Posts Tagged ‘weight gain’

Children mimic your behaviors!

Contrary to popular belief, children hear what you say and see what you do.  Your behaviors and comments can leave a lasting impression.  Even your body image or weight concerns can be passed on to your kids.  Evidence shows that stressing thinness and weight control promotes eating disorders, low self-esteem, decreased body image, and weight bias in children.  Furthermore, eating behaviors linked to a higher risk for obesity are known to develop very early in life.  A 2001 study showed family food environments and attitudes around food and eating affect even preschool-aged kids’ eating behaviors.  You may think youngsters don’t pick up on your drastic dieting or negative comments you make about your body like older children, but they do!

Several studies show that restrictive feeding can impair a child’s ability to regulate their intake, resulting in overeating and weight gain.  Worrying about your own weight can influence your feeding style.  For example, forbidding high calorie foods or sweets in your home can result in your child sneaking food or feeling deprived and overeating when given the opportunity.  Overly controlling or eliminating fun foods simply doesn’t work with kids – balance is key.

Have you ever found yourself saying out loud:

“I have got to lose weight, I am getting so fat”

“I am going to be good and skip lunch today”

“No more desserts for me, I don’t deserve it”

If so, you may want to censor your comments and think before you speak.   Remember, your words could promote your child’s weight gain!

As a parent, you can model  “good for you” behaviors without fixating on weight.  There’s nothing wrong with guiding your child towards adopting healthy habits that will benefit him or her – that’s part of your role!

Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to promote a healthy weight for yourself while empowering your child.


  • Be physically active and limit your own sedentary activities
  • Aim to eat when feeling physically hungry
  • Have a neutral view about all foods
  • Stock a range of nutritious foods in your home and choose these options more often
  • Offer balanced family meals as much as you can
  • Choose to talk about yourself and others with respect and appreciation


  • Get caught up in the latest fad diet or encourage your child to diet
  • Skip meals
  • Eliminate all sweets or high calorie foods from your home
  • Use food for rewards or punishments for yourself or for others
  • Eat while standing up or distracted (may lead to eating mindlessly)
  • Emphasize effects of unhealthy eating
  • Focus on anyone’s weight, especially yours or your child’s

Bottom line:  You are your child’s biggest role model – do you want your child viewing and treating their body the way you do?

Contributing Author:  Katherine Fowler, MS, RD, LDN


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Recent studies indicate that up to 77% of freshman college students gain an average of 4-8# during their first year of college.  This is much less than the reputed “15#” that many new college students fear, yet the weight impact appears to be fairly global among males and females, according to a 2009 study published in Preventive Medicine. 

How prepared is your high school senior for the college food experience?  Heading off to college is a life-altering experience and is filled with new found freedoms.  No curfew, no parental forces to check in with, and no limits on what and how much one can eat and drink.  Food freedom is a welcomed relief for some freshmen, and many first year college students thrive with this independence.  However, some rising freshmen worry about this freedom, fearing weight gain, and clueless with the prospect of balancing food independence and  feeding themselves well. 

What feeding skills do emerging college students need? 

  • Knowledge of the types of food that promote health
  • Recognition of  fullness and satisfaction with eating, both physically and emotionally
  • Knowledge of portion sizes 
  • Ability to balance and select food groups so that key nutrients are present in the diet
  • Setting a meal and snack schedule so that extremes in hunger and fullness are avoided, and nutrient needs are met
  • Food preparation skills
  • Food safety basics

Your teen may not have these skills.  Why?  Nutrition education isn’t a stronghold in the educational system of our country yet.  Simply stated, children and teens aren’t receiving consistent messaging and knowledge about nutrition. Some of what they do know is gleaned from magazines, the media, and their peers, which may not be reliable resources.  Also, parents are often “in charge” of meal selection and preparation, leaving teens inexperienced in this area.  Many parents still “plate” their teenager’s meals; this controlled approach can lead to larger portions when teens become truly independent eaters in college.  Lastly, college schedules may be chaotic and unpredictable, causing erratic eating patterns.  All these factors can combine to create a food firestorm, encouraging disorganized patterns of hunger and fullness, inappropriate food choices, large portion sizes, excess caloric intake, and a cycle of dieting that may be ineffective.  The result?  Changes in weight — oftentimes in an undesirable direction.

