Tag Archives: childhood

What Can a Mother do to Help Her Overweight or Obese Child?

I was the fattest kid in school all my school life. It’s a miserable way to spend a childhood, or any time, for that matter. To look at me today no one would guess it. I’ve been at my ideal body weight for over twenty years. I’m a mental health counselor. Some assume I have no idea what it’s like to be fat. But I know too well. I was obese and morbidly obese for 25 years, and I thought I was a hopeless case for a long time. But I discovered how to solve the problem 20 years ago, lost 140 pounds, and I’ve been helping others since. I know how to solve the obesity problem.

For two-thirds of us, the obesity epidemic is very personal. The physical suffering and cost of medical treatment due to obesity-related diseases is bad enough, but if you’ve ever been overweight yourself, you know that the real suffering associated with obesity is emotional —and no one is more vulnerable to that kind of suffering than children. It is painful to be made to feel defective, to be teased and tormented and criticized and judged. For fat kids, it’s every day.

But here’s the good news: Mothers are the most important and most powerful people in the world related to solving our childhood obesity epidemic. If your home supports habitual behavior that produces obesity, your obese child doesn’t stand a chance of getting better, no matter what the government and schools do. He or she will lead the life of an obese sick kid, almost guaranteed to become an obese sick adult. The only way an obese child can change is if the home and family changes, and that will only happen when mom says it will.

More good news: If you’ve been battling with weight yourself, deciding to help your child avoid or recover from obesity will not only spare your child, but it will solve your weight problem too! Here are some ways to get started:

1) Clear the house of high calorie junk food. Snacking and eating as if it was a hobby or a sport has got to go if you want to control your weight. Have plenty of fruit and diet soda in the fridge so they have something to grab when they need it, but a house full of cookies, snack cakes, chips, candy and ice cream is the house of an obese person. People who have solved their weight problem have none of that in their house.

2) Feast and party occasionally, not every day. There are no bad calories in my book, but some foods are so calorically dense and addictive that you can only have them on special occasions, and then you need to send them home with the guests. Those who have Thanksgiving every day, or party every night, are planning on being obese.

3) Help your kid find pleasures other than food. Everyone needs comfort and pleasure, but learning to use food for that is a sure fire way to create a compulsive overeater. Help them to learn how to have pleasure in healthy ways. Swimming, biking, playing with dolls and Legos, fishing, crafts, games and friends —these are all ways to make yourself feel good. And there are no calories!

4) Swim against the current. Our culture promotes overeating and obesity, and if you are going to refuse to go along with it and be obese, you’ll be rejecting the things that everybody else thinks are normal. Put your foot down with the kids, your friends, and your husband. Don’t go to fast food places unless they have healthy selections, which some are starting to have. When they whine for junk food (husband included) “just say no”, as if they were trying to talk you into letting them have drugs. (Obesity actually accounts for far more suffering and premature deaths than drug abuse.)

5) Become a calorie expert. Buy a calorie guide so you become an expert in portion size and healthy choices. There are no bad foods or bad calories in my mind, but until you get the knowledge of the caloric densities of the food you eat, there is no way to make intelligent choices. Eating without knowing the calories in the food is like going shopping at the mall and charging up all the things you like without looking at the price tags.

6) Never use the “d” word. I don’t believe in “diets” and “dieting.” Never tell a kid you’re putting him on a diet. Believe me, it will backfire—just as it does in adults.

Mom: You can take the lead by modeling and demanding a healthy way at home. Start at home, with yourself and with your family, and the schools and community will have to fall in line. You will save your child and the world by focusing on your own habits and your home. Your child and the world will follow. No one gets in momma bear’s way when her cub is threatened, even poppa bear, and mom, your child is threatened. Get my book, The Anderson Method. It can show you how to change unhealthy eating behaviors and use positive “mind control” techniques to help your whole family feel good about food, have a healthy self-image, and feel motivated and hopeful.

What Should the Schools do to Fight the Childhood Obesity Epidemic?

My most vivid childhood memories are from school. They are awful memories of ugly days, too many to count. I was “the fat kid.”

Every year, the school nurse would make her way from room to room, a doctor’s scale in tow. When she got to our room, we were called by name, and we got weighed. It was like walking to the gallows. I used to think that my misery was unique, but at age 61, as a psychotherapist who has heard thousands of people tell their most intimate secrets, I’ve learned that I am far from alone. Memories of gym evoke similar stories, people learning to hate school, developing bad thoughts and feelings about themselves that have lasted a lifetime.

