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How to Prevent Child Obesity

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Childhood obesity is called an “epidemic” with good reason—according to the CDC, 1 in 3 American kids and adolescents were either overweight or obese in 2010. Your baby doesn’t have to be a statistic; it’s never too early to start helping them achieve and maintain a healthy weight. “It is entirely possible to prevent childhood obesity, but it takes a plan,” says Debi Silber, a registered dietician, pre- and post-natal fitness expert, and founder of TheMojoCoach.com. Read on for 10 ways to solve the obesity problem before it starts for your baby.

1. Manage Your Own Weight

a mom balancing her baby in their lap

Maternal obesity, numerous scientific studies have shown, is the single greatest predictor of childhood obesity, so taking steps to manage your own weight will pay dividends for both yourself and your baby. Don’t pressure yourself to have a “perfect” postpartum body, but start integrating nutritious, whole food choices and attainable exercise goals into your daily routine.

2. Watch Your Language

a mom talking to her baby

How you talk about your own body can have a powerful and early impact on how your baby learns the vocabulary of food and health.  “Don’t complain about your body,” says Silber. Instead, talk positively about how food and fitness makes you feel.  “When food talk is coming from a place of dieting and deprivation, it’s not a good conversation,” Silber says. “If it’s coming from a place of how wonderful fresh, whole, real, nutrient-dense foods are, that’s a great place.”

3. Get Moving

two moms walking their baby's in their strollers

Keeping active—on stroller walks or living room dance parties—has many rewards.  It will help keep your energy level up and your weight down, and it will model healthy habits for your baby. Encouraging active play is a great way to set your child on a path to maintaining a healthy weight. And letting your baby see you moving and grooving is a big motivator, not to mention a lot of fun!

4. Take the Time to Prep

a person preparing some fresh food

Think about your day and plan accordingly so you’re not reaching for whatever calories are closest at hand, Silber advises.  Spending a couple of hours cooking a portion-able meal like soups or stews on Sunday can save you the “what’s for dinner” weeknight stress.  Ask yourself, says Silber, “How can I pre-plan?”  Whether it’s spending 20 minutes chopping crunchy veggies each night and putting them in stroller-ready baggies, or ordering one or two healthy dinners a week from a local home catering company, your watchword should be “simplify”— but be prepared.

5. Sit at the Table

a family having dinner at the table

Family dinner might not be an option for you every night, but whenever you can, show your baby the pleasures of being together at the table.  Silber recommends keeping portions under control and preventing mindless second helpings by plating food before bringing it to the table (as opposed to eating family style).  That way, your baby will see that lots of things happen at the table—conversation, laughing, and eating.

6. Let Baby Get Hungry

a baby messily eating solid food

Of course you’ll never starve or deprive your child—and little ones need to eat more often than older kids or adults—but make sure your baby has a chance to become hungry so she knows what that feels like, and so you both learn the difference between hunger-driven fussiness and some other cause.  “We’re so insistent on pacifying kids with food,” says Silber, “that they don’t have a good sense of the feelings of hunger and satiety.”

7. Watch the Sugar

an apple

Sugary snacks made from processed ingredients dull the tongue’s—and brain’s—ability to recognize sweetness.  Make sure your child can taste that a carrot or apple is sweet too. Unhealthy sugar cravings—even addiction—later in childhood start when babies are offered artificially sweetened snacks instead of whole, real sweets like fruit. “It has so much to do with how we start them off,” says Silber, who says her adult clients almost universally start by breaking their life-long sugar habits.

8. Eat Real Food

a family having dinner together

“Keep it simple,” says Silber.  And that doesn’t mean “dashboard dining” on fast food or processed prepared foods made of unpronounceable ingredients and foods your grandmother wouldn’t recognize. If you eat real, whole, nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, lean meats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables, your child will too.  The less they’re exposed to the stuff that is known to raise their obesity risk, the less they’ll learn early to crave it.

9. Break Your ‘Why I Eat’ Code

a woman looking into a fridge

The more you know about how you choose what and when to eat, the more mindful you can be about what you’re modeling and teaching your baby. Silber identifies four main categories of eating—other than simple hunger—that are worth exploring in your own life to help your child develop a healthier relationship with food.  Mindless eating, binge eating, social eating, and emotional eating make Silber’s list, and she reminds, “Our kids are watching. There is no greater role model than Mom.”

10. Let Yourself Feel Successful

a mom smiling with her baby girl

Virtually every mom holds herself to a high standard she’d probably consider impossible for anyone else to maintain.  But between the sleep deprivation, unpredictable schedules, and physical exertion of new motherhood, “it’s no wonder moms crash,” says Silber, and reach for “foods that fill us but don’t fuel us” to get through the day. Dial down the guilt, she advises, and lower your expectations for yourself. “If you lower the bar a little bit,” she says, “you’ll have the opportunity to impress yourself.”

 
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