Mindfulness: Using Awareness to Eat Healthy

Mindfulness: Using Awareness to Eat Healthy

It seems like buzzwords like mindfulness, meditation, and awareness are becoming more commonly accepted.  When I was younger, these concepts raised images of gurus, hippies, and quacks.  Today, the health benefits of meditation are undisputed, and mindfulness and living in the present are becoming lifestyles in their own right.  This made me wonder: Could mindfulness be used to teach our kids to eat more healthfully?

Mindless Eating

A lot of the food we eat, we eat mindlessly.  I am guilty party numero uno in this regard: I see mealtimes as my “time out” from the stress of being a full-time wife and mother, so whenever I can snatch a moment to sit at the table and eat, I grab a good book and read.  Of course there are many manifestations of this: some people eat while they watch television, some while they read, and even some while they’re driving.  Our kids are no exception.  If they’re not eating in front of the boob tube, they’re likely to be eating on the go or while horsing around with their friends.  Even in the hour-long child minding my kids attend while I go to the gym, the carers put the TV on while the kids eat their snacks.

The problem with eating mindlessly is that we don’t tend to think about what we are eating, or how much.  On the one hand this is a really bad thing because it often leads us to eat too much of the wrong foods.  We end up eating an extra dozen handfuls of popcorn, an extra bread roll, or an extra helping of pasta.  On the other hand, we can turn this to our advantage.  If our kids are eating mindlessly, they will end up eating more healthy stuff, like salad, veggies, and fresh fruit.  It is up to us as their parents to replace the cookie jar with a bowl of fresh fruit and to relegate the serving bowl of pasta to the sideboard while a big bowl of salad takes pride of place on the table.

Using mindless eating as a trick to get kids to eat more healthfully only works when our children are eating at home.  But as kids grow up, head off to school, and take on more and more activities, the number of opportunities we have to trick them into eating healthfully decreases.  This is when we need to educate our kids in the skills they need to make good eating decisions.

Applying Mindfulness to Eating

Mindfulness goes beyond simply living in the moment.  When it comes to eating, it is actually all-encompassing.  Often, we taste the first and last few bites of a meal, but the intervening majority of flavor is lost on us.  We frequently eat and cannot remember how much we consumed.  We habitually underestimate how much and how many we have eaten.  We don’t even know if we are hungry or full.  We don’t pay attention.  And the majority of us overeat as a result.  And that includes our kids.

By applying a mindfulness approach, we bring our focus back fully onto our food.  We pay attention to all those details, including:

  • How fast or slow am I eating?
  • How long does it take me to eat this meal/snack?
  • What is the texture of the food?
  • How does the food taste?
  • How does eating this food make me feel?
  • What memories, feelings, or emotions do I associate with this food?
  • Am I hungry, not hungry, or full?
  • Do I want to take each bite?
  • What will be the consequences of eating this food?

Teaching Your Kids Mindful Eating

Getting kids to slow down and savor their food may seem a daunting task, but it is a skill that can be taught.  Try this simple exercise with your kids and repeat it as frequently as possible until the act of being mindful and aware becomes familiar and a matter of course.

Have your child take a few raisins, some sunflower seeds, a cracker, a stick of celery, or another small snack the first time you try this, but you can also try this at the dinner table as a family.  Begin by asking your child to describe how they are feeling.  Are they hungry or full? Heavy or light? Relaxed or anxious?  What is their mood, and does it affect their desire to eat?  What do they think will be the consequences of their eating this snack?  (Will it give them energy, make them gain weight, or make them feel more or less hungry?)  Have your child pick up the food in his/her hand.  Ask them to describe it in intimate detail.  Is it heavy or light?  Is it wrinkled or smooth?  How does it feel sitting on their skin? Comfortable or uncomfortable?  What color is it?  What texture?  Have your child bring the food up to their nose and inhale.  What does it smell like?  Is the smell strong or weak?  Does this smell remind them of any thing, person, or experience?  Have them place the snack in their mouth or take a bite of it.  Before they chew have them assess how it feels in their mouth.  Is it dry or wet? Warm or cold? Does the texture feel different on their tongue than it did in their hand?  Does the food have a taste even before they begin to chew?  Does it feel heavy on their tongue or light?  Is it melting or solid?  Ask them to chew but not yet swallow.  What does the food taste like?  Is it sweet, sour, salty, bitter, or umami?  Does it remind them of anything?  Does it affect their emotions at all?  What is the texture of the food?  Is it chewy or crunchy? Hard or soft?  How does the texture change the longer they chew it?  How does the flavor change?  Tell your child to swallow.  As they do so, have them focus on the feeling of the food sliding down their throat.  Have them imagine it sliding down into their stomach.  Now ask them how they feel.  Do they feel more or less hungry?  How is their emotional state?  Do they feel satisfied? Guilty?  Repeat with the remaining snack.

The Results of Mindfulness

Mindfulness and awareness may or may not motivate your child to make more healthy food choices away from home.  They still might not choose to order salad when all their friends order greasy pizza.  But mindfulness can help them be more aware of their bodies and their emotions as they eat.  By nurturing mindfulness related to eating, you will make it impossible for them to continue to eat mindlessly.  Whether they want to or not, they will suddenly find themselves “zoning in” when eating instead of “zoning out.”  Unwittingly, they will begin to be aware of how much they are eating, how fast they are eating, and how they feel about the food they are eating.  It will make them stop and think twice before heading to the snack machines – asking themselves if they are really hungry right now.

Mindful eating can really help kids to make better food choices.  It can also help them to lose weight or to stay at a healthy weight.  It will also help them confront their emotions surrounding food.  If eating certain foods makes them feel sluggish or guilty, their awareness of this can help them choose to avoid those foods in the future.

Another benefit of mindful eating is that it gives kids a sense of consequences.  The judgment center of kids’ brains doesn’t fully develop until their early 20’s.  But by making consequences very clear and by teaching kids to consider the consequences of their eating habits, we introduce them to a useful skill that can be applied across the board in their lives.

Good for Relationships

Teaching kids the skills of mindfulness when eating can also be good for your relationship with them.  In effect, teaching mindfulness is a form of granting stewardship.  Instead of micromanaging and trying to control all of your child’s eating habits, you are teaching them the skills they need to make good food choices.  Handing over the control to your kids, at least when they are out of the house, gives them a sense of power and control.

Power and control are essential for any human being.  None of us likes the feeling of being powerless, and that includes even very young children.  Anyone who has had a baby spit their food or formula out at them or refuse a particular type of food has run into this head on.  If we want to inspire healthy kids, we cannot just focus on the last two words.  Of course we want healthy kids, but we also want inspired kids!

