We’re adjusting right now. After making our decisions regarding L.’s weight and the pediatrician’s recommendations — not without some serious discussion, lots of opinions heard from friends and family (and you, wonderful blog readers), and introspection on our parts — we’ve had to draw a couple of lines where they did not quite exist before. It’s not all lovely and comfortable, but it is necessary. After all, as I said to my mother a few days ago, we may think most of the doctor’s advice about measuring portions and so forth is bunk, but we can’t just sit back and do NOTHING and run the risk that we make a situation of moderate concern into a full-blown problem.
We’re not the parents who bury our heads in the sand at the first sign of trouble, so as painful as it may be to feel like there is yet ANOTHER thing we have to be extra-vigilant about, we’ve come to terms with that reality and we’re moving forward. Our three biggest goals, as I saw them going into this week, were as follows:
1) Increase L.’s vegetable intake. Now that he’s eating most vegetables without complaint (if not with outright enthusiasm), we’ll continue to increase the portions and variety of produce in his lunchbox to help fill him up with high-nutrient, low-calorie, fiber-dense food.
2) Put a stop, once and for all, to the Monday morning “breakfast” outings with G. and P. I was pretty apprehensive about this, actually, even though I wasn’t the one who actually had to have the conversation with the well-meaning grandparents (this was an instance in which I was happy to pass the buck to J. — his parents, his problem to tackle). I knew that their routine with the kids has always revolved around killing some time at the restaurant, and that their habits are not easy to change once they get set in their ways; plus, understandably, I think the boys have gotten quite used to these “treats” and will likely miss them and ask about going out for breakfast. But it’s in everyone’s best interests to stop; particularly with at least 500 or 600 calories’ worth of breakfast going into L.’s tummy each Monday (on top of his early morning cereal AND a full lunch later), this habit was far too costly to keep.
3) Reduce desserts and treats overall, with clear limits set on them so we’d have an easier time keeping an eye on things. We never meant to be the parents who rewarded our kids for good eating habits with sweets; nor did we mean to be the parents who let the kids have something sweet every night. I think some of both of those things has happened, though, inadvertently. Our thought process has always been that as long as a good attempt at a balanced diet was made over the course of the day, particularly with regard to fruits and vegetables, there would be no problem with offering a small dessert. Unfortunately, we set ourselves up for a very challenging issue, which I didn’t see coming.
Over time, L. would start asking during dinner if he could have a treat afterwards; our response would generally be something like “You haven’t eaten any vegetables; you know you have to have some of your broccoli to have a treat.” In my head, it’s not the same as saying “L., if you eat broccoli you can have dessert,” but to a 4-year-old, that’s a fine distinction. Gradually, his questioning started to turn towards statements like “If I eat all my salad, I can have a treat, right?” In the thick of things, I missed that change and its importance; but obviously, he started to put it together in his own mind that dessert was some kind of reward for an expected performance at the dinner table. (Again, not our plan or even our belief, but it is how things manifested.)
We were sort of stuck in a trap of our own making, worsened by the fact that L. actually started to like most vegetables and eats so many things without complaint. Night after night, without really noticing what we were doing, we were seeing that he’d eaten well (often without the dreaded “If I eat x, I can have y” statement), and we’d allow him a cookie, or a small mug of homemade hot cocoa, or some other reasonable dessert. Now as I look back, I realize that while I STILL think that may not be an issue, quantity-wise, for many children…it was more than we intended to give. It just became a routine and a habit. We stopped thinking about it.
When J. and I talked about this last week, trying to decide what to do, it struck me that it may not even be ABOUT the treats, per se. Sure, we can cut back on those from the several nights out of the week he was enjoying something to the intended 1 or 2 nights; but worse, I think, is that he may have been unintentionally trying to eat MORE than he wanted because he thought it would earn him dessert. I’m horrified at the thought — we really tried hard not to make that connection — but I do think we failed on that one. He got it in his head that the more dinner he ate, the more likely it would be that he’d have a sweet treat, and I wonder if he just kept eating sometimes past the point of being full. I hate that thought. But we have to examine it. If that is the case, then just limiting the sweets could have a HUGE impact on how much L. actually consumes in a day.
So we talked with him one on one. I told him that Mommy and Daddy and our doctor friend had decided that maybe we ALL needed to eat more of our “good body foods” and fewer of our “treat foods;” that our bodies were healthy, but they needed to be a little healthier. I told him I thought maybe it would be nice if we could choose only one or two nights a week to have a very special treat, all together as a family, and stick with only our good healthy foods the other nights. He was skeptical, but he agreed to the plan. L. understands that Mommy and Daddy take healthy food seriously.
Not even a week later, we’re trying to see how this new way of doing things fits into our lives and how it affects L. The first couple of nights were a bit bumpy; L. was sort of sad that he couldn’t have a sweet, even if he asked nicely and ate his vegetables, and we were feeling torn about it, though we stood our ground. We did take the boys out for one scoop of ice cream at the ice cream shop over the weekend, followed by lots of time at the playground, and I have to say that it actually felt more special after a few days without any sweets at all. The kids were more excited and more appreciative of the treat, and we felt good about the fact that it was done as a conscious choice, not just on a whim, on top of a week’s worth of small desserts here and there.
Tonight was the best indicator for me, though, of how things might shape up under the new system. Not only did L. not even ASK about a treat, but the first thing he ate — besides the small piece of bread — was his salad greens and the raw red bell peppers on his plate, which we’d drizzled with homemade honey mustard. He sat there and had almost a whole cup of raw vegetables entirely of his own free will, then ate a few sauteed mushrooms from his pasta…and stopped.
I said nothing. I didn’t move his plate. I just went on with clearing the table and chatting with him, J., and P. as if nothing were happening. L. hovered around the table, drinking his milk, picking idly at the mushrooms, but he DID NOT EAT ANY MORE. After a few minutes, he moved away and started to play with his dominoes…and never once said a word about being hungry or wanting anything else to eat.
Yes, we’re adjusting. I don’t know if tonight’s dinner table performance will be the way it is most nights from now on or not, but at least it proved to me that L. is more than capable of choosing to eat the healthy foods on his plate and stopping when he’s full. It also proved that he’s already caught on to the fact that we’re serious about limiting our desserts and changing our habits as a family. (“Tweaking,” J. would tell me to say. “We don’t really have to CHANGE a whole lot; we just have to tweak a few things. We’re doing good already.”)
Time will tell whether we’re doing the right thing, and certainly it will only be time that will prove whether or not this is enough to help curb L.’s weight gain and keep him growing healthy and strong, at the optimal pace for his body. In the meantime, though, I’m proud of him and proud of us for being strong enough to make the adjustments we feel need to be made. Our whole family will benefit from making a team effort towards taking better care of our health, no matter what sizes we are or where the numbers are in the end.