About 5 years ago, the school department where I live announced their plans to fight the childhood obesity epidemic. When I heard that they were going to weigh the kids, grade them, and send notes home about being overweight, it shocked me. How demeaning. How could people who supposedly understood kids think this was a good idea? Are they planning to do this to high school kids too? Appalling.

Today, in my psychotherapy practice, I specialize in weight control. By luck and grace, at age 33, because of my unique “education” and training, I lost 140 pounds and solved my obesity problem. More importantly, I discovered an extremely rare body of knowledge about obesity, its cause, and its solution. With this knowledge, I have helped thousands to solve their weight problem with my therapy, my book that explains it, and with the therapists I have taught my method. With what I now know, it’s become painfully apparent to me that most doctors, therapists, nutritionists, teachers, and trainers don’t know what the problem is or how to solve it.

It’s terrific that Mrs. Obama, the nation and the schools have decided to fight the obesity epidemic — but let’s declare war on the disorder, not the people who have it. As an expert on the subject, I’d offer the following recommendations regarding how schools should (and should not) respond to our growing obesity epidemic:

1) First, admit that while you know the science related to biology and nutrition, you do not understand all the mysteries of human behavior, self-control, habit management, or exactly how to solve obesity. Don’t talk to the kids as if you do. This is the domain of a small set of highly specialized clinicians in behavioral medicine. Few people have their expertise. Tell the kids that you can teach them about science and the obesity epidemic, but you can only teach them what you know. They need to take what you can teach them and keep learning.

2) Don’t weigh the kids. Don’t send notes to the parents about their child being overweight. Don’t do anything that would shine the spotlight on them because they are fat. They already know it and feel bad about it. They will be advised about their weight, individually, at their regular medical check-ups, and if check-ups aren’t happening, address that as a separate health issue.

3) Instead, teach them about science and health. Teach them about personal responsibility. The kids need to know who and what to believe and how to separate reliable sources from unreliable. They need to understand that no one else will make them healthy and happy if they don’t take on the job themselves. They need to learn to discount diet gossip and nonsense “news.” They need to learn how to learn, and they need to learn real science.

4) Children are often powerless to alter the food at home, but instead of singling out the parents of the overweight kids, send a notice to all parents about the obesity epidemic. Remind parents that the schools’ responsibility is education, and does not overstep or relieve them of their responsibilities as a parent. Then, offer all parents the help you are planning to offer the parents of the overweight kids. Concerned parents will accept the help, and the ones who are not concerned won’t, whether or not you single them out.

5) Stop perpetuating the myth that lack of exercise is the cause of the obesity epidemic and that exercise is the solution. Our obesity is due to our over-eating, to our love affair with consumerism as a way of life. A hard workout may burn the equivalent of one coke, so it is common to exercise and then negate the effects when you have an extra coke (or more.) People who start to exercise will often gain weight instead of losing it. Exercise is vitally important to health, an issue as important as obesity, but it is a separate issue.

6) Get the “junk food” vending machines and merchants out of the schools. There is no justifiable reason for exploiting the kids by selling them a lifestyle that is killing us. Get the money to run the schools somewhere else.

7) Teach the kids about the forces and rules of the marketplace. Teach them that some advertisers and merchants will mislead them, even into scams and dangers like cigarettes, unhealthy food, and weight loss quackery, when they can make money doing it.

8) Have your schools “model” healthy behavior and thinking. Your dieticians and cafeterias can present healthy foods and portions instead of the unhealthy things that we think are normal. School personnel should be required to advocate a healthy lifestyle instead of endorsing the American norm of celebratory gluttony. Faculty and staff would be terminated, I’m sure, if they were to openly advocate sexual debauchery or alcoholic binge drinking. Holiday-superbowl-party-picnic gluttony should be held in the same esteem. It’s no less life threatening.

9) Most importantly, develop an ongoing program to draw kids into the pursuit of health and happiness. Our social institutions need to develop a “health culture” to counteract the consumer culture, and the schools are the backbone of our social institutions and culture. If we can rally kids to promote school spirit, to be patriotic, to support the troops or the United Way, we can certainly rally them to be committed to their own highest potential and best health. Rather than focus on obesity and find kids to fault, let’s champion success and health, and pull all the kids into a lifelong campaign to have their best health and best life. In their hearts, they all really want that. We all do. If you hold it out for them to aspire to, they will reach for it.