Mindfulness is one tool of many that we as parents can deploy to teach our kids to make good food choices.  By teaching them this skill, we can also give them the gift of being able to say to them that we trust them to make good decisions on their own.  Being granted power, control, and stewardship over their own eating habits can be hugely empowering for kids of all ages.  This does not mean they are without guidance!  This means we provide them the guidance, the help, and the aid they need to learn how to make good decisions without wresting the control away from them.

Happy Mindful Eating!

I hope this tutorial on teaching mindful eating proves helpful.  In fact, it is the kind of timeless wisdom we can all benefit from, no matter what our age.  Mindfulness can stop us from reaching into the office candy dish when we don’t really want another chocolate, and it can stop us from going back for seconds when we are no longer hungry.  But unlike conventional diets, mindfulness does not deprive anyone of the foods they want.  It simply makes us more alert to our behaviors and empowers us to make good decisions.  For an adult, this can be hugely liberating and for a child it is even more inspirational and empowering.

For anyone interested in using mindfulness and emotional awareness as the keys to resolving weight or food issues, I strongly encourage you to contact my good friend and personal inspiration, Kylie Ryan.  And no, she didn’t pay me to say that.  I just think she’s awesome and good at what she does, and I know you will, too.

The Banting Diet: Dangerous for Kids

The Banting Diet: Dangerous for Kids

In my last post, we looked at if the Banting Diet is safe for children.  It most certainly is not a safe diet for kids.  Youths, who are still growing and developing, are especially sensitive to changes in diet.  A healthy diet can do them an enormous amount of good and an unhealthy diet can do a tremendous amount of damage.  The Banting Diet is downright dangerous for children and teens.

Dangerous for Children and Teens

Actually, low carb diets can be dangerous for anyone.  Cutting out an entire nutrient group is not ideal to the human condition.  But children are especially sensitive, as they are growing and developing.  In fact, it could actually be downright dangerous.  Dr. Fuhrman, a well-known medical doctor, points out on his blog just how dangerous low-carb diets can be for kids:

Most recently, a sixteen-year-old girl who had no history of medical problems died after two weeks on the Atkins diet. When the paramedics arrived, she was pulse-less, and the electrocardiogram revealed ventricular fibrillation (a usually fatal loss of normal heart rhythm). Her emergency room evaluation showed electrolyte imbalances that occurred as a result of eating a diet of meat, cheese, and salads for two weeks. She was doing the diet together with her mother.

Of course most cases won’t be this extreme!  But the fact is that low carb diets of any kind can be dangerous and a high animal fat diet like the Banting Diet poses even greater risks.  The “low fat” diet that was touted as healthy for so many years has now been shown not to be the fastest way to lose weight, but that doesn’t mean that suddenly switching to the opposite extreme is the best reaction.

Animal fats are saturated fats, which themselves carry lots of disease-causing potential.  Saturated fats “have no double bonds between carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules.”  Their chemical structure means that we digest them differently than unsaturated fats.  This can lead to the development of high cholesterol, which is showing up in younger and younger populations. It is also a major risk factor for heart disease.  Indeed, reducing saturated fats specifically (as opposed to fats overall) is the most effective way to prevent coronary heart disease in women.  The American Heart Association recommends limiting intake of saturated fats to no more than 7% of your diet – well below what the Banting Diet insists on!  It is no coincidence that kids placed on a balanced vegan diet showed drastic improvement and major reductions in their heart disease risk factors.  Those kids were eating basically the exact opposite of the Banting Diet!

Bear in mind that the Banting Diet is doing more than just restricting carbohydrates and promoting animal fat consumption, the dangers of which we have already discussed.  The Banting Diet is also restricting the intake of other foods, too.  The whole long list can be found here.  We’re not just looking at a diet that cuts out wheat, like in a gluten-free diet.  This is a diet where corn, peas, agave, and any kind of fruit juice is absolutely forbidden.  Fruits are also on a highly restricted list, so you can have them, but only in small amounts.  For example, three small figs or one small banana is all the fruit you’re allowed each day.  Notice I said ‘or’ – not ‘and.’  This is not much fruit for a child, who needs that nutrition to thrive.

Children need a balanced diet in order to get all of the vitamins and minerals they need for their bodies to develop.  Lacking enough of certain nutrients can have long term effects even beyond what science can currently fathom.

What Do You Want For Your Children?

After reading all of this, what do you want for your children?  Hopefully you want to provide them with a balanced, healthy diet.  Hopefully your goal is to reduce their disease risks and give them the foundation they need to grow and develop optimally.  Doing so will help them live a healthier life, regardless of what choices they make later in life.

The Banting Diet is dangerous for adults and doubly so for children.  Tamzyn Campbell may be a nutritionist, but just having a piece of paper with your name on it does not mean you are always right.  Similarly, not having a piece of paper with your name on it does not mean you are wrong.  I hope I have made a strong case here for why Tamzyn Campbell, nutritionist though she may be, is wrong, dreadfully wrong, and therefore dangerous.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Here are the words of Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D. (whose father is one of my top nutrition idols):

One of the best examples of the low carb misconception is the Atkins program and Paleo both of which emphasize  meat which is so deleterious  to health.  And certainly not for children.

You are right to be alarmed about the Banting Diet……for anyone, especially children.

Do what is right for your children and choose a healthy plant-based diet.

The Banting Diet: Is It Safe For Kids?

The Banting Diet: Is It Safe For Kids?

This week an article came out touting the Banting Diet for children, starting from the age of 6 months.  The Banting Diet is yet another trendy Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) diet, emphasizing eating lots and lots of animal fat.  The nutritionist in the article claims this is a healthy diet for kids – but is she right? Is the Banting Diet really safe for kids?

What is the Banting Diet?

The Banting Diet is a Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) diet.  It is similar to other carbohydrate-restricting diets in that most carbs are forbidden but it is different from diets like Atkins because instead of emphasizing eating lots of protein, the Banting Diet emphasizes eating lots of fat, particularly animal fats.

In fact, the number one rule of the Banting Diet is to eat a lot of animal fat.  Eating lots of animal fat is the number one solution on the Banting Diet.  Hungry? Eat more animal fat!  Getting the urge to snack (snacking is strictly forbidden)?  Eat more animal fat!  If you’re on the Banting Diet you might as well make eating more animal fat your mantra.

