It’s Not Just Baby Fat Any More…
By Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel
From the moment a child is born and throughout infancy parents take pride in their baby’s weight. In fact, the second most popular question after birth is, “How much did he or she weigh?” A chubby baby is cute and cuddly. However, during the last decade we have begun to realize that many chubby babies turn into obese children. Obesity is the harbinger of many health problems, physical and psychological. As of 2003, pediatricians have alerted us that children are developing high cholesterol, high blood pressure and setting themselves up for future diabetes. Emotionally there are consequences too, like insecurity, depression and alienation. The New York Times declared childhood obesity an epidemic.
The overt causes are a sedentary lifestyle, fast foods that are high in fat and sugar, TV and video games. A generation of young couch potatoes with poor eating habits will grow up into unhealthy and unhappy adults who get bored easily and look for passive stimulation.
A more subtle cause of overeating is emotional, simply stated, our children feel empty. Because many families depend on two incomes, often children do not experience a traditional dinner hour. To compensate for the lack of time spent with their children, parents enroll them in a great number of after-school activities, stopping at popular fast food chains on the way home because children love greasy, fatty, sugary junk foods. A recent study arrived at the startling conclusion that a hamburger and french fries are as addictive as heroin.
Children overeat because their hearts are empty. Television and computers have become baby sitters. Commercials tantalize this young impressionable audience with highly caloric foods triggering a need that perpetuates itself. When children sit and eat in front of a TV or computer, they are not even conscious of the food they are eating; like eating pop corn in a movie theatre, where one shovels handfuls into the mouth not even realizing what has been swallowed.
In addition, nowadays children are experiencing high stress at school. Everything has accelerated for our children. Childhood innocence does not last long because of TV, movies and the microcosm of the school yard. Sometimes there is a tug of war between teacher and student. Sometimes there are bullies both physical and verbal. Always children are anxious to fit in and be included. Add to this tense mixture fluctuating hormonal levels and less than perfect parents. Remember none of us received training to become parents. There is no licensing exam; therefore parenting is a trial and error process.
Many Children and adults who experience stress, or feel sad, turn to food. After all it is our first form of comfort. If we feel empty, we fill up on immediate gratification like sugar and fat. Then we cycle, crash and need more sugar to be satisfied. When we are bored, we eat. The pounds accumulate making us feel unhappy about our appearance. The cycle continues. Because our lifestyle is centered around technology: TV, video games and the web, there is little chance of physical activity. The simple formula of more calories in than out explains the weight gain.
The solution is simple. Exercise speeds up the metabolism and creates health benefits for every part of the body. Benefits include a healthy cardiac system, insulin regulation, bone and muscle building, core balance, as well as creating mental focus, self-esteem and empowerment. A recent AMA report states that for girls exercise reduces the incidence of breast cancer later in life.
Increasingly, children have been diagnosed with AD/HD. They have difficulty concentrating in school, lose their confidence for academic achievement and become labeled as learning disabled. Exercise is a wonderful alternative or at least a supplement to medication, because it motivates, increases focus and counteracts depression.
Activity alleviates anxiety and raises endorphins. Children need to play, participate in sports and burn off their excess energy. Our educational system is not raising a robot society who memorizes facts and thinks in conformity and unanimity. Instead American education has always taken pride in rugged individualism, creative learning projects and group experience. Children cannot stiffly sit all day in a classroom with eyes facing front to the teacher! In order for there to be balance in a child’s life, there must be physical activity.
Exercise for children as well as adults needs to be fun, or quickly motivation is lost and good intentions dissipate. Also, exercise needs to become a daily health habit to be reinforced like brushing the teeth. The responsibility rests in gym at school and at home with parents who must practice what they preach. How wonderful to exercise with your children! Show them the way: Take a walk, jog, bicycle, play basketball, baseball, catch, relay races, dance, swim, and play tennis. Make a commitment to honor time and place.
After your workout together, eat a healthy snack. In general take the time to prepare balanced meals at home: complex carbohydrates (brown rice, whole wheat bread and pasta) and lean protein. Introduce your children to a rainbow diet of colorful fruits and vegetables. Children delight in rainbows. Present berries of many colors. Note, it takes longer to eat berries and that means you eat less!
Conclude your session with a meditation that you and your child do together to music for about five minutes. Choose a positive affirmation that you read out loud together: for example, my life is filled with endless possibilities, or I can open many doors, God is love and God is inside and outside of me, so I never walk alone. Then close your eyes focusing on the rhythm of your own breathing as you both sit up in a dignified posture. Let images, words and colors float by you. Think about the affirmation. And after five minutes you and your child will feel bonded, at peace, hopeful, and ready to think about solving daily problems rather than worrying about them and eating.
Parents need to openly and regularly express love and praise to their children. The whole world will erode your child including teachers, other children, bosses, etc. The home provides the safe cocoon for your child to emerge as a happy, creative and thriving adult. If your child feels that you stand behind him or her affirming and thinking the best rather than the worst, he or she will find balance in all things.
To counteract childhood obesity spend more time getting to know the most marvelous part of you. At home, laugh, play and spring into action. Help your child develop serenity within. Therefore no matter what happens at school, or in a social setting, your child will know how to de-compress and transform stress into strength.
Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel, MA is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer at Brooklyn College. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WLIR 92.7 FM in New York City and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com