When there are so many overweight people in the world and diabetes is a common problem, many parents are concerned about their kids’ weight and developing diabetes. Statistics from around the world is not very encouraging. It is estimated that 600 million people will be living with diabetes by 2035. Whether you like or not, you and your children are part of this statistics.
In 2015, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) published their Diabetes Atlas, which estimates that:
- One in 11 adults has diabetes (422 million)
- One in two (46.5%) adults with diabetes is undiagnosed
- 12% of global health expenditure is spent on diabetes (USD673 billion)
- One in seven births is affected by gestational diabetes
- Three-quarters (75%) of people with diabetes live in low- and middle-income countries
- 542,000 children have type 1 diabetes
- Every six seconds, a person dies from diabetes (5 million deaths a year)
- China with over 100 million people with diabetes (ranked highest number of people with diabetes)
- Cambodia is the lowest in the world
Being overweight is just one possible cause of diabetes and it can be prevented. When children grow up with no health awareness, they become adults with no health awareness and their life can be harder, more expensive and shorter than average.
It is not easy to lose weight, especially for children. It is hard to prevent kids from eating whatever they want and it is important to understand that eating habits are more important in their life than thinking that you are an amazing parent, because you allowed them to eat whatever they wanted.
It is important to understand that the health implications of being overweight are more important than the way we look to others. As a life coach, I can tell you from seeing many clients that losing weight to impress others is just not good enough incentive for the subconscious mind to let go of bad habits. It only gets people into a vicious cycle of failure and another failure.
What others think about you, your child and your weight is not important. In fact, what others think about you is none of our business.
I remember when my daughter Eden was born, she was huge. Her weight was off the charts for 6 years. I only breastfed her every four hours and she was a giant. People told me, “Stop feeding her. She is so big, she will be fat when she grows up”.
This is not what I mean when I say “overweight”. Charts just contain statistics, so it is better to examine each child based on their health. Eden was a very healthy baby. She slept well, she was active, she developed brilliantly and all she had was breast milk, so I totally ignored all those people, even close family members.
When she was 4 years old, she grew taller and we ate well, so she was fine. Look at her now in the photo below. She is 27 years old and turned out slim and healthy for most her life. Healthy and happy is the goal, not slim and miserable so someone will say something good about your figure.
It is not the same when kids are unhealthy. It is easy to notice they are not active, they do not do well at school, they crave comfort food, they are clumsy, their mood keeps changing and they are often unhappy. If they are also overweight, it is better to start there.
Some of my clients say it is not easy to start a health regimen when the kids become teens. True, it is easier when they are toddlers and at primary school age, but I do not think it is different than trying gluten-free, non-dairy, low-carb or any other diet. When health is an issue, do not wait for your children to grow up. If they are overweight, focus on their health. Their health is more important than the fear of hurting their feelings.
What can parents do?
- If you think there is a big problem, go to the doctor. It is a good idea to eliminate any other health problems, while you are at it. No need to torture a kid who has diabetes or thyroid problems by delaying treatment. Also, when children hear things from the doctor, they are often more cooperative.
- If you have a history of diabetes in the family, make sure to talk to the kids about it and tell them they are at risk. You can talk to kids about family health issues when they are 6 years old. We were sensitive to dairy and my daughter could avoid it by herself when she was 4 without me having to control it.
- Check the ratio between height and weight against age expectations, but do not be too fussy about it. It is statistics, after all. Remember that the numbers change over the years. Did you know that Merlyn Monroe would have been considered obese in our days? Just use it as a guide so you can notice sudden changes in weight. Weighing kids once every 6 months and recording their weight is a good way to follow up. Try doing it discreetly. Do not use the scales too often, because this can create body image and self-esteem issues. It is better to use clothes as a reference instead.
- If your child brings up the topic of obesity and overweight, this is a sign he or she needs help. Be happy he or she trusts you to share this concern. Do not dismiss a kid who “feels fat” and address it. If you do not address the weight, at least address the emotional burden of it. Ask, “What can I do to help you?”