The other half of the Banting Diet focuses on reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing calories with fat.  Skip the milk and go for the cream; double cream is even better.  Even too much dairy is disallowed because it contains too many carbohydrates.  Instead, go straight for the butter, as much as you want.  Avoid carbs if at all possible, including disguised carbs like quinoa, peanuts, legumes, and beans. Starchy vegetables are also a no-no. Also avoid having too much fruit and too many nuts because they also have carbs and sugars.

Finally, the Banting Diet tries hard to distinguish itself from Low Carb High Protein diets like the Atkins diet by emphasizing that you are not to have too much protein.  In fact, you should choose the smaller protein portion if you eat out.  Choose the fattiest cut of meat you can.  And eat ALL the fat.

Is the Banting Diet Safe for Kids?

In a recent article, nutritionist Tamzyn Campbell claims the Banting Diet can benefit children by reducing obesity.  She claims it can even be started as young as six months, with severe carb restrictions waiting until six years.  But is she right?  Is it really healthy to feed a baby or even a child a diet overwhelmingly high in animal fats, with little to no grains and very little fruit, nuts, and protein?

Let’s consider first what experts say about the nutritional needs of children.  Children are growing and developing at a very rapid pace, in ways that adults are not.  Not only are children physically developing and growing quickly, but their brains are also growing and developing, with new brain cells growing and new synaptic connections being forged every day.  The way that children develop now, in their youth, will dramatically impact their health in the future, for the rest of their lives, including their mental and emotional health in addition to their physical health.

In order to achieve this rapid level of growth, children need to take in very high levels of vitamins and minerals, nutrients they need to grow and develop.  Their nutritional needs are different from that of adults and diets that severely restrict one major food group (carbohydrates), no matter what the source, are creating a danger for kids’ health.  A vegan diet, for instance, might omit animal sources of protein, but vegetable sources of protein are still permitted and encouraged.  The Banting Diet, on the other hand, emphasizes a very specific source of one food group (fats, from animals only – the Banting Diet goes so far as to claim that seed oils are toxic) with the exclusion of another entire food group (carbohydrates).  This will necessarily have an effect on growth and development.  Jim Bell, president of the International Fitness Professionals Association notes that:

[I]n children going through a development process, there can be permanent inhibition in their reaching full genetic potential when an entire group of macronutrients is eliminated from the diet. It doesn’t matter if it is fat, protein, or carbohydrates, it’s just not healthy.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Joan Carter, a Registered Dietician at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine emphasizes the differing dietary needs of kids:

Low-carb diets are not a good choice for kids because children are nutritionally different than adults, and these diets are restrictive in many of the nutrients they need.  Growing children need more calcium than adults, and their tissues need vitamins and minerals that come from fruits, vegetables, and grains. With diets that restrict these and other important nutrients, it shortchanges kids in a way that can affect their growth and development.

Children also have much higher energy needs than adults.  Not only are kids using energy to run amok with their friends and tear your house apart like whirling dervishes, they’re using that energy to grow and to learn.  Over 20% of our calories are used to fuel the brain.  Restricting carbohydrates, the body’s most ideal source of energy, certainly will not help your child to learn.

Carbohydrates are fuel for the body and they encourage ideal performance.  Jim Bell, president of the International Fitness Professionals Association, points out that “carbohydrate loading is used by endurance athletes for a good reason — it gives their bodies an extra storage of fuel so their performance increases dramatically.  In full-grown adults, we know that restricting carbohydrates cuts down on athletic performance and endurance.”  So, too, with children.  Kids need carbohydrates in order to run around and get exercise, something we as parents should be encouraging them to do.  (If your child isn’t getting enough exercise, just putting them on a low-carb diet won’t solve all their problems.  Get them away from the screens and outside with their friends!)

While fat is an essential nutrient like salt, your kids don’t need very much of it.  Fat adds calories, but it’s not the optimum fuel for your tank.  It’s kind of like putting ethanol in a car designed to run on petrol – the car will probably still run, but it won’t be very efficient and it will damage the engine.  A small amount of ethanol mixed into the petrol can be a good thing, but only ethanol?  Not ideal.  So too with fat in kids’ bodies.

Carbohydrates are the ideal fuel for a child’s growing body and they come together with lots of nutrients kids need. Is fruit high in sugar? Sure! But fresh fruit also has enzymes, minerals, and vitamins kids need.  So too with healthy whole grains and vegetarian sources of protein like beans, legumes, nuts, and pseudo-grains like quinoa.

So what happens when the body isn’t getting carbohydrates as fuel?  Essentially the body begins to think it’s starving and in starvation mode it doesn’t work optimally.  The body breaks down fat for fuel, but in the process it creates what are called ketones, which are not good for kids and can actually impair their ability to learn.

Dr. Bruce Rengers, an assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, explains why this is.  He points out that “ketones have a dulling effect on the brain.”  This is because ketones reduce glucose uptake by brain cells – in effect ketones keep the brain functioning, but at a reduced level from what it should be.  Joan Carter, RD notes, “Essentially, this quasi-starvation mode is not good for alertness, and it’s certainly not good for children.”  She’s right – how could a diet like this possibly be good for children?!

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy At Home

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy At Home

Yesterday, we considered some clever psychological ways to trick our kids (and possibly ourselves) into eating healthier when out of the house.  But a lot of the food our kids eat is in fact eaten at home.  Fortunately, there are lots of ways to trick our kids into eating less and eating healthier at home, beginning with the way we do our grocery shopping, and continuing on to the way we serve (and even market) our homemade meals.  Bon apetite!

In the Store

Going food shopping?  We all know it’s a bad idea to go to the grocery store when we’re hungry – it encourages impulse buying, especially of convenience food items.  Shopping hungry doesn’t necessarily make us buy more, it makes us buy worse… and that unhealthy food will feed our families for the next week.

Another grocery shopping trick to still those cravings is to chew gum, especially mint flavor.  Chewing gum tricks your body into thinking its eating and, as your stomach expectantly waits for its (nonexistent) food delivery, you will be able to do your grocery shopping uninhibited.  People who chew gum while shopping buy 7% less junk food.

Begin your shopping trip in the produce section.  Spend some time there.  Browse the vegetables and, if your kids are with you, talk to them about them.  Spend at least 10 minutes there – shoppers who spend this long in the produce section tend to buy more produce than shoppers who rush through… and fresh produce is the healthiest thing you can buy in the entire grocery store, really!

