For children, a sense of efficiency and self-esteem are of utmost importance in their developing stage. That’s why putting too much emphasis on a child’s weight can jeopardize these two developmental milestones.

When there is a BMI (body mass index) of over 30, a real weight issue is at stake and it needs to be addressed immediately. Consulting a physician or nutritionist is crucial but using the family approach is also a good course of action. Setting an example about being healthy is paramount when talking to kids about weight. As adults, many of us know perfectly well that our habits are generally unhealthy, even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to a weight problem. 30% of health issues are nutrition-related; therefore, improving eating habits is good for everyone. So to really help your child, as a parent, you must embrace a new lifestyle not for your child’s sake, but for everybody’s sake.

Adopting a new lifestyle is always a challenge, no matter the age. For children, it requires just as much willpower as for an adult. In order to modify family habits, a motivational approach is proven to produce the best outcome on overall health. This approach works best when it is applied with empathy and the whole family is involved.

How can a family improve their habits without compromising a child’s self-esteem? Well, first step is to develop a common interest for more physical activities. Most weight problems in children are caused by a sedentary lifestyle. Nowadays, most games that kids like are those that require sitting in front of a TV or a computer screen. You can easily change that by spending time together outdoors, or by replacing computer games by those that get you moving, such as Zumba, aerobic exercises, dancing, any type of sports, etc.

Take a look at your family habits as a whole. Find ways to improve your own habits by cooking more often with your children, discovering new foods, getting everybody involved in menu planning, etc. Then, you can start having real discussions about food and health: what does your body tell you when you’ve had enough? Are you aware of the signals? Do you allow yourself to eat when hungry, or do you postpone it until later, eating way too much instead? Let’s face it: no matter how healthy a specific food is, when the stomach is full, one should stop. Being able to leave food in the plate and allowing the dessert to be delayed a few hours when the hunger is back, that’s a habit that prevents obesity and it applies to everyone.

Children have different needs from adults. For us parents, who have forgotten a few things about growing up, it is hard to imagine how demanding growth can be for the body. Being as hungry as a wolf one day and having no interest in food the next day is part of this process, especially through adolescence. It can be confusing for a parent observing this dietary roller coaster. However, seeking help or consulting a nutritionist who specializes in children and teens can help you find ways to guide your child towards a healthy lifestyle, and a good opportunity to improve your own health, too!