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Put pudgy 10 year old on diet?

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Dr. Laura,
My ten year old is getting pudgy. Should I put her on a diet?
Worried Mom


Dear Mom,
It's natural for ten year old girls to put on a little weight before they shoot up. Ask your pediatrician, but in my view, diets are always a bad idea, for the simple reason that they have been proven NOT to work. Diets set up a cycle of deprivation and binging that throws off our physiology and actually makes it harder to lose weight.

What do I recommend instead? Healthy eating and good old fashioned physical exercise. Insuring adequate physical activity is a constant challenge for most families. It's so hard for kids to resist the temptation of computers and TV. The older they get, the more likely they are to be sedentary.

The best way to keep your daughter from feeling like there's something wrong with her is to get your whole family up and moving. It's good for each of you, not just the one kid who's putting on weight. Some ideas:

1. Require each child to be physically active in at least one way, whether it's swimming or basketball or soccer or gymnastics.

2. Have physical fun as a family. Swim. Hike. Play badminton. Go for bike rides. Go for walks in the evening.

3. For your next vacation, how about going hiking together as a family? Or planning a bike trip?

4. Ban TV during the week and limit it on weekends. Kids who watch TV are much more likely to be overweight. After being in school all day, kids need to be physically active. They also need fresh air.

5. Model physical activity for your kids. Play tennis or softball. Take up running. Go to yoga class.

Maybe we can ask everyone who reads this to comment with ideas to get kids to be more physically active? Please, click here to comment and I'll add your ideas.

You'll also want to give some thought to your daughters's developing body image. Start by throwing out the scale. How much you or your child weighs is irrelevant. How do you feel and look? Explain to your kids that what's important is being healthy and fit.

Kids won't know unless you tell them that what's desirable in bodies is a function of the times. Show them “Some Like It Hot” and comment that Marilyn Monroe, considered the epitome of female beauty at the time, would now be considered too heavy to be a star. Point out that we are constantly bombarded with images of male and female bodies at the height of youth and “buffness”. Nothing wrong with being buff, but remind your kids that the goal is healthy and fit, not "hot." Ask them how many people they know who actually look like those models and stars? Point out that all the magazine images they see are air-brushed.

For more through discussion of weight control and body image, please see this exchange I had with the mother of a twelve year old.

Good luck, and enjoy your more active life!

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