Don’t be afraid to “cheat.”  Who cares what people thing when they see you buying bagged salad?!  They may think you’re lazy, but do it anyway.  We’re all busy mums and bagged, pre-washed salads make it so much easier to serve salad for dinner.  Today, you can buy bags of just greens, but more and more grocery stores are offering complete pre-mixed options that come with other veggies already mixed in, or in separate packets in the bag.  Heck, I’ve even been know to cheat by buying the bagged Asian salad mix – and dumping it into the pan for a quick stir-fry.  If bagged salad means you’re more likely to serve salad for dinner, do it!!!!!  As parents, we tend to feel like better parents if we’re serving our kids fresh vegetables, so why not skip some steps and take credit for being a good parent?  Serve them bagged salad or steamed frozen veggies and feel proud while you do it!

Smart shoppers looking to save money will often buy the economy size, so save yourself some money and buy all means get the healthy option in the biggest size available!  But don’t leave it that way when you get home – subdivide them immediately.  Today you can buy special reusable cereal containers that even come in half sizes.  I have a whole pantry full of them and I use them for everything, from muesli to rice.   Seeing the smaller container when serving will encourage kids to take less.

At Home

Get organized!  People eat less when their kitchens are clean and organized, possibly because it sucks to make food when you know you’ll be messing up a clean, shiny countertop.  The same principle applies to other places where you tend to sit and eat, like at your desk at work.  People surrounded by clutter eat 44% more snacks.  And no matter how organized or nice it looks to leave certain food items sitting on the counter, put them away – studies show that people who leave containers of cereal (even super healthy cereal) sitting on the counters weigh on average 21 pounds (10 kg) more than people who hide their cereal in the pantry.

What kinds of dishes and utensils are you using?  Next time you’re looking to upgrade, don’t go with the fancy plates that match the food you’re serving, unless perhaps you’re serving kale on a dark green plate.  People consume 18% more food when they are eating off a plate that matches, so try to choose contrasting colors. And of course there is the age-old trick of using a smaller plate.  Most people have heard about this one already – it’s logically satisfying, since you can’t eat as much if you can’t fit as much on your plate.  Use a smaller plate, eat 22% less.

As for your cutlery?  Go with a bigger fork.  It may be tempting to serve kids with small salad forks rather than the big adult forks, but it’s time to give your kids a promotion to adult status, at least in this regard.  One study found that people who used larger forks ate on average 3.5 ounces less per meal than people who used smaller forks.  That’s because our brains take visual cues to determine how much we have eaten – our stomachs are just too slow to respond.  Seeing bigger bites tricks our brains into thinking we’ve consumed more, while seeing smaller bites makes us think we’ve consumed less.

Don’t stop there – think about what kind of glasses you are using to serve drinks.  Experiments have mainly focused on alcoholic beverages like wine, but it stands to reason that a kid’s equivalent of wine would probably be some sort of juice, soda, or other soft drink.   Soft drinks are a huge portion of calorie consumption by today’s children, so why not trick your kids into drinking less?  People drink 92% of what they pour for themselves, so the amount put in the glass really matters.  Pouring into tall, thin glasses, rather than short, fat ones, encourages people to pour in less, and thus consume less.  Of course, if all your glasses are short fat ones, you can just avoid the whole issue by serving only water at meals, which is what I do.

Keep healthy food around and visible, especially during mealtimes.  Placing a bowl of apples in front of the shelf of potato chips may seem like a hopeless and obvious attempt to get your kids to snack on the right foods, but it actually works.  Kids who are presented with healthy food staring at them when they make food choices are more likely to eat healthier overall during that meal.  Whether it’s guilt, shame, or subconscious influence, I don’t know, but it does work.  Of course, you could just remove the potato chips and replace them with apples completely… but how many of us have that much willpower?

How do you serve meals to your family? I’ve never been a fan of “plating” each dish – in my experience, this leads to a lot of food waste and grumbling because not everybody wants precisely one serving of every thing. Growing up, dishes were all placed on the table and each member of the family took as much of each as they wanted.  Lately, I’ve been lazy and I often serve meals directly from the stovetop in a “get it yourself” kind of manner.  Which of these three methods is best?  Well, studies show that serving yourself from the stovetop rather than family-style at the table results in eating 19% less, so if you are aiming to reduce the amount your kids are eating, go ahead – tell them to get it themselves!

Name the food you serve.  Yes, I know, most foods already have names, but are they names that mean something to kids?  “Green Bean Almondine” may sound elegant to adults (and it has a nice rhyme factor) but it is meaningless to a five-year-old.   To encourage kids to choose to eat the healthier foods you are offering, rename them with names that are cool for kids.  “X-Ray Vision Carrots,” “Popeye’s Super Strong Spinach” and “Silly String String Beans” will sound fun to kids and studies show they’ll eat more of them.

Finally, if you’re not above misleading (or blatantly lying) to your kids, try telling them their meal is less healthy than it actually is.  People who think they are eating fattening, filling, and high calorie foods fill up faster and feel more satisfied, leading them to eat less than if they think they’re eating the diet version.  By all means, serve your kids the healthy stuff… just don’t let them know.

Conclusion

If you employ these tips and tricks you will find your kids are eating far less.  Maybe not the more than 60% less that each of the “at home” tricks listed above add up to, but then again… maybe!  I think it all depends on your starting point.  But if your child has a weight problem or you think he/she is eating too much, these tricks are a completely painless way to persuade them to eat less, without ever needing to tell them you want them to eat less.  So go ahead, serve that rice on a red plate and that pasta with tomato sauce on a white plate – a small one – from the stovetop.  And make sure there’s a big bowl of salad on the table while your kids are eating.  Then, just have patience and wait for the results.

Go ahead, shamelessly trick your kids into eating healthier.

Slim by Design

Go ahead, shamelessly trick your kids into eating healthier.

*Many of these statistics have come from the research of Brian Wansink, who is a food psychologist and the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.  You can read more about tips and tricks for psychological food mind games in his new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

 

 

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy Away From Home

Trick Your Kids Into Eating Healthy Away From Home

If getting your kids to eat healthy food or choose healthy food options is a regular struggle, maybe you’re going about it the wrong way.  Most kids will be happy to learn to eat healthy foods using the techniques I have previously suggested (here, here, here, and here), but some kids really make it a struggle.  What if there was a way to get them used to eating healthier foods without fighting? If only there was some way to trick them into eating healthier.

