At some point, everyone has had one too many helpings at a meal. Whether the result of indulging, stress or simply being distracted, overeating can lead to discomfort and the intake of too many calories, too fast.
Overeating can affect kids, too, contributing to a rise in childhood obesity rates – which puts kids at risk for other serious health conditions.
"We are seeing an increase in joint pain in kids who are overweight," says Stormee Williams, M.D., pediatrician and Medical Director of School Telemedicine at Children's Health℠. "Psychological problems like depression and anxiety have also been linked to obesity, and other illnesses, like asthma, can be worse when kids are overweight."
Parents can help the whole family avoid overeating by setting up – and modeling – healthy eating habits at home. Dr. Williams shares simple choices that can encourage a lifetime of better nutrition for your kids.
1. Change your plates
Growing portion sizes are a big contributor to overeating. Dr. Williams says the dinner plates used today are much larger than plates used 30 years ago.
"Because of the fill your plate and empty your plate idea, we are putting more calories on our plates than before," says Dr. Williams. "I encourage patients to use a salad size plate instead of a dinner plate for all meals so you start using a smaller canvas."
Dr. Williams says parents can use the MyPlate model, imagining the plate cut into four sections: one section for meat, one section for whole grains, and two sections for fruit or vegetables. This helps ensure everyone eats a balanced diet with the right serving size of foods.
2. Make fruit and veggies the star
While meat is often considered the main course, it shouldn't be the biggest portion on the plate. Dr. Williams encourages families to make vegetables the star of the show instead, through vegetarian meals or simply eating the vegetables first.
"Meats tend to have more calories and less nutrition than vegetables," says Dr. Williams. "It's better to fill up on foods that have a high nutrition density."
When it comes to dessert, choose fruits instead of cakes or cookies. Dr. Williams says she sneaks in an extra serving of fruit for her children with desserts like sliced strawberries or frozen grapes.
3. Watch the sugar
Sugar is sneaky. While it's easy to understand that desserts, juice and soda contain sugar, other carbohydrates like white breads and pastas are also foods your body turn into sugar. Although carbohydrates are a healthy part of a well-rounded diet, you need to increase how many healthier carbs, like those that come from whole grains, fruits and vegetables, your child eats. At the same time, you should try to limit those foods that are high in added sugars or that the body quickly turns into sugars.
4. Take water breaks
"Before heading back for a second helping, drink a glass of water and wait five minutes," says Dr. Williams. "Then you can tell if you are really still hungry."
Dr. Williams also says kids should be encouraged to only choose fruits and vegetables as seconds, instead of a second dinner roll or more meat.
5. Practice mindful eating
If you sat down at the dinner table with a big bucket of buttery popcorn, you probably wouldn't eat it all. But when you're watching a movie, it's easy to miss signals from your brain that your stomach is full.
"Try to keep mealtime separate from activities like watching TV," says Dr. Williams.
Sitting down as a family at the table is the best way to be mindful of what you are eating, so you don't overeat.
6. Set kitchen boundaries
Grazing on foods all day long can lead to overeating. Dr. Williams suggests letting kids know when the kitchen is open for meals and when it is closed.
If your children are hungry, make sure the easiest snacks to reach are healthy, like a bowl of apples on the counter or a tray of carrots and celery on the table.
7. Avoid emotional eating
Many people eat too much when they are stressed or sad. Instead of reaching for comfort food, Dr. Williams recommends finding new ways to channel stress such as going for a walk or singing along to music.
8. Plan ahead
Letting yourself get too hungry is a big cause of overeating, says Dr. Williams. Planning ahead by packing a meal or snacks can help you make better choices than a fast-food drive-thru or unhealthy snacks.
"When you are hungry is when you make the worst decisions about what to eat," says Dr. Williams. "You don't have to have elaborate meal plans, just make sure to plan your day so you can avoid hunger and overeating later in the day."
Want to learn more about healthier habits for your family? Read more about pediatric weight management programs that include Get Up & Go, COACH, bariatrics and nutrition clinics.
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