This article was reprinted from The Faster Times. Faster. Smarter. Funnier: Go to TheFasterTimes.com for the latest in News, Politics, Science, Arts, Health, Nonsense, and everything else.
If you’re like me, you considered it your duty, as a good father, to eat more than your share of rich fatty sugar-laden foods over the holidays, as a way of protecting your family from obesity. The instinct to protect one’s offspring is hardwired throughout the animal kingdom and a noble calling, so if you’ve gained 10-15 pounds since Thanksgiving, you are to be commended.
Now, Pork-Boy, it’s time to take your New Years’ resolutions seriously and lose a few pounds, particularly if part of your stay-at-home dad’s duties is to buy and prepare foods for your family. Odds are, you’re not the only one in your family who gained weight, or needs to shed it, including your kids.
I won’t bother you with a lot of statistics about the ongoing obesity epidemic (two thirds of adults and about forty percent of all children in this country are overweight) or what the health costs are (diabetes, hypertension, chronic heart disease etc) — if you don’t know this stuff already, you’ve been in a coma for the last ten years.
Kidding aside, it’s important. Bad eating habits are learned young - rarely do fat kids come from thin parents. If you really want to protect your kids, implement the following changes:
Cut sugar. Sugar sends a signal to your body: “burn me first, store fat for later.” We evolved to store as much fat as possible as a defense against future famines, but the mechanism works against us when there aren’t any famines, and there aren’t, at least in this country. If you avoid sugar, you’ll burn fat. Eating sweets before bed is the worst thing you can do. Dr. Naomi Neufeld, Los Angeles pediatric endocrinologist and author of Kidshape (Rutledge Hill, Nashville, 2004, with yours truly as co-author) recommends Splenda as a substitute, though years of studies have shown Sweet ‘N’ Low to be safe too. And don’t fool yourself, thinking fruit juices are good because they have the word “fruit” on them — some have more sugar in them than sodas.
Cut fat. Duh. Two percent instead of whole milk, margarine instead of butter, chicken or turkey instead of beef or tofu instead of chicken, and just a bit of olive oil to fry with. Read labels and if you see something at the store that says “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” don’t buy it, and hide it so no one else can either.
Cut portions. Don’t buy the myth that kids naturally know when to stop eating. The “natural” inclination, remember, is to eat beyond satiation to prepare for famine. Give them half portions, and seconds if they ask for more.
Increase fiber. Whole grains make you feel full while only partially digesting. There are whole grain versions today of virtually everything previously made from refined flour, pastas, cookies, crackers, even cereal. If you’re not convinced, get a loaf of commercial white bread, soak it in water, wad it up in a ball and then ask yourself if you want that in your stomach. Or your kid’s. You don’t.
Increase exercise. Get up and move until you’re tired. Thirty minutes a day with your kids, key word:, “with your kids.” You cannot isolate an overweight child, make them eat special foods or do special exercises, when no one else in the family is doing it. It makes them feel isolated and lonely, and that makes kids eat more. “Children are emotional eaters, which is why when I treat childhood obesity, I work with the whole family, not just the child. Think about your comfort foods,” says Neufeld. “Odds are, it’s something with a lot of sugar and fat in it that your mom gave you when you were little.”
It brings you comfort, now, because it was rich, but more because your mom gave it to you. Eating together, and exercising together, makes kids feel loved and safe. It’s hard in the winter, but you can think of something, wrestling with boys on the bed, dancing or doing Wii Fit with girls, or get a family membership at a gym if you can.
Increase your awareness. Instead of conferring with diet books (though Kidshape is a good one, if I do say so myself), to stay motivated, get one of those digital picture frames, mount it on your refrigerator door, then go online and fill it full of downloaded pictures of fat people, and click here or here if you’re having trouble finding any. It will remind you of your goals, and possibly cause you to lose your appetite. Or put a mirror on the floor next to your bathroom scale so you can see your gut from below.
But don’t step on it because you’ll break it, Fatso.
“Eating healthy 80% of the time is realistic,” says Neufeld. “If you set unrealistic goals, you might feel like a failure. It’s not difficult, but the trick is staying on track.”