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I have learned the worst thing you can do to a child is to put them on a diet. A diet takes the control away from the child. It makes them feel helpless, unable to cope. In today's world, the last thing a child needs is more pressure to conform.
How, then, does a mother (and/or father) teach them to control those urges for candy, second helpings and ice cream that can add too many extra pounds? I struggled with that question the first five years of my younger son's life.
The problem first came to my attention when my son turned three. He was not obese by any means. He was extremely healthy and topped the charts on height, but he exceeded those charts on weight. I heard nurses make snide remarks about my son's weight during well child doctor visits. One, needing lessons in tact, told me he would hate me when he grew up. For what? For letting him eat the same things his older, thin brother ate?
I tried severely cutting down his sweets for awhile. Every time my older son would ask, "can I have some cookies?" I let him have the customary three, but only let my younger son have one. His big brown eyes would fill up with tears, making me feel two inches tall.
I tried buying low fat and healthy snacks exclusively. We always have fruit, Newtons and pretzels in the house. Unfortunately, my younger son hates these things. My older one eats them all! He has about 3 percent body fat already and is getting firmer all the time.
One morning I caught my younger son with a entire box of cookies. He had binged and finished off the bag before I could stop him. I realized we had a severe problem. I could see the same tendencies in him that I still had. I couldn't bear to have him grow up with the weight problems I have, so I sat down and started thinking.
I put all the foods we routinely have into three color coded categories based on the percentage of fat to good vitamins and minerals. Potato chips are a red, meaning bad food; baked potatoes are a green, meaning good food. Everything in between are yellows.
The important thing about this method is that each family work out the coding for themselves. Both my sons helped categorize what we eat, and now they are pros. I can make something new, and based on what they know about what goes into it, they can categorize the dish. For example, regular American cheese is a red. Low fat, low calorie American cheese is a yellow. All vegetables are a green (what they supply in fat and calories are made up for in vitamins and minerals) unless they are cooked in grease. Then they are a red.
The number of colors allowed depends on the amount of exercise each child gets. My older son runs everywhere he goes and has a very high metabolism, so he is allowed up to three reds, four yellows and unlimited greens a day. This could mean he has cereal in the morning (yellow) a sandwich and chips in the afternoon (yellow/red) three cookies in the afternoon (red), whatever I fix for dinner (normally a yellow and some greens), then ice cream for dessert (red).
My younger son is allowed one red, three yellows and unlimited greens because he hates exercise, therefore his metabolism is slow. If he wanted another red a day, he would have to exercise for an hour. Forty-five minutes for a yellow. An example of a days meals for him is: A banana/skim milk shake in the morning (green), a ham sandwich and WoW! Chips for lunch (yellow), a fat free low calorie pudding snack in the afternoon (green), and whatever I fix for dinner (yellow and some greens), then fat free, low calorie ice- cream for dessert (yellow).
This way he eats the good stuff at the same time his brother does and he has control. If he wants to substitute cookies for the pudding, he can. He just counts that as his red for the day. Sometimes, he will have the fattening ice cream after dinner as his red. The important thing is, he has control. He no longer feels helpless about his weight.
For the past two years, he has maintained the same weight while he has grown two inches in height. He is now within normal parameters for his weight and height and is a much happier child.
This program can work for anyone. All it takes is some determination and a desire to learn how to eat properly. A lot of the amounts listed here are arbitrary. I don't have an exact formula, these examples are meant to be just that--examples. Experiment, find out what works, the important thing is to work on it as a family. Good luck.