The idea of tricking kids into eating healthy food may seem disingenuous, but it doesn’t have to be. The idea of tricking kids into eating veggies often means hiding veggies in cake, lying about the contents of a dish, or giving kids green juice in an opaque bottle.  I’m not opposed to disguising the color of an item or hiding vegetables in a food kids already enjoy, but outright lying is only going to damage your child’s trust.  If we want kids to value what we have to say and to really take on board the lessons we are trying to teach them, we have to maintain a high level of trust.

But we can still trick them into eating healthier.

There is a lot of research out there about how different psychological factors impact how much and what we choose to eat.  If we have concerns about obesity, we can start by reducing the amount of food our kids eat, and we can do it all without their even knowing.  We can do it by using psychological tricks.

In a Restaurant

Americans eat 43% of their food away from home, so it is good to have a few tricks up your sleeve when it comes to eating out.

Where are you eating out?  Most restaurants offer a range of healthy and unhealthy foods, so just picking a “healthier” restaurant may not be enough.  Consider the atmosphere and mood of the restaurant.  Sound and lighting can actually influence what we eat.  A restaurant with dim lighting and loud music will encourage you to eat more calories.  Also consider that certain types of music will enhance your dining experience.  Higher pitched music makes sweet food taste better while deeper notes improve the taste of bitter flavors, so if you’re trying to stick to an enjoyable savory meal and avoid the dessert, find a restaurant that tends to play deep orchestral music, rather than one with a piano in the corner.

Choose the right seat.  In a conventional restaurant, select a spot near a window, which increases the likelihood of ordering salad by 80%.  Avoid dark corner booths where nobody can see you – instead choose a spot near the front door – they increase your chances of ordering dessert by 73%.  And if you can, choose a high-top bar-style table.  These tables make you sit up straighter and reduce the risk of you ordering fried food.

When it comes time to order, resist the urge to order healthy food for your kids, or to pressure them to order that healthy salad.  People who are pushed to eat healthy food make up for it later by “treating” themselves, and you don’t want your kid dipping into the cookie jar as soon as he/she gets home.  (I think a lot of people do this with the gym, too, which is why exercise alone is not enough to lose weight.)  Instead, trick your kids into ordering a healthier option by asking them what someone else they admire – say, Batman or Dora the Explorer – would choose to eat.  Having to order for someone else encourages kids to think more deeply – and often they will change their order.

Going to a buffet?  Sit as far away from the buffet as you can – it encourages you to eat less.  Make sure your kids are facing away from the buffet, as well – they won’t be as likely to keep returning for more if they aren’t staring at it.  As above, encourage them to use small plates, rather than large ones.  Walk them through the buffet and look at each option before taking any food.  (Letting them take before looking encourages them to just grab the first things they see and end up eating those things in addition to what they really want.  Buffet-goers who look first only take those foods they really want to eat.)  Finally, if it’s an Asian buffet, teach your kids to eat with chopsticks.  Many Asian restaurants even have some special chopsticks for kids, to help them learn.  People who eat with chopsticks rather than forks tend to eat less, probably because chopsticks force you to eat more slowly, and allow the signal of fullness from your stomach to reach your brain before you’ve eaten too much.

At School

School lunches have improved in recent years… and also haven’t.  Consider packing a healthy lunch for your kids.  People at work who bring bag lunches eat less food than people who eat out, so why not apply this principle to your kids?  You also have more control over how healthy the food is that you are sending your kids.  Healthy lunch ideas like falafel plates, shish kabobs (and more shish kabobs), and roasted vegetables are filling and nutritious.  Homemade snacks like pizza crackers, fruity muffins, and even healthy cookies or mini cakes will be more nutritious than the snacks your kids are likely to eat from the school vending machines – even if they meet new health standards for “smart snacks”.

If you are going to send your child to school with snacks, consider some ways to get your child to snack less.  Try transferring snacks to clear bags.  If you are sending a snack that would normally fit in a sandwich size bag, send it instead in two or three small snack sized bags.  Studies show that snackers who have one big bag are likely to eat the whole thing, whereas snackers with the same amount of food in multiple small bags often only finish one of them.  And if you are concerned that your child might waste the healthy fruit you are sending, try cutting it up – one study found that 48% fewer apples were wasted when they were cut up, as opposed to served whole – and that there was a 73% increase in kids eating more than half of their apples.

Conclusion

These tips will help you trick your kids into eating healthier even if they are eating a lot of their meals away from home.  When kids are not eating at home, where are they most likely to be eating?  Primarily at school and a restaurants (whether with or without parents).  If you use these tricks, you can help get your kids to eat less and to eat healthier.

But that’s not all, folks!  Stay tuned for a new post soon, on how to trick your kids… at home!

Slim by Design

Go ahead, shamelessly trick your kids into eating healthier.

*Many of these statistics have come from the research of Brian Wansink, who is a food psychologist and the director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab.  You can read more about tips and tricks for psychological food mind games in his new book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

Healthier School Lunches ARE WORKING!

Healthier School Lunches ARE WORKING!

Last month I posted a series about American school lunches and the changes they have undergone during Michelle Obama’s leadership.  The lessons we can learn from this “experiment” in good childhood nutrition are applicable all over the world.  However, at the time I was writing, there was no scientific report yet out about the impact of these changes on kids, although I did share about one inspirational case study.  That report was released just days after my post on the subject!

Lessons from the Lunchroom: Childhood Obesity, School Lunch, and the Way to a Healthier Future is a report by Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, PhD, MHA and Jeffrey K. O’Hara, PhD that was released at the end of February.  This report highlights that although healthier school lunches on their own will not solve the childhood obesity epidemic or make our kids instantly healthy, they do have a meaningful impact.  Kids who eat the healthier school lunches consume more fruits and vegetables, which is really important when so many kids today eat less than one serving of fruits and vegetables per day.

Obesity is a huge problem for the children of today.  Obese children are ten times more likely to become obese adults.  With one third of kids in America overweight, this means we are raising a generation of unhealthy children who will become unhealthy adults.  The United States alone spends $210 billion treating obesity-related diseases every year.  And those are just the obesity-related diseases, not the figure for all diseases that could be prevented with a healthy diet.  This affects everyone in society, as we are all affected by the economy that bears the brunt of this heavy burden.

Minorities are especially at risk, with African American kids 43% more likely to be obese and Hispanic American kids 59% more likely to become obese.  Interestingly enough, minorities are also those groups most likely to be granted free or reduced lunch status, as minority groups in America have a greater likelihood of having a lower socioeconomic status.  In a surprising twist of fate, this could actually be a good thing – it means they are most likely to benefit from positive, healthy changes to school lunch regulations.

