2. Do be a good role model.
When it comes to children and weight, what you do is more important than what you say. "Parents are kids' number-one role model," says Robert Pretlow, MD, author of Overweight: What Kids Say and founder of weigh2rock, a web site for overweight children and their families. According to Pretlow, in a weigh2rock survey that asked how the childhood obesity epidemic can be stopped, 70% of the kids who responded said the most important factor is parents setting a good example.
"Kids develop their attitudes about food and eating from their parents," Pretlow says. "If parents go to fast-food restaurants and expose their child to junk food around the house, that child will develop the same habits -- and those habits are extremely hard to break."
Limit the meals you get from fast-food restaurants. But when you do go to the drive-through, explain to your child about the healthier choices you can make, such as ordering a grilled chicken sandwich and a side salad or fruit cup rather than a burger and fries. Then order a healthier choice yourself.
3. Don't look back -- Start setting a healthier example today.
It's never too late to develop healthy habits. Maybe you haven't always made healthy choices in the past, but today is a new day. Improving your own lifestyle can inspire your overweight child to do the same, says David Ermer, MD, a child psychiatrist with Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D. "It's great for kids to see parents changing their eating habits, turning off the television, and getting some exercise."
Take on change in small steps. Make it easier for everyone in the family to eat healthier by gradually ridding your house of all junk food. Take a look at your pantry and refrigerator and clean them out. Check the food labels and find foods with high percentages of saturated fat and with ingredients like sugar and words ending in "-ose," such as high fructose corn syrup. These should be marked for tossing.
Then, don't buy these junk foods going forward. Stock your kitchen with healthier snacks and foods. Low-fat yogurt, fresh fruit, raw veggies and hummus dip, whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese, and sliced apples and peanut butter are all healthier snack options.
In addition to having fruit, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products on hand, stock your kitchen with whole-grain breads, cereals, and pasta, and lean meat and poultry. Having these healthy staples on hand can help your family limit trips to fast-food restaurants by making quick and easy healthy meals possible without a trip to the store.
4. Don't make critical remarks about your child's weight or what she's eating.
"Criticizing kids about their weight is one of the worst things an adult can do," says college student Elisa Maria Torres of Milbrae, Calif. Now at a healthy weight, Torres described herself as "pudgy" in middle school and says she was self-conscious about it -- especially when her grandmother compared her unfavorably to slimmer friends.
"She'd say things about my weight during meals and I'd feel awful," Torres says. "I couldn't eat around her without worrying that I was eating too much."