- Remember that at every age of your kids, you are the one doing the shopping, so if your kids snack or eat junk, bring none of it into your home, so they are not tempted to eat it. Yes, it means the whole family needs to be more conscious about what they eat, but there is no better way of helping our kids than being a role model. If Mom’s favorite sandwich is full of vegetables, the kids will love salad sandwiches too.
- Let go of policing and controlling their eating. Kids (and grownups) often eat due to lack of control and the more you try to control them, the more they eat. Talk to the kids about it and make sense of it. Never scare, threaten, bribe or punish for anything regarding food. If you use control, you only guarantee they will develop eating disorders. Eating disorders are mental problems and harder to handle.
- To build motivation, ask your kids to imagine how their life will be once they reach a healthy weight. Their answer will be the reason they want to put effort into it and they need to hear it from themselves, not from you, so just keep asking questions.
- When bringing up the topic, try to find out what your child thinks and feels without adding your own ideas and fears. Ask what your child is thinking about himself, his body, his health, his performance. Sometimes, just listening to them can make them ask for help and tell you exactly where that help is needed. I have worked with a teenager I who went to his mother and asked for help, and just because he initiated it, the effects of our coaching were quick and powerful.
- Never mock or blame your kids for being overweight. Never make fun of it, as it will only make things worse. Whatever happens, make sure your kids do not think it is their fault. They are the ones who can fix it and change it, but it is not their fault. It is no one’s fault that someone was born like that, eats like that or feels like that. Make sure no one else mocks or blames your child for being overweight.
- Never say, “This food will make you fat”. It is not true. It is not the food that make us fat. It is a combination of things, including our genetics, our beliefs and our lifestyle, and there are so many factors that it is not true that food make us fat. This belief creates a dysfunctional relationship with food, which is even worse than being overweight.
- To promote good eating, encourage them, congratulate them, support them and flatter them every time they eat well. Instead of saying, “This food is not good for you”, say, “This food is good for you”, when they eat healthy food or when healthy food is served. Again, it is better if you walk the talk and say “for us”, so that your kids hold on to this awareness for life.
- Encourage physical activity that is fun! Remember, with children, Fun is the name of the game. If this is something they love doing, they will do it for a long time. It used to be enough to be active at school, but not anymore. Have a physically active hobby: soccer, cycling, dance, gymnastics…
- When they fail, tell them that it is only natural and that tomorrow is another day and we can start all over again. Share personal stories of how you have conquered challenges and explain that successful people do not fail less, they just keep trying more.
- Help your kids develop realistic weight goals. Consult your doctor and do your research. From what I understand, 1kg (2lbs) a week is the maximum they should expect to drop and if there is too much excess weight and losing it takes a long time, even this is too much.
- Make sure to chunk the goals down into manageable parts and celebrate every achievement. If the goal is to fit into clothes of a desired size, you can celebrate it by buying a dress, a shirt or a pair of pants of that size. Do not wait to reach the ideal size to get a reward. It may take too long and your child may run out of motivation. Make sure not to celebrate with food, and if you do, celebrate with healthy food. Having junk, or other unhealthy food, only associates it with happiness and celebration.
- Come up with a meal plan with the food they like and learn to make healthy deserts. Kids eat with their eyes first, so learn to make healthy food that looks If they see there are many things they can eat, they will not think of what they are missing that much.
- Fruits and vegetables are your best friends. Fill your kids’ lunch box mainly with vegetables and fruit. If your eating plan consists mostly of fruits and vegetables, you will see great improvement within 3 months. Even people with diabetes may be able to stop medication when eating mostly fruits and vegetables.
- Make sure you include “free days” in the kids’ eating plan. In those days, allow them to eat junk, sugar and all those things they do not eat usually. It is essential to have free days, when kids do not need to regulate their eating, if you want to help them manage their diet for a long time and turn it into a habit.
Kids who are overweight suffer physically, emotionally, socially and academically. It is better to notice when the weight starts to accumulate and do something when the problem is small, rather than wait for a child to struggle. It is always easier to mange 2-3 extra kilograms than 20-30. Your kids’ health is important and diabetes is just around the corner. Do something now so they can develop good habits for life.