“TAP” into the Holidays – Maintain Don’t Gain

My daughter and I were baking cookies the other evening at a friend’s home.  We made those green wreath cookies with cornflakes and green food coloring.  I am generally not a sweet eater – really could take or leave them.  However, that night when I got the cookies home I think I ate five wreath cookies.  Maybe I had more than that.  Honestly, each one tasted better than the last.  Surprisingly enough, I woke up in the middle of the night quite nauseated.  My body was clearly trying to tell me something.  Since I felt like that was out of character for me, I started to think about why I ate them, why they tasted so good, and why I didn’t want to stop.  Stress and sleep deprivation are two keys as to why we overeat.  Since daylight savings time ended, my sleep habits have been atrocious.  I am up at 4 am and exhausted by 4 pm.  This holiday season has been overwhelmingly stressful, although I’m not sure why.  However, I am sure that my eating that night may have been caused by my high anxiety level and lack of sleep.  Point being during the holidays, not only are we faced with parties and special events tempting us with delectable fat-laden dips and buttery christmas cookies,  but many of us during the day are running at full speed with a million things to do, while laying in bed at night wide-eyed thinking about the million things we have to do! 

Children and adolescents may or may not struggle with these issues as well.  If you suspect your child’s stress level is high or they are having difficult sleeping, this issue must be addressed.  However, they absolutely have to deal with the more abundant eating opportunities and temptations surrounding them.  Cookie baking, treats brought into school, gift exchange parties, etc. all present themselves during this time.  Who really wants to be thinking about what they are eating at a secret santa gift exchange?  Unfortunately, this is where the cold hard facts come into play.  You do have to think about what you’re eating.  You can have a bad day or two but when this is not kept in check, the pounds will starts to creep up on you.  You must sit down with your child and discuss how to handle these situations.  TAP – thinking, awareness, and planning. 

For example, your son has been invited to an end-of-season football/holiday party.  Over the past several weeks, he has been working on improving his eating and exercise habits.  He has lost two pounds and you know he feels proud of himself.  You would hate for him to sabotage his past efforts.  Now it’s time to sit down with him (for a quick minute, for his sake).  Praise him for his recent accomplishments and then casually mention the upcoming party.  Remind him while he’s at the party he needs to think and be aware.  Try not to mindlessly grab snacks.  Suggest he thinks about what  looks good and what he would like to try.  Be aware of his feelings of satiety.  Have him ask himself, am I still hungry?  Did that really taste good enough to have another?  Always, make sure your child has a plan.  Does he have a snack before he goes to the party?  Maybe not, because he thinks he’ll eat the goodies anyway.  What will he do if he is repeatedly offered foods?  How does he politely say no?  What if his friends are playing a game of who can drink the most cans of coke?  Sounds crazy, but this has actually happened in my family.  Anyway, his plan will be up to him.  Believe me, I know your child may or may not be receptive to what you suggest and tell them.   Never give up on them and never stop trying. 

Finally, realize your child’s best bet during the holiday season is most likely to maintain and not gain.  It might be unrealistic to continue weight loss during this time.  Compliment your child on their weight maintenance.  It’s a great achievement.  You don’t want to nag them but make sure you are there to support and guide them.  As always, acknowledge everything positive they do.  Have a wonderful,  joyous holiday with the greatest gift of all – your child.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched.  They must be felt with the heart.  Wishing you happiness.”  Helen Keller

My Doctor Said My Child’s Weight is Fine…But is it?

You suspect your child is overweight.  You’re not sure if they are going to outgrow it, maybe they are just going to be a little “bigger” than average, or maybe it really is a problem.  You really don’t want to believe the latter.  On your child’s well visit to their pediatrician, your doctor informs you of your child’s BMI (Body Mass Index), used to determine overweightness or obesity.  If you are told that your child falls above the 85 percentile for weight, you should be concerned.  The 85th-95th percentile is considered overweight and above the 95th percentile is considered obese.  The problem is I have been hearing over and over again from people that their pediatrician was “not concerned” about their child’s weight when they fell into the above categories.   There also have been recent articles addressing this problem.  I’m not sure if it is linked to the whole “body image” thing and eating disorders.  Of course, we do not want to do anything to promote an eating disorder.  Yes, not everyone is going to be “thin.”  But to not seriously address a weight issue with a parent or caregiver is difficult for me, as a dietitian, to understand.  Sometimes you just have to go with your gut as a parent.  Sometimes we are in denial about our child’s weight and it is reassuring to hear a physician say they will probably outgrow it.  The  BMI guidelines are clear regarding overweightness/obesity in children.   If you are told your child’s BMI is above the 85th percentile, it is very likely your son or daughter could benefit from some form of intervention.  It certainly couldn’t hurt but ignoring things may make this problem a bigger one to overcome in the future.  Listed below are some reasons why your child may benefit from seeking help from a registered dietitian:

  • BMI greater than or equal to the 85th percentile.
  • Any change in your child’s growth chart pattern – for example, weight begins to exceed height.
  • Any sudden or large weight gain.
  • Changes in eating habits that you think are worrisome.
  • Poor eating and exercise habits.  All children could benefit from education in these areas.
  • Suspicion of any eating disorder – all too often I hear parents of adolescent girls, in particular, questioning their eating habits. 
  • You just feel something is not right with regard to weight and or eating behaviors.