Eating and self-feeding skills build over a child’s lifespan, and ideally, your child or teen has had a wonderful role model to reference–YOU!  If your teen does not appear to be prepared to navigate the food scene in college, help him or her become food-savvy, independent, healthy eaters, and prepared for food freedom.

  • consult with a registered dietitian (RD)–in person, online, or in the blogosphere–for basic nutrition education and cooking skill development
  • invest in or check out credible nutrition resources from the library–those written by RD’s are particularly helpful
  • seek out other reliable nutrition websites, such as the American Dietetic Association, and others on my blogroll
  • join your teen for a basic cooking class, or conduct one in your home–check out your local grocer or cooking school
  • allow your teen freedom to cook and experiment in the kitchen
  • teach your teen how to shop for food, how to read a nutrition label, and how to dine out in restaurants

Parents often assume that teens who are heading to college instinctively know this stuff…but they don’t!  Unless you have invested the time in preparing your child for independent eating at college (which ideally has been occuring throughout childhood), they may not have the skills required to maintain a stable weight and a healthy body.  The resulting situation can be upsetting for everyone.  Help your child feel confident and ready for the food freedom and independent eating that college undoubtedly provides.  Nutrition “Know-How” can be a wonderful graduation gift for your teen that can last a lifetime!

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No doubt most parents have savvy school-aged children who are able to navigate the web, program their iPhone, and operate the family plasma TV.  It is certainly true that we live in a technological world, and this is obvious in our children.  With the advent of advergames (advertisements on video and computer games) and advercation (advertisements on educational websites and games), children are lured to return to the “screen” to continue “playing”—but they aren’t playing like they used to!   Literally, children are letting their fingers do the walking.

What is “screen time”?   “Screen time” is a term to describe the variety of technological devices to which children are exposed for general entertainment.  “Screen time” encompasses anything with a screen–the TV, the Nintendo DS, the computer, the phone, the iTouch, the iPod, and the like. 

How does “screen time”  influence childhood obesity?  Researchers show a strong correlation with the number of hours spent watching TV to an increased prevalence of obesity in children.  If your child spends more than 2 hours in front of the TV per day, he/she is at greater risk for being overweight.   The effects of TV viewing and “screen time” results in overeating and lowered energy expenditure (calorie burning).   Have you ever watched a movie with a bowl of popcorn and consumed the entire bowl?  The TV is a powerful distraction when it comes to eating sensible amounts.  Additionally, sedentary behavior, or sit-down time, promotes a lower calorie burn  than moving (activity).   It’s simple:  TV and screens promote more sit-down time which results in less activity and overeating, leading to a higher potential for weight gain. 

Simple steps to curb your child’s TV/”screen time” appetite:

Remove the TV and other screens from the bedroom:  Children with TV’s in their bedroom watch a lot of TV!  The presence of a TV in a child’s bedroom is one of the leading indicators of excess “screen time”.  Removing the TV and other lurking “screens” will curtail the number of hours your child is inactive…watching TV, playing video games, and laying on the bed listening to the iPod.  

Limit all “screen time”:  The recommendation for reasonable “screen time” is 2 hours per day maximum; homework-oriented, computer time does not fall within these limitations.  Each family has unique dynamics and demands on their time—consider parameters around “screen time” limits that will be advantageous to your child, ie., the school week is focused on school work, projects, and educational endeavors.

Start early:  Limits on “screen time” should begin as early as 5 years of age.  This makes sense–toddlers and pre-schoolers are moving creatures–when we use the TV or “screens” to entertain them, we are training them to be sedentary!

Emphasize hands-on, active endeavors:  Cultivate an attitude of “let’s do” rather than “let’s see”.  Be an active parent–your children will mimic your active and your sedentary behaviors.

A little bit goes a long way:  Any modification and limit you can make around TV and “screen time” will be an improvement!  Be realistic with what you can tackle, without too much rebellion from your child.  Get “buy in” from your child–if children have other, fun things to do in lieu of “screen time”, they will be more accepting of the new “screen time” limits.

A reduction in “screen time” and TV viewing helps every member of the family and it provides an opportunity to get moving.  Help your child let their feet do the walking, not their fingers.  Help them have greater opportunities for movement and activity, rather than ample sit-down time.  Why Weight?

