Calorie Counting for Kids

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Losing weight is easy in theory. Eat fewer calories than you burn, and you will lose weight. But in practice, tracking calories is hard. You really need to weigh your food, especially foods that are calorie dense, like fats (including good stuff like nuts and avocados), fruit (one banana is about 80 – 100 cals), and carbs. It’s way too easy to underestimate what you are eating, overestimate what you are burning, and end up frustrated and convinced that there is more to it than simple math.

Having watched their father lose 100 lbs and both their parents adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular running, hiking, cycling, and tracking calories (we use this site) our children know what it takes to lose weight. Both are in the overweight category for BMI and it’s no surprise given their distaste for sports and healthy foods and their love of calorie-dense foods and sedentary activities. Miss Em has been fairly active this summer and while she is technically overweight, it’s not too bad right now. She has chosen not to count her calories, but she knows that if she gets to a point where she is unhappy with her weight, there’s a tried-and-true method we can help her with.

A while back, Mr. Boo asked if he could start a calorie counting program. His BMI was bordering on obese and he didn’t like it. Plus, calorie counting appeals to his autistic love of order. We created a journal in which we write down what he eats, and if he meets his calorie goal for the day he gets a small treat (mini mars bars are a favourite, and at 60 calories each, a harmless indulgence). For a child who hates sports and exercise and has a very limited diet, this system is particularly useful as it makes no difference whether you exercise or not, or what you eat, so long as you eat at a caloric deficit.

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With children you have to be careful because they are actively growing. I determined his daily caloric requirements using an online calculator for children and came up with 1700 – 1800 calories/day. To lose weight, you should aim for a 10 – 20% deficit so we set his bar at a conservative 1600 calories/day. Unlike adults, we are not looking for a drop in weight, but a maintenance of weight as he grows. Over a period of nine months he grew almost 2 inches with no gain in weight, and he was starting to look a lot healthier.

But we fell off the wagon earlier in the year when I became overwhelmed with taking on new work and just couldn’t keep track of what he was eating. But recently he asked me if we could start it up again. He was at the doctor’s office yesterday and his BMI is bordering on obese (here is a great BMI calculator for kids) so it’s definitely time to start up again. And now that I feel I’ve found a good work-life balance, I’m ready to take this on.

I’m really happy that this was his idea. At their age, I can no longer control what they are eating and having them fully on board is absolutely necessary. Overeating happens even without junk food around. I’m proud that my husband and I have modelled a healthy lifestyle and given my children the tools they need to lose weight if and when they feel the need.

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