Despite growing awareness of the soaring obesity rate in the United States, most people don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables or get enough physical activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you involve family members in a weight-management plan, you’ll make beneficial lifestyle changes and teach your children healthful habits for life. “Getting a family weight-loss plan started might be easier than you think,” says Anja Garcia, certified fitness trainer for DailyBurn.com and a pediatric nurse at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA.
Take the first step toward a weight-management plan. Have a family meeting. Don’t frame the conversation around “weight loss,” especially if you have children who might emotionally internalize comments about weight, warns Garcia. Instead, talk about the health of the family. Stress that you all have to get healthy together so you can take care of each other. Next, identify the key changes you want to make in meal planning and exercise. Everyone should have input and agree on the plan. Set a start date that allows a few days to plan meals, shop for food and sign up for exercise activities that are part of the plan.
Involve the entire family -- especially the kids -- in the planning. When everyone feels included, the weight-loss action plan becomes both a group commitment and a personal commitment, Garcia says. You could be responsible for cleaning out junk food from the pantry and restocking it with healthful food. Your teen can keep track of foods that are running low and write the items on a grocery list. Younger children can decide family activities. If everyone is part of the process, it feels more like a positive family change and less like one parent simply implementing new “house rules.”
Whole, unprocessed foods are smart choices, but preparing those foods can be stressful and time-consuming, particularly if your family is used to convenience foods. Give everyone a task to take the stress away from the head of household, recommends Garcia. Your web-savvy teens can search food blogs to find tasty-looking, healthful recipes that fit into your new meal plan. The kids can wash and cut vegetables and measure ingredients. The more everyone pitches in, the easier the transition. Make subtle changes: swap white bread for wheat bread and whole milk for skim milk. Talk to your doctor and visit “My Plate” online to determine individual calorie requirements for family members. Eat one meal together as a family each day. Turn off the TV and pay attention to each other. Don’t talk about food and diets, warns Garcia. Just take time to relax together.
When you choose family exercise, the biggest challenge is finding activities that will keep the kids’ attention while you squeeze in productive workout sessions. Try a dance video or a virtual bowling or tennis game that you can watch on your computer or TV, suggests Garcia. These interactive programs are intense enough for adults, yet they’re fun for kids, including teens and tweens. Casual outdoor group sports such as soccer, baseball or relay races relieve stress and help the family get sunshine and fresh air.
Positive encouragement goes a long way. Don't use negative reinforcement or "fat shaming" to keep each other motivated, Garcia cautions. Encourage healthy competition by setting up a 21-day health challenge. Take photos of your foods for three weeks and commit to exercise six days per week. Reward everyone who sticks to the meal plan and exercise schedule with a new workout outfit, a jump rope or a hula hoop. Choose a more elaborate reward for your long-term goal. For example, if everyone sticks to the plan through a certain date, buy water park tickets for the entire family.
Remember that weight loss in children should be supervised by a doctor to ensure your child is staying within a healthy weight range for her age. Over-reacting to a child’s weight could contribute to emotional scars and disordered eating behaviors. Focus on increasing your child’s health rather than making a big deal about her weight. Weight eventually drops into a normal range as a side effect of your new, healthy lifestyle.