Break Bad Feeding Habits

Family Health, Featured Article, Healthy Living, News and Advice, Weight Loss
on May 2, 2012

Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.

DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: My preteen son has a good appetite for healthy foods, but he also LOVES junk, and he isn’t very sporty so getting him to exercise is tough. He’s not overweight right now, but I feel like we need to put limits on the junk he eats and push healthier foods at home. The problem is my husband. Three to four days a week, he gets up early and makes a big, Southern breakfast for the two of them (I eat my oatmeal at work): eggs, cheese grits, bacon or sausage and biscuits. I tell him this isn’t good for either one of them  (my husband does have a belly), but he persists. Help!—Frances

DEAR FRANCES: It’s great that your husband bonds with your son over breakfast—but unfortunately, as you well know, it’s setting both of them up for an unhealthy future. That fatty fare three or four times a week is excessive. Yes, your son needs breakfast to do his best in school and to get important nutrients, but apart from the eggs, there’s not much of nutritional value in your husband’s menu. The larger issue here, though, is that you and your husband aren’t on the same page about how best to achieve your family’s health goals—or even whether you share the same health goals at all. It sounds like you have expressed your concerns to your husband, yet he continues to undermine you, for whatever reason. Perhaps it’s not intentional; it could be that his own cravings for such food are so out of control that he is willing to jeopardize your son’s (let alone his own) health because of them. Or maybe he just doesn’t connect the dots between what your son eats now and his future welfare. Try sharing these facts with him:

  • Unhealthy eating and physical inactivity are leading causes of death in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, unhealthy eating and inactivity cause 310,000-580,000 deaths every year—similar to the number of deaths caused by tobacco and 13 times more than are caused by guns.
  • The typical American diet is too high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar and too low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, calcium, and fiber.Such a diet contributes to four of the six leading causes of death and increases the risk of numerous diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, stroke, osteoporosis, many cancers (colon, prostate, mouth, throat, esophagus, lung, stomach).
  • Not only does a poor diet inhibit learning in children, it sets them up for future health problems. Kids whose diets are low in fiber and fruits and vegetables and high in fat, salt and processed foods are more likely to be obese in adulthood, and therefore more likely to suffer the effects of obesity, including everything from Type 2 diabetes to high blood pressure to coronary artery disease to several types of cancer.

RELATED: How to Talk to Kids About Weight

What’s more, if your or your husband’s family health history includes relatives with cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease (and, frankly, whose doesn’t?), being diligent about diet at an early age is even more important.

While the “scared straight” method isn’t my usual MO, I think it’s worth it to share the facts with your husband. Just in case you don’t get anywhere with him yourself, have him go with your son on his next visit to the pediatrician, and make sure you discuss eating habits then and there. Coming from a guy or woman in a white coat, those facts might just make more of an impression.

As far as breakfast goes, allow the boys their Southern fare once a week. On other days, have them swap the biscuits for 100 percent whole wheat bread or 100 percent whole wheat English muffins, nix the bacon, sausage and grits, and have him add some good veggies to the eggs—spinach, broccoli, mushrooms. Serve a couple of types of fruit on the side as well. The result will be just as filling but so, so much healthier—for both of them.