Not all of the above mean that your child has a weight problem.  They simply should raise a red flag.   Upon further investigation, you  may find out everything is fine and no intervention is necessary.  But maybe it is and you may have just prevented a little problem from becoming a great big one down the road.

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”       Theodore Roosevelt

Claire’s Chicken Soup – Healthy Comfort Food Kids Love!

My alarm clock this morning was a howling, screaming wind outside my window.   I got up to let my dog out and was happy to finally feel the December chill  in the air.  Good day for soup.  Good time to share one of my family’s favorite soup recipes.  I usually make it (or one of it’s many variations) once a week in the winter months.  The beauty of it is that my daughter enjoys helping me make it but loves to eat it!  It is a low calorie, low fat delicious comfort food that really fills your belly.  There are so many variations of  it, too.  Even if your child or teen doesn’t think they like veggies, it would be hard to not like this soup!

Claire’s Chicken Soup

2 large chicken breasts, with skin

16 oz. low sodium chicken broth or stock

1 1/2 cups sliced carrots (real carrots that you have to peel taste best!)

1 1/2 cups chopped cabbage

Handful of chopped  curly parsley

1 large onion, quartered

Boil chicken breasts and onion in 6-8 cups water.  Boil until cooked (approximately 30-40 minutes depending on size of chicken breasts).   Remove chicken breasts and set aside to cool.  Add carrots, cabbage and parsley (you may  need to add more water).  Boil until carrots are firm (not mushy).  Turn heat to simmer.   Shred chicken and add back into soup (discard skin).  Add chicken broth.  You may need to add more or less broth according to taste.  Salt and pepper to taste.

This recipe can be altered to your child’s preferences.  You can use any veggies you like:  corn, broccoli, green beans, edamame, peas, tomatoes.  You can also throw in a  1/2 cup of barley.  If your child really wants  noodles,  make sure to cook these separately so they don’t get soggy.   Add them sparingly at serving time.  If they prefer chicken to vegetables, go heavy on the chicken.

Have fun making this soup with your child!  This is a great way for them to get some kitchen skill experience (chopping, peeling, cutting – with your close supervision) and to experiment with different ingredients.  Keep warm and bon appetit!

“Cookery is not chemistry.  It is an art.  It requires instinct and taste rather than exact measurements.”

Marcel Boulestin

A Weigh to Encourage…Baby Steps

My daughter came home very excited about a good grade she got on test.  She was so proud of herself.  That same day I had looked at her grades and seen, in my opinion, a less than ideal grade on a quiz in another class.  After she finished telling me how great she had done, I was quick to point out the other grade and asked her what was going on in that class.  I can still picture the dejected look on her face.  Why did I do that?  What did I gain from that?  As a parent, I often fail with regards to providing positive feedback to my children.  They could do ten great things, but I will pick out the one thing they did wrong and spend the most time on that.  The experts say when we do that, the only thing that child remembers is the negative stuff we said.  Even though we may quickly praise them, when we say “but what about….”  it totally negates whatever good things we said.  

When providing support to your child or teen when they’re working on changing their nutrition/exercise habits, there are two things that come to my mind.  First, focus on the POSITIVE.  Ignore the negative as much as possible.  They will get the message.  Make sure you acknowledge everything they do that contributes to their efforts on making a change.  If you are at a restaurant and they make a healthy choice in selecting an entree, make sure you don’t follow that with asking them why they skipped their workout after school.  I’m not saying to not address a behavior if you feel it’s necessary.  Save that for another time – and I’ll talk about that in another blog!!  For now, let any compliments or kind words you give your child be just that.  Don’t lessen the impact by bringing up anything negative.  Secondly, small steps lead to big change.  I think we often want things yesterday.  Weight loss and maintenance is a lifelong commitment.   Change and new habits take time.  Think about what happens when we rush to do something.  Often, we make a mistake, do it haphazardly,  or forget something and then have to do it over.  Apply that to losing weight.   If your child makes one change, say having sugar-free jello for dessert once a week, and is able to stick to that, don’t think it’s not enough to make a difference!  It is – and, with loving support from you, will lead to other permanent changes  to healthier eating behaviors.  Each small change builds on the next.  When your child feels they have been successful at something, it encourages them to keep trying.  And when they see results, maybe losing one pound, getting a compliment from someone, or realizing they are not as winded when playing a sport, it builds their confidence and makes them feel better about themselves.  Just remember it takes time.

These things may seem obvious.  Yet we expect so much from our kids.  I thought prior to the holidays when things start to get chaotic and we may occasionally “lose it,”  consider this a reminder to remember your job as your child’s biggest supporter of whatever their healthy nutrition goals might be!  Be positive, be patient, and be kind.

“I can live for two months on a good compliment.”  Mark Twain