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When I was younger, drinking soda was a treat.  Only allowed when at parties or when out for dinner…and no refills.  And the standard soda was a 12 ounce can, or a 10 ounce paper cup from the fast food joint.  Diet sodas were not even an option until I was 18 years old!  Well, that was over 25 years ago…

While we are no longer in the “olden days’, there is some virtue and value to the limits around soda that were commonplace to the everyday diet so many years ago.  Flash forward to the new millenium and look at how soda is accepted as a primary drink for children.  You can find soda in baby bottles, sippy cups, lunch boxes, school vending machines, and stocked in many home refrigerators.  And while soda marketers try even harder to maintain sodas in schools, enlarge the portion sizes, and tempt consumption with child-targeted advertising campaigns, the anti-obesity movement scorns soda and its effects on the weight and health of children.

The research tells us that there is a link between drinking sweetened beverages (ie, soda) and adiposity (body fat) in children.  In other words, drinking soda can increase the likelihood of weight gain. 

Soda is a source of sugar–and sugar is a source of calories.  Each 12 ounce can of regular soda packs ~150 calories aand 9 tsp. of sugar.  That’s 150 calories of sugary sweetness–not nutrients like protein, vitamins, or minerals–just calories.   Over time, drinking a can of regular soda each day can be a significant source of extra calories and a major contributor to excess weight gain and childhood obesity.

Commonly available soda sizes that pack a wallop of extra calories:

20 oz soda:  250 calories:  17 tsp. sugar (yup, that’s a 1/3 cup of sugar!)

24 oz. soda:  300 calories:  20 tsp. sugar (1/3 c. sugar)

Big Gulp (40 ounce):  ~500 calories:  34 tsp. sugar (yes, Gulp!, that’s about 3/4 cup sugar)

Imagine taking your sugar bowl out of the cabinet and swallowing a cup of sugar!  Would you let your child do that?!  No, most parents would grab the sugar bowl, put it away,  and scold their child for doing something so ludicrous.  Yet, allowing children to consume regular soda, without limits, is not dissimilar. 

What about diet sodas?  Diet sodas use artificial sweeteners to mimic the taste of the regular soda product, without the calories.  While use of diet soda can be helpful in the process of eliminating regular soda and reducing calorie intake, regular use of diet soda is not advised for children.  

How much is too much?  If your child is drinking more than 3-4 cans of soda/week, it is time to re-evaluate your drinks.   Alter your approach:

  • Change your perspective:  Sodas are a treat!
  • Don’t purchase sodas and bring them into your home (remember, YOU are the gatekeeper who makes the decisions aobut what gets purchased, served, and stocked in your home).
  • For the serious soda consumer, start with a switch to diet soda and wean down to 1 can per day.  Aim to reduce your child’s soda drinking to 3-4 cans/week.  Eventually, use soda (diet or regular) on an occasional basis.
  • Use alternatives to soda:  Try water!  Serve iced water, or flavor water with a splash of  juice or a squeeze of lemon.  Healthy options such as milk or 100% juice (in recommended amounts) can enhance your child’s overall nutrient intake and be a satisfying drink.

Eliminating or seriously reducing the amount of soda your child is consuming can have a major impact on their health and body weight.  Remember, a child can experience a 10# weight gain in a year, just from the extra calories that a daily can of soda can provide.  And over the course of a year, this daily drink can translate to 33# of sugar consumed.

Why Weight? to take a realistic look at the amount of soda your children and family are consuming?  Why Weight? to find healthy alternatives to soda?  Why Weight? to minimize soda, a dirty dozen contributor to childhood obesity, in YOUR family?

It begins with YOU…Why Weight?

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In a world where much attention is given to prevention and treatment of childhood obesity, the thin child lurks in the corner, causing his parent to sprout grey hairs and yell incessant pleas from the table to eat.  From toddlers to teens, the thin child who appears to barely eat is just as much a concern to a parent as the child who overeats.

If your child is thin and you are worried about whether he/she is getting enough nutrition, here are some guidelines to help calm your fears and feed your child:

Check the growth chart:  Children show us that they are thriving through normal growth and development and this is demonstrated on the Center for Disease Control growth charts.  Your pediatrician graphs your child’s weight and length/height routinely at well-visits.  Children who are growing normally will channel their growth predictably on their personal growth curve.  Children who are not gaining weight appropriately may demonstrate a flattening of their growth curve or show a decrease from their usual growth channel percentile.  The growth chart is a good indicator of your child’s overall nutritional status.  If your child appears to be maintaining a usual and predictable pattern on the curve, you can rest assured that your child is getting adequate calories for normal growth.

