Question: I am a 42-year-old morbidly obese woman (145 kg), who has passed on my terrible eating habits and negative metabolism to my 13-year-old daughter (125 kg). I am desperate. She eats reasonably well and although she could be more active, nothing seems to work. I have brought her to doctors and none of them seem to want to help us because of her age. Weight Watchers and similar programs are cost prohibitive for us. Please, please help.
Answer: Your problem is all too common… and growing. Roughly a quarter of Australian kids are overweight and more than one in twenty are obese. Your daughter and thousand of kids like her share psycho-social struggles along with the risk of future diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, certain forms of cancer and even infertility as a result of our latest national epidemic.
Could It Be a Medical Problem?
While it’s true that less than 2% of obesity has an underlying medical cause, it’s important to find a doctor who will evaluate the problem thoroughly.
Have you and your daughter been evaluated for less common medical conditions? I’d recommend an endocrinologist, an expert in hormonal disorders who is familiar with the unusual causes (and consequences) of obesity. It’s unlikely the search will shed light, pointing only to the usual suspects: Genetic tendency, too many calories and too little activity.
Statistically, if both parents are overweight, their children have an overwhelming chance of repeating the story. But there’s hope even with no surgery.
Face Up to the Challenge
Let’s assume both of you have been dealt a “pair of deuces,” genetically speaking. Why not have a family forum, discuss the problem and its ramifications, and then decide how to play your hand most effectively? Specifically, lean on lifestyle… it works!
Recognizing our weaknesses and adjusting to them is a common strategy, so use the same techniques here. And consider involving a developmental pediatrician or child psychologist to help navigate the emotional storm that can sabotage your efforts.
Model a Healthier Lifestyle
It’s essential that you model the right lifestyle… consistently and with zeal to lose weight — with or without surgery. Identify eating cues like TV, successes (or failures), buffets and boredom, and then develop strategies to deal with them. To lessen temptation, avoid high-risk environments and substitute activities involving family play. Encourage activity and promote family harmony.
Try to get moving at least 60 minutes most days, whether it’s walking, swimming, gardening, tossing a Frisbee or whatever she suggests. Remember that research points to regular exercise as the difference between long-term success and failure.
Good Food Choices
When it comes to food choices, develop a “Mediterranean” pantry and fridge, favouring vegetables, fruits (fewer juices), fish, beans and unprocessed grains. Just don’t have fat and starch-rich, nutrient-sparse foods in the house.
Instead, keep healthy and convenient snacks available: baby carrots, melon chunks, berries, seeds and nuts, low-fat cheese and yoghurt. Involve children in food choices, having contests for the healthiest chef or dinner. See a dedicated dietician.
Throw out the sweetened drinks, and substitute water. If you crave a flavored drink, try adding lime with a pinch of artificial sweetener. And don’t force kids to eat all their food, or use foods as a behavioral bribe or soul-salve.
Set Attainable Goals
It took you and your daughter a while to gain the weight, so plan on losing it slowly too. The most common mistake is to set unrealistic expectations. Remember my universal acronym for wellness. “A.I.M.” for success:
- ADD good foods and activity before taking away nutrition-poor snacks and eliminating TV.
- INCREMENTALLY change habits. Quantum leaps are much, much more daunting than small steps.
- Be MINDFUL as you and your daughter share the challenge and excitement of creating and enjoying your berry-yogurt parfait, bite-by-bite, or reveling in landscaping a small corner of the yard.
Like you, I “picked the wrong parents,” when it comes to weight. But with dedication to a healthy lifestyle, I’ve triumphed over obesity. Employ these tips with conviction… and love. You and your daughter can succeed, too.