Lessons from the Lunchroom reveals some surprising proof that healthier school lunches have a meaningful impact on kids who consume them.  The report analyzes kids’ eating habits over time and concentrated on kids who consistently eat school lunches, i.e. kids on the free or reduced lunch program.  This study found that kids in the fifth grade who receive free or reduced lunches ate three more servings of fruits and vegetables per week than their peers.  This benefit carried forward into the future as well, with the study finding these same kids ate more fruits and vegetables than their peers three years later.

Three more servings per week of fruit and vegetables on the face of it may not sound like a lot, but with 30% of 6-year-olds consuming fruit less than once daily and nearly 20% of 6-year-olds consuming vegetables less than once daily, adding an extra three servings of fruit and vegetables per week into kids’ diets can make a huge impact on their overall nutrition and health.

Furthermore, this study confirms yet again that positive dietary habits formed young continue to impact kids.  It is never too late to start teaching kids good nutrition habits!  However, the younger kids are, the more likely the changes are to stick.  Repetition helps as well.  Kids who take a fruit or vegetable with their lunch every single day are more likely to eat that fruit or vegetable and are also more likely to form a lasting habit.

Remember, as taxpayers we are all paying for school lunches.  School lunches are subsidized not only directly, in the form of free or reduced lunch programs, but also indirectly, through agricultural subsidies.  Later in life taxpayer dollars help underwrite the healthcare system that pays for obesity-related diseases.  The health of our nation’s youth depends on us making a statement and pushing for healthy change!

This is of concern to all of us, now.  This is not some nebulous issue or even something that requires you as an individual to overhaul your local school lunch program (although I applaud you if you do attempt this!).  This is an issue that each and every one of us has a stake in and has a say on.  The report’s press release says it well:

By September 30, 2015, Congress must again reauthorize the National School Lunch Program and related programs—another chance for Congress to improve school nutrition. UCS recommends that Congress maintain the gains made in the 2010 law, while increasing funding to programs that support serving nutritious produce in schools. Congress should also increase the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches to assist schools with providing healthier lunches.

So go forth and contact your representatives in Congress! Let them know what you think and agitate for change.  Together, they will listen to us.  Together, we can make a change.

The Union of Concerned Scientists also published a snazzy infographic summarizing the report, which you can share with your friends:

New Study Shows Vegan Diet Reduces Heart Disease Risk in Kids

New Study Shows Vegan Diet Reduces Heart Disease Risk in Kids

We think of our children as immune to certain diseases we associate with old age.  We don’t expect them to get arthritis or to have a stroke.  Yet, sadly, with childhood obesity on the rise, more and more of our children are at risk for heart disease.  Just as type 2 (once called “adult onset”) diabetes has become commonplace among the youth of today, risk factors for heart disease are on the rise in younger and younger children.  The good news is, you can turn it around, and it’s easier than you think.

Earlier this month a study came out in The Journal of Pediatrics showing just how powerful switching to a healthy diet is.  Researchers wanted to evaluate how effective different diets were at reducing risk factors for heart disease in children.  Many studies of this nature have been done on adults, but this one is specifically targeting precursors of heart disease in children, which I have mentioned before is an increasing concern, with 70% of obese 5-7 year old kids exhibiting at least one risk factor for heart disease.

The current mainstream guidelines for reducing heart disease risk are those put forth by the American Heart Association (AHA).  While many doctors and individuals have long criticized their standards as being far from sufficiently rigorous, the AHA has been loathe to further restrict their recommended diet.  Perhaps they are concerned that being too strict will frighten people away from keeping to the recommendations.  But in the meantime, their diet is far from ideal.  So, what exactly are the AHA recommendations?

Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars and sweeteners.  As part of a healthy diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish (preferably oily fish — at least twice per week), nuts, legumes and seeds.  Also try eating some meals without meat.  Select fat-free and low-fat dairy products and lean meats and poultry (skinless).  Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.

 

On the AHA diet, which is definitely healthier than the average diet, kids did see their diets improve and become healthier.  But how much healthier?  1/3 – 30% – of their calories were still coming from fats, although less than 7% of those calories came from harmful saturated fats.  Because they reduced meat intake, daily cholesterol intake dropped to less than 300 mg/day.  Sodium intake also dropped to 1,500 mg/day.

To determine if this diet is truly the ideal in reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease in children, researchers, led by Dr. Michael Macknin, tested both the AHA diet and an alternate vegan diet.  He and his team of researchers selected 28 obese children between the ages of 9 and 18 to participate in the study, which ran for 4 weeks.  They then randomly selected children to participate in one of the two diets.  At least one parent of each child in the study was also required to stick to the diet.  This makes it much easier for kids to stick to the diet, follow through with the study, and maintain a positive attitude.  The addition of this provision is actually a good example of what I repeatedly have said: Lead your kids by example.  If you want to inspire healthy kids, you need to also be eating a healthy diet!  Participants in the study also attended two-hour educational nutrition information sessions once per week, which affirms again what I have repeatedly said: Kids need to be educated about how food affects their health so they will be motivated to make healthy decisions.

What was the vegan diet like?  Children on the vegan diet were given plants and whole grains, although they limited their intake of fatty plant foods, like nuts and avocados.  They were given no animal products and no added fat was used in food preparation.

As a result, and no doubt in spite of a bit of cheating and leniency, consumption of animal proteins dropped from an average 42 grams per day to just 2.24 grams per day.  The percentage of calories from fat was just 18% (compared to 30% for the AHA diet), with only 3.6% coming from saturate fats (compared to 7% on the AHA diet).  Clearly, the vegan diet is a dramatically healthier diet than the AHA guidelines, if we look just at nutritional intakes.  (Of course not all nutritional values for foods were tested, but we can easily make an educated guess that those children on the vegan diet were consuming more vitamins and minerals, as their diets included more nutrient dense vegetable and whole grain ingredients.)

What were the results of the study?

Children on PB had 9 and children on AHA had 4 statistically significant (P < .05) beneficial changes from baseline (mean decreases): body mass index z-scorePB (−0.14), systolic blood pressurePB (−6.43 mm Hg), total cholesterolPB(−22.5 mg/dL), low-density lipoproteinPB (−13.14 mg/dL), high-sensitivity C-reactive proteinPB (−2.09 mg/L), insulinPB(−5.42 uU/mL), myeloperoxidasePB/AHA (−75.34/69.23 pmol/L), mid-arm circumferencePB/AHA (−2.02/−1.55 cm), weightPB/AHA (−3.05/−1.14 kg), and waist circumferenceAHA (−2.96 cm). Adults on PB and AHA had 7 and 2, respectively, statistically significant (P < .05) beneficial changes. The significant change favoring AHA was a 1% difference in children’s waist circumference. Difficulty shopping for food for the PB was the only statistically significant acceptability barrier.

