Case Study: Managing Weight During Puberty

Filed under: Preschoolers, Big Kids, Tweens, Teens, Activities: Babies, Nutrition: Health, Feeding & Sleeping

I was once approached by a mother who was concerned that her 11-year-old daughter was overweight. She assured me that her daughter was active as she was involved in dance classes several times a week and played with her friends during recess. She told me that she generally prepares healthy meals and keeps her daughter's junk food snacking to a minimum. Considering her conscious efforts to monitor her daughter's lifestyle, she couldn't understand why her daughter was overweight. She figured more intense exercise would help and wanted to nip it in the bud as soon as possible. Unfortunately (I told her), it's not that cut and dry...

About the Child (Let's call her 'Kayla')

At first glance, it was obvious that Kayla was overweight. Her stomach and torso were protruded as she stood in front of me, while her legs and arms seemed "normal." She was by no means obese, but I understood her mother's concerns. Kayla wanted me to show her a program she could do at home that would make her stronger for dance class and keep her energy high.

My Initial Thoughts

My first instinct was to find out how Kayla felt. Fortunately for me she appeared very happy and impervious to her mother's concern about her weight. (I've seen other instances where the child had already developed an eating disorder, dysmorphia and low self-esteem). I was delighted that she never mentioned she was "fat." Many young girls are too hard on themselves for differing reasons. She simply wanted me to show her some exercises. The three of us sat down together to see what equipment and space she had at home, what likes and dislikes she had about exercise and finally discussed the time commitment necessary to achieve her goals.

The Action Plan

The main point I wanted to drive into both Kayla and her mother was to focus on what you can control and let nature take its course. In every pubescent child, this equates to eating sensibly, exercising consistently at a high intensity and getting adequate sleep.

I spoke to them both about the fact that she is just starting to hit puberty and her body will grow the way it wants to grow. Kayla needs to nurture her health by:

  • Continuing with her positive attitude.
  • Sleeping 8-10 hours a night during the optimum hours of 10PM to 8AM.
  • Eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, abundant in lean protein and healthy fats.
  • Exercising 60 minutes a day at a higher intensity.

I ended up giving her a calendar to fill in on her own based on a list of activities she could do three to four days a week in addition to her dance classes and other activities. Here are the exercises:

1. Medicine Ball (4 lbs) Chest and Side Throws with her mom (15-25 reps)
2. Body Squats (20-30 reps)
3. Jumping Jacks (30-50 reps)
4. Push-Ups (as many as you can)
5. Skipping (2 minutes)
6. Abdominal Crunches (20-40 reps)
7. Lunges (20 per leg)
8. Jogging on the Spot (2 minutes)

Final Notes and Thoughts:

  • I praised Kayla's mother on her initiative to seek help for her daughter.
  • I suggested they exercise together to show accountability to each other.
  • I tried to keep the assessment light and fun for all.
  • I emphasized the importance of exercising at a high intensity. Sweating and being out of breath are perfect measurement tools. We found out that her dance classes weren't challenging enough, since her heart rate was never really sustained at a high level for longer than two to three minutes. This is consistent with many kids programs and classes. I reminded them that research suggests that parents tend to overestimate the activity levels of their kids.
Reggie Reyes is a certified kinesiologist and personal trainer. He is the president and founder of pt4kids, a company that creates specialized training programs for kids all ages and fitness levels. Have a question about your child's health and fitness? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.