Hi Amy, my 11 year old son is overweight and at high risk for diabetes. What can I do to help him lose weight properly without him thinking he's starved?

It is great that you are getting involved in your son’s health. A very high percentage of overweight kids will grow into overweight adults, so the earlier the intervention, the better! I would first recommend making healthy diet changes that affect the whole family, that way your son does not feel singled out. Sit with your family and talk about the basics of good nutrition. Begin getting all members involved in what sort of food is kept in your house and encourage your family to take an active role in improving what is served. You may provide your son with a simple but healthy cookbook and have him select a few meals that you can all make together. Begin to talk to him about portion sizes and make it a game to have him guess the portion sizes of various foods. Make it a priority for everyone to sit down together at dinner and talk about their day. Turn off the technology during meals including television, phones, video games, tablets and computers. Buy foods that looks like it grew on a farm and foods with ingredients you recognize as food. I encourage you to really take a hard look at the types of “snack” foods that you keep around (potato and nacho chips, candy bars, ice cream) and try to slowly start to phase some of those foods out and healthier snack options in (whole grain granola bars, air popped popcorn, trail mix, low fat string cheese, baked whole grain chips, hummus, etc.). Make sure your son does not skip meals and that he includes a few healthy snacks in during the day, which can help prevent him from feeling “starved”. Act as a good role model too! Your son needs to hear you positively talk about healthy nutrition, well balanced meals, healthy portion sizes, and the importance of movement!

Diet is just half the battle in helping your son lose weight. Physical activity is just as important! I recommend scheduling a time each week for family activities that expend energy. You could visit a zoo or museum. Take your family on a bike ride or to the community pool! If it is snowy outside, get out there and play in it! Build a snowman or go sledding. In addition to activities as a family, make sure your son has time to be active on his own. Encourage him to get outside and play. Maybe make raking leaves or mowing the lawn part of his chore list. Encourage him to participate in a school sport. It will not only allow him to burn calories but it may be good for him to be a part of a team.

There are many online resources that can give you more ideas on ways to improve your son’s diet and get more exercise. A few examples are Kidshealth (kidshealth.org), Weight Management for Youth (nutrition.gov/youthweight), My Pyramid (mypyramid.gov), and Empower ME (empowerme2b.org). Good luck!

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