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Over the Top: Weighing in with Your Kids

Are they hungry or just bored? What to do when your kids overeat.

I noticed it when he was getting dressed the other day: my 10-year-old’s stomach inched just slightly over the top of his pants. Although he hasn’t changed pant sizes in over a year, I was concerned. Over the past few months Jeff has been “thickening” and it seemed like he’s hungry all the time. 

Then I was told he was buying lunch at school in addition to eating the one I packed for him. I knew I had a problem.

The question was did my son have a weight problem, an eating disorder or was he just really hungry?

I looked at the lunches I was packing. Although I was packing two servings of fruit, a sandwich, and crackers, he said it just wasn’t enough to take him through snack time and lunch without “starving to death by the end of school.”

Was I giving him enough food, or just not the right kind?  USDA American dietary guidelines say a typical 10-year-old boy who is moderately active needs about 2,000 calories each day – a very active boy needs 2,600. I knew that foods higher in fiber would help him stave off his hunger, so instead of looking solely at calorie count, Jeff and I started looking for more hearty snacks with the same amount of calories.

Then we went to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website to find out healthy weight range someone of his height and age should be.

We plugged in Jeff’s weight, height, and age to calculate his body mass index (BMI). I entered his younger brother Jon’s information, too. Both boys were in the 85th percentile. According to the CDC, both of my sons were overweight, just barely. One pound lower, and they would be in the ‘healthy weight’ range.

While the information was a bit surprising, I was glad the numbers opened the discussion of eating and health.

“Do you know why you don’t want to be overweight?” I asked by boys as they stared at the computer screen.

“No.”

I explained how excess weight can affect a person’s health, and then I asked what they think they need to do to get to a healthy weight. I was relieved to hear them both say, “Exercise.”

“And eating healthy foods,” Jon added.

Knowing the answers didn’t stop the whining, however.

Although juice and juice boxes seem healthier than drinking soda, they are loaded with sugar. I began sending my kids to school with filled and reusable water bottles with their lunches, and I stopped purchasing juice boxes. When Jeff or Jon asked for cookies, I’d offer apple slices with peanut butter or a small amount of crackers with fruit. If they declined the snack, I told them they probably weren’t really hungry after all. (More whining.)

Simply throwing away high sugar and high fat foods in the house seemed to make those foods more enticing, so we kept them around in smaller quantities. But I didn’t want to encourage them sneaking food, either. Getting my kids involved in their own food choices seemed to help. They picked out pumpkin seeds and high fiber crackers, and even started looking at calorie count on food labels.

We started to analyze how much sugar was in packaged foods. The other day, Jeff pointed out that the cookies he wanted didn’t have any high fructose corn syrup. (A bit of a shock, since I started to think they put that in everything.)

Most importantly, we started getting outside more often. We walk to and from school, walk to the grocery, and the whole family regularly rides bikes around our Woodlands neighborhood. Finding new ways to exercise – even if it means running around the couch 10 times in the living room or jumping on the bed – has been a challenge, but it’s all worth it. My kids now see the difference between empty calories and healthy calories, and understand the balance between food and exercise.

When Jeff wanted an ice cream sandwich the other day, I said, “Run around the court four times and you can have one.”

“Three,” he said.

That I could do.

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