What do you say and do when your child is growing too fast? You take a non-diet approach.
You have a dilemma.
You notice your child or teen has gained a few extra pounds. Maybe he’s not as active as he used to be, or maybe she is off-season in her sport. Maybe you notice an uptick in eating. Or perhaps your teen has returned from college and is sporting some extra weight.
Whatever the root of the problem may be, you see a dilemma.
The Dilemma About Weight
The dilemma is this: you see a need for healthier food choices, more exercise, or both, but you don’t want to suggest a diet or dieting.
You know that commenting on weight or eating can jeopardize self-esteem in kids. And, you know that dieting is risky business in teens who may already be taking a lot of risks.
What you really want to know is this:
How can you change the outcome without causing more harm?
How can you tweak things to encourage good eating, joyful exercise and better lifestyle choices without being obvious, hurtful, or stigmatizing your child?
What you need is a holistic, non-diet approach that doesn’t shame or blame.
Non-Diet Tips for Better Health
Guess what? You can help your child or teen eat better without dieting.
And you won’t even have to say a thing.
Just use these simple steps and turn unhealthy eating and exercise patterns into healthy habits:
1. Got a Soda Drinker? Make a Substitution
I’m not a big fan of soda. Even diet soda. But I know some kids, teens and their families do like it.
If you have a soda drinker on your hands, you might try to switch to diet soda.
Regular soda has about 130 calories per can; diet soda has zero calories.
While I don’t encourage soda drinking in general (diet or regular), I have found that many kids and teens that like and drink regular soda need a weaning step before they can give it up completely.
The switch to diet soda is a reasonable step on the way to getting off of soda completely, or significantly down-grading it.
Of course, if your child or teen can give it up altogether, go for it!
2. Make Water the Primary Beverage
Water is the best drink ever: it’s calorie-free, portable, and easy to flavor naturally. Seltzer water is great if you like bubbly drinks, and today there’s a lot of flavored seltzers to choose from.
Make it easy to grab by using filled, re-usable water bottles, a water bubbler, or a cold pitcher of water in the fridge.
Check out these fun, fruity, homemade soda recipes that stand in for soda without all the sugar and calories.
3. Balance Fun Foods
Fun Foods, or sweets and treats, are those foods that are typically offered at celebrations and include foods such as desserts, candy, chips and other snack foods.
Unfortunately, many kids and teens are eating too many of these foods in their diet.
A way to scale back on Fun Foods is to follow the 90-10 Rule.
4. Eat Breakfast and Lunch Everyday
Skipping meals, especially breakfast and lunch, is a common mistake many kids and teenagers make.
Aside from missing out on important nutrients, skipping meals underfeeds the body for its daily work, whether it be playing a sport, other physical activity, or learning.
Perhaps worst of all, it may lead to a voracious appetite and risk for overeating late in the day when your child or teen is unwinding and may be more sedentary.
Instead, front-load the day with a healthy breakfast and lunch, and light-load eating at the end of the day.
5. Watch the Coffee Drinks
Yes, coffee and coffee drinks are popular amongst some kids and many teens. But what they may not realize is their favorite coffee drinks may add significant amounts of sugar, fat and calories to their day.
A better alternative would be no coffee at all (yeah, right, Mom!), plain coffee, coffee with low fat milk and sugar (or sugar substitute if preferred), or having a coffee drink only once or twice a week.
Step in before the habit gets started if you can, otherwise, set some limits.
6. Encourage Pleasurable Movement
Exercise has many benefits on everyone’s health.
Even if your child or teen isn’t involved in organized sports, exercise should be part of their day to day routine.
Exercise and a nutritious diet together can help kids and teens feel better and this can motivate future healthy choices and behaviors.
Give your kids lots of ideas about exercise, encourage it, and let them choose what to do.
7. Curb Late Night Eating
There’s a reason why the rule of not eating after 8 pm surfaced (even though it’s not scientifically-based). Most people don’t move their bodies much at all in the evening, so anything that is eaten generally gets processed in the body (not burned off) and stored.
In other words, late night eating might mean extra calories.
If your child or teen is in this unhealthy habit, suggest a new routine such as light exercise, a cup of herbal tea, or going to bed earlier.
8. Social Eating?
Many teens, in particular, like to anchor their social gatherings around eating. Dining out is generally a higher load of calories than eating in.
Switch up the food focus by encouraging social gatherings around community service, group exercise, and study groups, for example.
Encourage cooking a healthy dinner with friends if eating together is the preferred mode of socializing.
9. Consider Apps Only If They Provide Healthy Motivation
Some of the best motivating tools for healthy eating and exercise are apps and tools that let your child and teen know how their doing while they make healthy changes.
Assess whether this would be a positive addition for your child or teen, or something that might spike disordered behaviors.
When my kids were little, I had a no app rule for this sort of thing. In fact, it wasn’t until one of my young adults in college uploaded an exercise tracker while training for a half marathon.
You know your child best. While an app can be positively motivating for some kids, they may fuel disordered eating and exercise for others.
And that goes for all of these suggestions. Work on those healthy habits that will truly be a beneficial addition, and steer clear of those that could be damaging to eating and exercise.
What healthy habits would you suggest?