In layman’s terms, this means that kids on the plant-based diet showed significant improvement in nine different categories: body mass index (BMI), systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, insulin, myeloperoxidase, mid-arm circumference, weight, and waist circumference.  High sensitivity C-reactive protein is one measure of inflammation in the body and is a major indicator of heart disease risk.  Myeloperoxidase is an enzyme necessary for healthy body function, but in elevated levels is associated with risk for coronary artery disease,* to the point that high levels over a 13-year period was shown to have more than doubled the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.**

In contrast, children on the AHA diet showed statistically significant improvement in only four areas: mid-arm circumference, weight, waist circumference, and myeloperoxidase.  Clearly, the vegan diet was more effective in reducing risk factors for heart disease.  However, the AHA diet did show a 1% change in waist circumference, which shows it was good for losing weight in the right places.  On the other hand, the vegan diet resulted in greater health benefits even if those benefits were more internal than external.

(If you are an adult reading this and want to reap the benefits, you can.  Children’s bodies are more reactive to changes in their diet than adults, so they show more significant results more quickly, but adults also showed major benefits.  On the plant based diet, adults benefits in seven of the risk factor areas, while on the AHA diet they benefited in two of the risk factor areas.  If you put your child on one of these diets and you join him/her, you will also stand to gain – or, in this case, to lose! Haha!)

Dr. Macknin’s conclusion was:

As the number of obese children with high cholesterol continues to grow, we need to have effective lifestyle modifications to help them reverse their risk factors for heart disease.

 

We’ve known that plant-based diets are beneficial in adults in preventing and possibly reversing heart disease. This study shows that the same may be true in children too, though more studies are needed.

Of course this study was limited in scope, as not many children were tested.  Also, the study ran only for four weeks.  But just think about that!  Statistically significant benefits in nine areas were found in children on a plant based diet in just four weeks!  That’s such a short time.  It is really amazing.

The one complaint participants on the low-fat vegan diet had was that food was expensive and difficult to find.  It does not need to be this way.  Of course if you are buying convenience foods, it will be more of a challenge and more expensive.  Processed foods in the vegan market are niche, and fat-free vegan foods even more so.  I would suggest that more foods be made at home and less processed foods consumed, to take a page out of the paleo diet book.

We shop in bulk at farmer’s markets, often going once a week to stock up on fruits and vegetables.  I then use these to make healthy meals for my family.  Perhaps tomorrow I will post a recipe for an easy fat-free vegan tomato soup.  I often make big batches of this comfort food when tomatoes are in season and freeze containers for use later in the year. I find prices in farmer’s markets are 30%-50% lower than in supermarkets, I can support local farmers directly, and the food is more fresh.  On my last trip to the farmer’s market, I got 10 kg (22 lb) organic grapes for $10!  In the US, some farmer’s markets are even offering to double food stamps, so even people on food stamps can take advantage of the findings in this fantastic study.

With childhood obesity on the rise, we as parents have the power to combat it.  It’s not as hard as it might seem – even if you cut back and begin to follow the AHA guidelines, your child will benefit.  Go gradually and slowly transition to a more plant-based diet.  Even I cannot claim to be vegan (we eat a small amount of dairy and a tiny amount of fish once a week, but lots and lots of eggs), but take the steps you can in the right direction and it will only benefit you and your kids.  I know if my kids showed one of these risk factors for heart disease, or showed signs of obesity, I would not hesitate for a moment to switch to an even healthier diet than the one we are currently on.  We all have to start somewhere! Go ahead, take the plunge – or at least the first step – in the vegan direction!

*Zhang R, Brennan ML, Fu X, Aviles RJ, Pearce GL, Penn MS, Topol EJ, Sprecher DL, Hazen SL (November 2001). “Association between myeloperoxidase levels and risk of coronary artery disease”. JAMA 286 (17): 2136–42.doi:10.1001/jama.286.17.2136

**Heslop CL, Frohlich JJ, Hill JS (March 2010). “Myeloperoxidase and C-reactive protein have combined utility for long-term prediction of cardiovascular mortality after coronary angiography”. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 55 (11): 1102–9.doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2009.11.050

Does “Healthy Obese” Really Exist? Why Not to Let Your Kids Become Overweight.

Does “Healthy Obese” Really Exist? Why Not to Let Your Kids Become Overweight.

“I’m not fat, I’m just big boned!” goes the classic joke.  But it’s not such a joke anymore.  For years, the trend of “healthy but obese” has been booming.  This comes as no surprise, in a day and age when more and more people are overweight.  Nobody wants to admit they are fat and even if they are willing to accept their obesity, they do not want to accept that this extra weight on their bodies could be putting their health at risk.  This is even more true when it comes to our children.  As parents, we want to feel that we are doing what is best for our children, not that we are making them sick or shortening their lifespans!  The concept of “healthy obese” has become a trendy copout.

What is “healthy obese?”  Healthy obese is when an individual is classed as “obese,” with a BMI (body mass index) over over 30, yet who has normal cholesterol levels, good blood pressure, and no diabetes or other metabolic risk factors.  These people claim it is okay to be obese because they are also presenting as healthy in blood tests.  People claim there is nothing wrong with having this extra weight because it poses no additional health risks.  However, until recently there were no long-term studies done to prove this.

The problem is that people who are “healthy obese” do not tend to stay healthy in the long term.  The mere fact of being obese, even “healthy obese,” dramatically increases your chances of becoming “unhealthy obese” in the future.  In a study published a few days ago in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, scientists followed over 2,000 people for 20 years to assess their long-term health outcomes.  Over the course of the study, researchers periodically tested the subjects on five indicators of metabolic health: cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, fasting glucose levels, and insulin resistance.

By the time the twenty years had elapsed, more than half of the “healthy obese” had becoming “unhealthy obese,” at a rate nearly eight times that of control subjects who were not obese at the outset of the study.  In most cases, “healthy obesity” leads over time to “unhealthy obesity,” with the risk of becoming unhealthy increasing as more time passes.

While this study focused on adults, its message for children is clear: obesity is not healthy.  Even if your child appears healthy, obesity is setting them up for an unhealthy future.  This could be due to the obesity itself as a risk factor, or it could be due to the unhealthy habits that led to the obesity in the first place adding up over time.  Either way, obesity puts your child at risk of an unhealthy future.

