Childhood obesity is a national epidemic, and while the vast majority of people in this country agree that steps should be taken to curb this growing problem, there are differing opinions about how to do that. Potential solutions have garnered criticism from opposing sides and many parents have become unwitting targets of vitriol despite earnest efforts to help their children strive for healthier lifestyles.
One clear example of this backlash stems from a recent article written by Dara-Lynn Weiss for Vogue magazine's April 2012 "Shape" issue. In the piece, Ms. Weiss candidly outlines her own lifelong struggles with weight management and how she struggles to find balance in her efforts to help her daughter overcome weight-related issues. Part of those efforts involved starting her daughter in my nutritional program, "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right". While her daughter ultimately loses a significant amount of weight from her initial 6-year-old, 4'4" 93-pound frame (after one year, she has grown 2 inches and lost 16 pounds), Ms. Weiss's methods have received much backlash from readers, bloggers, and pundits alike who have derided her efforts as draconian and severe and point out that her child, despite her fondness for her healthier appearance, was miserable throughout the yearlong exercise.
As part of this backlash, my program, labeled as "the food solution that lets kids be kids," was unfortunately interpreted by some as the impetus for this super-strict approach.
For those who are not familiar with my program, I created "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right" in an effort to offer families a simple-to-follow and practical plan to help teach children about healthy nutritional and exercise habits. While I do commend Ms. Weiss on certain aspects of her approach (such as limiting her daughter's overall intake of junk food and promoting the consumption of fruits and vegetables), I believe she did fall short of carrying out many of our program's core attributes. The success of my program is based upon its promotion of flexibility and sensitivity... not severity and emotional distress. Not only did the article fail to capture our core philosophies, such as empowering children and advising parents to refrain from embarrassing their kids in public, it also did not show the flexibility of the program, which allows kids a number of indulgences to enjoy with friends every week.
In the Vogue article, Weiss states, "She (Bea) almost never got dessert." However, on the "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right" program, every week, two red light foods are permitted for children to enjoy, such as, a piece of birthday cake or a dessert when dining out with their family. Our program also allows for one small treat every day, such as a 100-calorie-pack or a cookie; after all, we want kids to feel like kids!
The "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right" program teaches families how to make healthy choices on their own. We ask families to commit to a minimum of twelve weeks on the program so the healthy choices they learn have time to become lifelong habits. Unfortunately, Bea did not continue her visits for the full length of the program and she missed out on many of the additional benefits our program offers.
While our chief aim is to help children achieve their weight loss goals, "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right" is not just about nutrition and weight. Weight loss (for adults and children alike) is emotional. Weekly visits with our practitioners give families the support they need as they navigate these tricky waters. Kids will not always make the healthy choice. We teach parents to support their children's decisions (both good and bad) while in public and then discuss the choices at weekly visits. We never want a child to be embarrassed in front of his peers. For this reason, we suggest that parents and kids come up with a "code word" together, as a team, to remind them of their healthy eating goals in public settings without letting others know what it being discussed. This allows kids to make their own decisions and discuss them later during emotionally-neutral nutrition follow-up sessions.
There is no yelling, no finger-pointing, and no criticizing. The sessions are a learning experience for kids and parents alike. At "Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right," we empower kids to make their own choices, take responsibility for their health, and encourage parents to give up the role of food police.
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