Fighting Weight

Desserts, Treats, and Snacks

3. "I hate the idea of making my family give up desserts and treats."

looking at nutrition chart

You don't have to! What matters is creating a healthy food environment in your home, says Dr. Ludwig, who is coauthor of Ending the Food Fight: Guide Your Child to a Healthy Weight in a Fast Food/Fake Food World. After all, it's harder to resist the foods if they're easily accessible. "Make a rule that if it doesn't support health, it's not allowed in the door," he suggests. "But that doesn't mean you can't have a special treat outside the home once in a while."

Dr. Ludwig believes the ritual of dessert is so important that it should happen every night. "It actually helps prevent overeating, because it makes you more satisfied. The trick is to redefine dessert. Make it a square of dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa content, which can be a health food; a few roasted pecans; and maybe warm cider to add a bit of sweetness."

4. "My 4-year-old is heavy, but my husband won't stop giving her soda. I don't even want him to drink it."

Sadly, until you get the whole family on board you won't be able to help your overweight child very much. "What parents do has a far bigger impact on kids than what they say," explains Lori Fishman, Psy.D., a psychologist who consults with families through Boston Children's Hospital's Optimal Weight for Life program. "As long as your child sees you, your husband, or her siblings drinking soda or eating chips, she'll want them." This can lead to resentment and sneaking food.

So avoid sending a mixed message. Soda is either a healthy choice or it isn't, no matter who is drinking it. "Help your child understand that you're not punishing her with restrictions, you're improving her health," says Dr. Fishman. Ask your husband to drink his soda outside the house and not around your child.

5. "My kids barely touch the healthy dinners I make, and then I spend hours saying no to one snack request after another."

On the nights your child won't eat what you're serving, don't make a new meal. Try Dr. Ludwig's technique: "When our 3-year-old won't finish his dinner, we cover the plate and stick it in the fridge. Then later, if he says he's hungry or asks for a snack, we serve him the same food." If your child still refuses, you may have to let him go to bed without dinner. Saying something like, "We're sorry. Maybe tomorrow you'll have an easier time eating dinner" will make it clear that he'll have to learn to like what you serve. (Obviously, never do this with a child who is sick.) Just keep the conversation calm, says Dr. Ludwig: "Your job is to remain peaceful, loving, and firm. Children do not starve for the lack of mac 'n' cheese." That said, if your child is having a particularly tough day, you might offer a healthy snack, like an apple or plain yogurt, as a fallback.

Once the harassment for snacks starts up, change the conversation from food to play. Experts say it's too easy to get sucked into the food side of your child's weight problem and neglect the importance of activities. But new studies show that being too sedentary is an even bigger health risk than being overweight -- and besides, kids usually want to play. Family walks and bike rides or just a game of freeze tag can get their mind off the food fight.

6. "My child is heavy and says she wants to eat candy 'like all the other kids.' It breaks my heart."

It's okay to let her have candy or treats with other kids, as long as it's in moderation and supervised. "There's no reason she should feel singled out because of her weight," says Dr. Fishman. "Occasional treats at school or at parties are fine. You don't want to be too strict. What matters most is what happens inside your home, where you have more control."

It also helps to remind kids that everyone needs to make healthy choices; people who are at a normal weight stay that way through conscious decisions, not by eating anything they want. "Saying things like, 'You know, I'd rather have a candy bar than an apple sometimes too. It's not easy to make the healthier choice,' lets her know that this is a lifelong journey for everyone," explains Dr. Fishman. "If you can, avoid words like good and bad, or fat and skinny. Instead, focus on the simple concept of healthy and less healthy. It's a message your child will need throughout her lifetime, no matter how much she weighs."

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