I was sitting at the soccer field, watching my 7-year old run up and down the field with ease. Despite having Celiac disease, at one point being reactive to more than 40 foods, and being the proud owner of a crappy immune system (a result of being one of those people who has a negative reaction to vaccinations), he is thriving and is a stellar athlete. And by “stellar,” I mean good enough.Sitting next to me were the very sweet and well-meaning parents of one of his teammates, A teammate who had the misfortune of weighing close to 100 lbs. She was not tall for her age. She was not big boned. She was obese. I say misfortune, because after chatting with her parents for a few minutes, I realized they were grossly misinformed about what it took to raise a healthy child.
You see, I am a bit outspoken. (Insert eye roll from all of my friends.) But I do try to control my tongue, as to not hurt people’s feelings, especially people I don’t even know. But when this child had come to sit down for a break, multiple times, and her sweet daddy told me they were trying to get her to “run the fat off,” I had to say something.
I swallowed hard, sent a prayer upward, and turned to this regular-sized couple, and said, “I’m sorry, but she can’t run the fat off.”
What I haven’t told you yet is what this child was coming to snack on every time she took a break – biscuits and gravy and a milkshake, from a local fast food restaurant. “I’m not trying to be rude, but I don’t think you realize,” I continued. “It’s what she eats. She cannot eat that poorly and have enough time in any day to exercise it off, no matter how much soccer she plays. No one could run that off.”
I told them that it’s more than just calories. It’s what kind of calories (and sugar and fat) we put in our bodies that matter. 100 calories of carrots don’t do the same thing to your body as 100 calories of chocolate cake. I explained what processed food is and how whole, real food is the kind of food our bodies need. I told them that fat doesn’t make fat. I told them that even sugar-free was bad for the body. I probably told them too much, but they were like sponges, soaking up the knowledge.
I understood their ignorance. I run into educated people, almost daily, who still think fat is bad for you, and that all calories are equal. They think you can eat whatever crap you want; just exercise it off. Never mind what it’s doing to the inside of your body. But then this mother said something that struck me. “But that’s what she wants.”
Are you kidding me? That’s what she wants? She’s seven! My reply was a bit snarky, as I said, “She can’t drive herself there. You DO have some control.” I calmed my tone and apologized. Again. But really, since when did 7-year olds become so smart that they started making the decisions for the parents? It is our job as parents to guide our children in all that they do. And getting them to eat healthy is hard. I get it. Sometimes I’m too tired to cook (or just plain lazy that day) and throw some taquitos from Trader Joe’s in the oven. But it’s an exception, not a rule at our home.
This couple was very sweet and asked what they should be feeding her. And really, that’s the key. If you don’t know what you should be feeding your child, ask a nutritionist. If you can’t afford a certified nutritionist, ask someone who has spent thousands of dollars on nutritionists – a health nut like me who has done all of the leg-work for you. Most of us are happy to impart to you our knowledge, successes and failures.
You know our grandparents? The ones who rarely got sick and lived to ripe, old ages? Eat what they ate – whole, real foods. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, rarely the aisles. And realize that the excess you’re carrying around your middle (and everywhere else) is usually a direct result of what you put in your body. It is doing damage to your organs. And when it’s your lifestyle to eat that way, you can’t run it off.