blood Pressure and High Cholesterol – risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
- Breathing problems such as asthma and sleep apnea.
- Joint problems and discomfort
- Fatty liver disease, gallstones, heartburn
- Type 2 Diabetes.
Future Health Risks such as:
- Adult obesity and an increased risk for diagnosis with serious health conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention if children are obese, their obesity and disease risk factors in adulthood are likely to be more severe.
Psychological & Emotional Costs To Our Children:
- Increased Risk Of Depression, Anxiety & Social Isolation
- Low self-esteem and lower reported quality of life.
- Social problems such as bullying and stigma.
Now my parents are pretty great in general, but they were old school and even though it wasn't always direct, it felt like they told me I was fat pretty much every day for the first 20 years of my life. They loved me and were very worried about me but with every well meaning comment on what I was eating, when I should eat next, my appearance or my weight, my self esteem was slowly being eroded. I know they thought they were helping me out of their love for me, but as a child, it didn't feel like I was being loved, it felt like I was being told I wasn't loveable unless I was skinny. Like I wasn't of value unless I was skinny. Although that was never their intention, that is the message their words were sending me. I think they thought if they told me I was overweight, or questioned my eating, that I would somehow magically be able to control my eating all be myself.
The problem is, 8 year olds didn't have access to the internet in 1988 and wouldn't know where to search for reliable health information online even if they wanted to and I didn't even understand what my problem really was at that age to begin trying to solve it. All I heard was 'you're fat and unlovable' even if though I know now that was absolutely not the intended message.
In a nutshell, it's completely unrealistic to think that kids can or will regulate their own healthy eating and exercise habits without significant help from their parents or caregivers.
Now there's so much I could write about how terribly addictive the 'foods' are that are being fed to children these days and how utterly impossible it is to expect small humans to not crave these 'foods' incessantly once they've tasted even a mouthful, but instead just watch the documentaries listed below to find out more for yourself.
But back to the point, kids also already know if they’re overweight and you telling them just makes them feel awful about themselves because now, not only do they think they’re fat, but the people who are supposed to love them the most think they’re weight is an issue too and this can be a crushing blow to their self esteem.
Now you might think, ‘I would NEVER tell my child they were fat!’ and good on you for knowing not to be a jerk to your kids, but… Don’t do the opposite and act like your overweight child has ZERO problems by saying things like ‘You’re NOT fat!’ when they raise the issue. Kids can smell bullsh$t a mile off and now your kid is left to assume that not only are they ‘fat’, but also that you can’t or won’t help them and that they are completely alone.
So what CAN you do?
I get it, you’re busy and feeding kids can be a tough gig, so I’m going to make this as stress free and easy to digest as possible!
12 Steps To Getting Your Child To Eat Better As Follows:
1. Firstly, don’t waste time blaming yourself, You didn’t know, now you do - when you know better, you have an obligation to do better.
2. You don’t have to say anything, if your child raises their weight with you, ask them how they feel about it and if they’d like your help. Now they might say ‘NO’ but don’t let the conversation end there. You’re the adult and it’s your responsibility to help them find a solution.
3. If possible watch Netflix documentaries Forks Over Knives, What The Health, Fat Sick & Nearly Dead and download Eating You Alive. These documentaries will explain how our food choices effect our health better than I ever can.
4. Check out Dr Greger’s Daily Dozen here https://nutritionfacts.org/video/dr-gregers-daily-dozen-checklist/ or you can get the App for smartphones to make things super simple for you and just start by ADDING IN these items each day.
5. Use a macronutrient tracking App such as Chronometer and start tracking your child’s food intake for a week to see how they are going and whether or not they are getting all their daily requirements and to see areas where you can improve.
6. Get the high fat, high sugar packaged and processed foods out of the house and stop purchasing sliced white bread, sugary spreads, and other high fat, fibreless animal foods like dairy, eggs and meat.
7. Keep whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fresh water out on display so that your child will be more likely to reach for those when they want a snack.
8. Search online with your children for low fat, whole food, plant-based recipes your family will all enjoy, including lunch box snack ideas, birthday cakes, etc… Make it FUN!
9. Get your kids involved in the kitchen making their food, rolling bliss balls, chopping vegetables, making hummus or other delicious dips and then have fun dipping your vegies together on a picnic somewhere in nature!
10. Don’t keep reminding them of eating healthy and needing to lose weight and eating less. Be neutral. Just make good food, don’t buy bad food and educate where possible of the benefits of eating healthy, plant foods on their bodies and minds. Make it sound exciting! ‘Imagine how BIG your muscles are going to be once you eat these carrots?!’ ‘Imagine how fast your going to run once you’ve eaten all of your porridge?!’
11. Eat healthy food in front of your children and with your children as often as possible so you role model this way of eating as the ‘normal’ way people eat to be healthy.
12. Don’t make ‘treat’ foods a big deal or you’ll make them seem even more appealing. Try to be neutral and simply educate them on what these foods do to their growing bodies in a way they are able to understand and limit them as much as possible.
13. Lastly, Get outside and get moving with your kids for 30 minutes every single day and make it super FUN! Go exploring in the jungle for dragons or race each other around the local oval or run through the playground doing all the things as fast as you can. Try a yoga for kids youtube at home. Get bikes and head out doors. Head to the beach, dance like no one’s watching or whatever it is that your little person enjoys – do that!
Now don’t panic if change doesn’t happen quickly, it probably won’t. Just know you are heading in the right direction and taking positive steps to prevent so many of the short and long-term difficulties associated with childhood and adult obesity.
It may not be easy but, this truly IS the greatest gift you will ever give to your child and I should know.
If you have ANY questions or need any further info, please feel free to leave a comment below or PM over at Facebook Messenger or through the contact link on this website and I will do my best to reply to you as soon as possible.
Love and Great Health Always,