(Sorry, I don't know how to make this short!)
My step-son ("DSS", almost 12, lives with us) has always been very short and solidly-built.
His parents split up when he was a baby. I've known him, in one capacity or another, since he was 3. Until he was 7, he spent more-or-less equal time with his parents. Both had decent-sized houses with fenced yards and other kids around, to play with. DSS seemed pretty healthy: He didn't look chubby and he kept up with his peers, in active play.
At 7, he moved with his Mom to a large, urban area, far away. He spent little time with DH. His Mom could only afford tiny apartments (so small DSS didn't even have a bedroom) and playing outside required driving to the one, big city park. In a year, he grew pretty overweight.
At 8-1/2, he moved back with us (for reasons that had nothing to do with his weight!!) and, since then, has been on a roller-coaster: During the school year, he's active, eats reasonably and slims down. Then he spends 7 weeks with his Mom each summer and gains 15-20 lbs., which not only looks alarming on a kid well under 5' tall, but it's alarming to think about: 2+ lbs per week seems like a lot, with no sudden bursts of height to go with it. I know the effort it takes an adult to lose over 2 lbs/week. When he comes home, he's embarrassed to put on a bathing suit. When his friends are all playing outside, he'll try to talk someone into doing something sedentary with him; or he'll fake tripping or spraining an ankle, to cover for the fact that he's too winded to keep up.
DH and I have instinctively felt we shouldn't discuss DSS's weight gain with him openly, or put him on a "diet". He has enough on his plate, always being half the continent away from one of his parents. We don't want him also worrying that the people raising him think he's "fat" and want to "fix" him....Especially since DH and I are not perfect health nuts, ourselves! DSS got his build from his Dad, who is nearing 50 and has a busy life, making it hard to find time to exercise. To me, he looks great, but it wouldn't hurt him to lose a few pounds. And I pretty much blimped out with both of my pregnancies and took a long time, slimming back down. (I'm still working on it and my youngest just turned 3!) But DSS does see me exercising regularly and sees us both eating a pretty healthy diet.
So, we make sure DSS participates in sports. We make ALL the kids (my teenage twin sons live with us, too) go outside and play or ride bikes, if they're sitting around inside too long. We do active things with them - sledding, swimming, hiking... We don't limit sweets and snacks so much that the kids try to hoard them, but the norm is having no sweet drinks (even juice), empty carbs (chips, crackers), sugar cereal, ice cream, doughnuts, etc. in our house. And we talk about healthy habits in general terms. For example, "Yum! I love smoothies, too. But, even though they have some healthy things in them, the reason we like them so much is because they're so sweet. Can you believe this bottle - that looks like one serving - is actually meant to be two servings? So, if you drink the whole bottle, you're getting more calories and sugar than if you had a Coke! So we need to think of it as the treat it is, not think of it as a healthy alternative to a glass of water, with lunch."
Yet, lately, it seems harder to gently guide DSS and not discuss some awkward issues more overtly:
1- This year, it sounds like his Mom had to work, during his Spring Break visit. She let him bring a friend from home, to stay with him for the week. We think one of the issues during the summers is DSS spending a lot of time alone at his Mom's, while she works, and pigging out while he plays video games. This Spring Break may have been similar. DSS came home wanting to eat twice or three times as much as usual. And it doesn't seem like genuine, consistent hunger, as if he had suddenly started puberty and needs more calories. If we have a normal meal (say, chicken, brown rice, a veggie and salad), he eats normally. But when we had pizza, he announced which 6 pieces he wanted, before he even started eating. (Normally, he'd eat 2 pieces.) Or, when we had cheesy pasta, he kept going back for more servings until I finally said, "Boy, I could eat carbonara all night, too! Maybe we should both let our stomachs rest a bit, to see if we're really hungry, or we just like the taste of it. After all, if we leave some, we can have leftovers for lunch."
2- My twin sons are mildly Autistic and more-or-less on DSS's maturity level. They've been among each other's best friends since DSS was 4. But the twins are 4 years older and built like their Dad - tall, thin, athletic. They started puberty a few years ago and they're long-distance runners. In short, they can eat twice as much as DH, still be hungry, and never develop an ounce of visible body fat! (Grrr!) Lately, if we're eating foods DSS really likes, he pouts if it appears that the twins have been served larger portions than he has; and he seems determined to get seconds, if they do - or even outdo them by asking for for thirds. If it's a (rare) dessert, I can avoid the whole issue. The twins don't need dessert any more than anyone else does, so they get the same amount DSS does. Period. But, in terms of protein, healthy carbs and calories, the twins' bodies simply need more than DSS's - especially if they ran 7 miles that day! But I introduced that idea to DSS once and you would have thought I banished him to sleep in the crawl-space because he's only my step-kid! I don't want food to be associated with love OR denial, at our house. I just want it to be food!!
So - if you made it all the way through this - should DH and I continue as we have been? I.e., Set a good example, but leave it for DSS to figure out on his own that if he practiced healthy habits AWAY from home, he'd avoid the embarrassment he feels, when he's obese? Or, should we be more direct with DSS about:
* Accepting that different bodies have different nutritional needs (and his body, like his parents' and mine, is small...); and
* Recognizing that the weight-gain at his Mom's - and the yo-yo effect, every year - is unhealthy for him, and he has the power to prevent it?
If you think we should be more direct, give me the words!
Edited by VocalMinority - 4/28/11 at 11:31am