Consider an age-appropriate multivitamin:  Children who are thin may be selective or particular eaters and may not be getting adequate amounts of needed vitamins and minerals.  If your child eliminates a major food group (dairy, fruit, vegetable, grains, proteins), consumes more processed foods than whole, natural foods, or is having difficulty gaining weight, a multivitamin may be a prudent addition to his/her daily diet.

Make every bite count:  Be sure to add and/or cook vegetables with fat, such as butter and/or oils.  Adding sauces such as cheese, hollandaise, or sour cream can help boost calories as well.  Dip fresh fruit in yogurt, fruit dips, or peanut butter.  Dress your pasta–rinse and toss with olive oil, then add butter, cheese or sauce.  Choose 2% or whole milk, instead of skim or 1% fat.  Reconstitute soups and prepare oatmeal with milk instead of water.  Boost baked goods such as muffins, cookies, or  pancakes with an extra egg or dry milk powder.  Every bite of food and every gulp of liquid can make a contribution to your child’s ability to gain weight and grow.

Incorporate a pre-bedtime snack:  Smoothies, milkshakes, instant breakfast drinks or peanut butter toast are good snacks that pack extra protein and calories before sleeping.  Check out my Power Snacks blog for more snack ideas.

Stick to a schedule:  Eating meals and snacks on a consistent basis can help support the cycle of hunger and promote adequate nutrient intake.  Aim to offer meals and snacks every 3-4 hours.

Stay active:  Activity helps build and sustain the cycle of rhythmic hunger.

Don’t plead, beg, or threaten your child to eat:  These actions set up a negative dynamic around food and eating for you and your child.  These are also controlling behaviors, and may backfire in the long run.  Provide ample opportunity and nutritious, acceptable foods on a regular schedule and allow your child to control whether and how much he/she will eat.

Some children are naturally thin and some are thin due to suboptimal or inadequate nutrition.  Always seek further assistance from a Registered Dietitian or your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s weight.

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Feeding children is one of the greatest responsibilities a parent has…and the most repetetive, challenging, and sometimes mundane chore.  As our society’s obsession to be fit and trim is increasingly imposed upon our children, we, as parents, are faced with confusing and conflicting messages about proper feeding, healthful foods, and optimal levels of nutrition.  How do parents respond to this evolving and unattainable standard of perfect nutrition?   Often times, with restrictive feeding.  With good intention, of course–to give our kids just the right foods, in the right amounts, so that they get every nutrient they could possibly need, in the right amounts, so that they are just the right size and shape.  Sound familiar? 

What is restrictive feeding?  In a nutshell, controlling every little bite that goes into your much-loved child.  Controlling portions (think pre-portioned plates), purchasing diet, low-calorie, or fat-free manufactured foods, and limiting second helpings at the dinner table–these are all signs of restrictive feeding.   This practice, on a regular basis, can lead to a backlash of overeating, often away from the watchful eye of mom and dad.  Why?  Because kids may feel deprived when they don’t have the freedom to control what and how much they eat–and they may be hungrier than you think. 

Research indicates that restrictive feeding is NOT working for our children and may be promoting an environment of overeating.  Most interestingly, not only do these studies link restrictive feeding practices to weight gain, they also link parents’ perceptions of their child’s weight to restrictive feeding behaviors, not unlike those mentioned above.  In other words, if you think your child is “big” or gaining too much weight, you are more likely to control every little bite they eat.  And like adults, kids want what they can’t or don’t have–it’s human nature–but unlike adults, kids have less control over their biological drive to eat.  This situation can be a set-up for “overeating on the sly”, ultimately derailing a child’s sense of honesty with themselves and their parents,  eroding their self-esteem, and potentially promoting a culture of disordered eating.

Choosing WHAT we feed our children will always be important to their ultimate health.  WHAT we feed really matters. 

But, perhaps we need to begin paying more attention to HOW we feed our young’uns.  Remember, providing an abundant table of healthy food is both satisfying to the eye and to the tummy.  Feeling hungry and being able to satisfy that hunger is more than a full belly–it’s emotional fullness too.  And maybe feeling emotionally and physically full is what it takes to stop a backlash of overeating in our children.

Which leads to my next post…WHAT you feed matters!

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