She’s just a kid..

I was working at GNC this weekend when a mother and her two kids entered the store.  The daughter looked to be in her early teens and the son was much younger.  I asked them what I could help them with and the mom said she was having issues with her two kids.  The son, who looked to be around 9 was actually 7, but was rather obese, and looked older as a result.  The mother explained that he was not eating healthy food at school and that he’d gained a bunch of weight from eating “crap” all summer.  She was looking for a meal replacement bar for him for his lunches.  The daughter, who was thin, had what I’d call a body image problem.  She kept talking about dieting, cleanses, weight loss, etc., and the mother explained that she hardly eats at all, and when she does, it was also “crap” food.  The mother explained she was looking for something like a vitamin for her daughter to make up for her not eating.

I told the mother that I couldn’t, out of good conscience, give her son a meal replacement bar.  I explained that if he was eating crap food all summer, she as a parent was to blame for buying it or allowing it to happen.  She looked surprised and asked what she needed to do.  Yes, she asked what she should do…

I said, “Well, start by eliminating junk food from the house.  Get rid of pop, chips, candy, and junky snacks.  Bring in fresh fruits, bring in protein shakes, and bring in healthy options for the kids to eat for lunches and after school snacks.  Your son doesn’t need a meal replacement, he just needs guidance on better eating habits.  A meal replacement (if he’s still eating crap throughout the day) would only add to the issue.

She nodded and asked what she should do about her daughter’s weight issues.  I replied, “First, they’re not weight issues.  This is a body image thing.  Your daughter is not at all fat or out of shape and she feels she needs to lose weight?  You need to put an end to that ASAP or it could develop into an eating disorder if it’s left unchecked.  She also needs to eat healthy, but if she’s entering the teen years and wants to start working out, maybe a gym membership could help and it’d give you time to do an activity together.  Diet pills and cleanses aren’t for teens and won’t solve anything for them and there isn’t a vitamin that will “fix” the problem of not having enough food.”

I wanted so badly to chew her out for her lax method of parenting and for letting her kids get so out of control with their health.  I wanted to tell her that she was responsible for putting her children’s health in jeopardy and that she had a ton of work to do to turn things around, but I didn’t.  I kept quiet and polite, but remained firm in my advice to her.  It just upsets me that parents can be so clueless at times.

We have a duty as parents to make sure our children are as healthy as we can make them.  By letting our children become unhealthy or develop poor (or dangerous) eating habits, we’re chipping away at their longevity.  If it swings too far into chaos, we will outlive our children, and no parent should have to endure that.

Here are some tips:

1.  Serve kids fresh fish.  Fish is high in protein and has Omega-3’s which aid in brain development. There are even studies happening now that are examining a link between a higher intake of Omega-3s and improved concentration.

2.  Encourage smart snacking.  Twinkies, swiss cake rolls, fun fruits, and sugary snacks are a “once in a GREAT while” snack, not a daily snack.  Stock the house with rice cakes, fresh and dried fruit, granola, nuts, cheese, and other healthier options instead.

3.  Don’t promote overeating.  Kids should never be encouraged to “clean their plate” or to eat as much of something as they can.  It’s simply setting a bad precedent for their eating habits to come.

4.  Kids need calcium.  Did you know that skim milk has the least amount of “real” calcium?  In the process to remove the milk fat, the natural calcium found in the dairy is also removed and is often replaced by a chemically added calcium.  2% milk is best, unless your child is lactose intolerant, in which case you’ll need to buy calcium supplements or find a way to work calcium in through other foods.

5.  Be the example.  Kids are observers and if they constantly see you worrying about body image, they’ll soon exhibit the same behaviors.  Keep your weight drama away from the kids and just show them the advantages of living a healthy lifestyle through working out with them and eating right.  If you have a supplement supply, keep the diet pills away from the lineup (tuck them in a drawer in the bedroom?) and only let them see the good ones like Omega-3s, Vitamins, etc.,.