This is why it is essential to emphasize a healthy diet for your kids.  Ensure they eat well and maintain a healthy weight – and by “healthy weight” I mean not an “obese healthy” weight! – so they can live longer and thrive.

Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet for Kids

Health Benefits of the Paleo Diet for Kids

For the past couple of days, I’ll admit it, I’ve been pretty hard on the Paleo Diet.  Could it be more obvious that I’m not a fan of low-carb diets?  I believe that the key to inspiring kids to eat a healthy diet is an appropriate balance of healthy foods.  The Paleo Diet never claims that foods like whole grains and legumes are unhealthy – it merely claims they make you fat.  And because the Paleo Diet is a low carb weight loss diet dressed up like an ideological attempt to get in touch with our cro-magnon roots, its true goal is not to get adherents to eat healthy, as one might first assume, but rather to get adherents to lose weight through carbohydrate deprivation.

Fresh fruit - banana, strawberry, pineapple, blueberry

Statements like this one, from http://ultimatepaleoguide.com/

Eat high-sugar fruits in moderation. They’re great for you, but it’s easy to overdo it. Remember, your caveman ancestors didn’t have access to Florida’s orange groves 24/7, so you probably shouldn’t try to eat a bushel of oranges in your next paleo diet meal.

bring to light this wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing issue with the paleo diet.  My friends, our caveman ancestors would have eaten a bushel of oranges a day on days when oranges were in season. Of course they would have! It would have been folly not to.  Our ancestors would also have dried fruit and eaten it all year round.  But when it was in season, they would have eaten as much fresh fruit as they possibly could have. And it’s healthy for your kids to eat lots of fruit!  It’s far better than sweets and the sugars it contains won’t make your kids fat.  They can eat as many bananas and oranges as they want and as long as they’re eating a healthy, balanced diet, they won’t get fat from fruit.  (Incidentally, there is even a whole group of fruitarians out there who eat only fruit, but the health impacts of this kind of extreme diet on children is a post for another day.)  Don’t kid yourself, folks – the paleo diet is a low-carb weight loss diet and nothing more.

Having said all of that, the paleo diet does have some good points, some things that do make it advantageous for children’s health.  It advocates completely eliminating all sweets and processed meats.  This is fantastic! And by cutting out carbohydrates on the Paleo Diet, potato chips, French fries, white bread, and white rice are no longer being consumed.  These are really fantastic steps.  If more people would adopt these basic tenets of the paleo diet it would go a long way to reducing the obesity epidemic among our children.

But these benefits do not outweigh the health dangers of putting your child on the paleo diet I have explored in the last two days.  Cut out the processed foods, the white grains, and the sweets, and you’ll start seeing some of the paleo diet benefits over time.  But if you cut out the good stuff, too, like legumes and grains, restrict the vegetables your kids can eat, and increase their meat consumption, you are putting them at risk of serious health problems.  As adults, we can make the decision to put our health at risk.  We can decide to do foolish things that we know will make us sick.  But should we really enforce these decisions – which we know will have negative consequences – on our children, too?

I think not.

Take the good parts of the Paleo Diet and apply them in your kids’ diets right now.  I promise they will do a world of good.  But leave the rest behind.

Read more about the Paleo Diet:
What is the Paleo Diet?
Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 1)
Is the Paleo Diet Healthy for Kids? (Part 2)

Combating Childhood Obesity (Part 3)

Combating Childhood Obesity (Part 3)

The third set of reasons for why children become obese are down to social pressures.  Of the three reasons I’ve addressed, this may be the most difficult one to deal with.  Within your own home, you have control over what your kids eat, but once they are out in the world, they are more likely to be influenced by friends.

Of course, it is good to encourage your kids to make friends with other kids who have similar values surrounding health and diet, but there is no way to guarantee they will do so.  However, being friendly with other parents who hold similar values to yours and have children the same ages as your children is a good first step to take.  I remember that when I was a child, my parents would regularly have dinner guests who had kids we could play with.  As a child, I was always happy to see these friends, although I would probably not have been friends with them had I been in school.  Nevertheless, they did become my friends and did succeed in influencing me (as perhaps I did to them as well).  Thus, you can take steps to find friends for your kids who have the kinds of values you want your kids to have, too.

But what about those friends who are not a good influence on your children?  (And there always seems to be at least one!)  Telling your child to stay away from that friend will only backfire and make them want to be closer to that friend.  The best thing you can do is to encourage your child to stand up to pressure from their friend.  If that friend eats a very unhealthy diet, you need to make sure your child is confident in their healthy choices.  This is why you need to really inspire your kids to be healthy.  They need to want it as much as you do.  Talk to them about it and see how they feel.  Then emphasize the good parts and focus on them, ignoring the bad.  Make sure they understand that it is good to stand up for what they believe in.  If their friend is trying to encourage them to toss their healthy lunch and go for a meal of French fries instead, make sure your child has the tools to stand up to the peer pressure. Kidshealth.org advises:

If you continue to face peer pressure and you’re finding it difficult to handle, talk to someone you trust. Don’t feel guilty if you’ve made a mistake or two. Talking to a parent, teacher, or school counselor can help you feel much better and prepare you for the next time you face peer pressure.

Make sure your kids understand this.  You need to create an environment where they feel comfortable speaking to you, which is why it is important to inspire them to want to lead healthy lives and eat healthy food.  They are more likely to stand up to peer pressure when it is something they believe in, too.

If your socio-economic situation makes it harder for you to provide your family with healthy food, there are certain steps you can take.  Take a half an hour a week or 5 minutes a day to read blogs like this one to inform yourself about health and nutrition.  You can share what you read with your family, perhaps reading aloud for 5 minutes after dinner and discussing for a couple minutes what you read.  You can also take baby steps toward a healthier lifestyle for you and your kids.  Instead of buying oily fast food French fries, get pre-cut fries from the grocery store freezer aisle and bake them in the oven.  With a tiny bit of olive oil spray and some good seasonings, they will be much healthier and won’t take any more time or effort than it would to sit in line at a drive-thru.  You can start replacing unhealthy snacks like chips and cookies with healthier ones like plain yogurt, fresh fruit, or snacking vegetables like baby carrots.  Buy frozen vegetables rather than tinned ones (which usually have sugar and/or salt as an ingredient, plus preservatives).  Little steps like this won’t cost you more time or money but, when added up, will make a big impact on your kids’ health.

I hope these tips on how to fight or prevent obesity in children have proven helpful.  Please share in the comments section the strategies you have employed!