Trying to help someone lose weight? Here’s what not to say

Healthy eating

Ever wanted to talk to your child, partner, or close friend about their weight and size?

Even if our heart is in the right place, it’s exactly what the experts say we should not do. Research has shown that overweight teens whose parents said that they should try “healthy eating” were more likely to engage in unhealthy weight-control methods (e.g., throwing up) than if parents talked about their teen’s size or weight. But other research has also found that girls who were told that they were fat at 10 years of age were more likely to have a BMI above 30 at age 19.

A 2015 study suggested that teenagers may not be aware of their own BMI and as a result not perceive a need to adopt healthy eating habits. But another 2015 study also showed that having accurate self-perceptions (about being overweight) does not necessarily equate to making healthy eating choices. In fact, labelling teenagers as overweight may in fact be counterproductive.

So what can we do instead? Apart from helping your child, partner, and/or close friend make healthy food choices by eating fruits and vegetables with them and cooking healthy meals with them, experts also advise against using food as a reward for good behaviour.

We suggest 8 useful tips which could help your loved one on the path to healthy eating:

1. Get more sleep. Studies show that lack of sleep is a major determining factor of later risk of being overweight. A 2014 study found that young children who slept less than the recommended duration for their age (e.g., less than 12 hours at 2 years or younger; less than 10 hours at 3 or 4 years of age; less than 9 hours at 5 to 7 years of age) were more likely to be overweight and to have more body fat at age 7 years. A separate 2014 study also found that infants who slept less than 10 hours a day at 16 months of age needed more feeds than their peers who slept 13 hours or more. And it’s doesn’t affect just children. Numerous studies link lack of sleep among adults to increased eating and weight gain, making good sleeping habits a priority.

2. Setting boundaries, warmth and affection matter. A 2014 study showed that children whose parents who set rules without engaging their children in dialogue about their rules and who don’t affirm their children with warmth and affection were at a higher risk of having a BMI above 30: Their risk of obesity was found as early as 2 years of age. A separate 2014 study in Australia found that overprotective maternal parenting during the earlier years (e.g., when children were 6 to 9 years of age) was linked to children having a higher BMI when they were 10 to 11 years of age. That’s why it’s important that your loved one should know that you care for them regardless of their shape and size. And these guidelines for what to say and what not to say apply not just to parents, but partners and friends.

3. Don’t talk about making changes. Instead, it’s more effective to get your loved ones involved in cooking healthy meals and visiting a local attraction or festival.

4. Don’t impose a diet on your child or partner or tell them what they cannot eat. Your good intentions will produce better outcomes if you participate in fun and enjoyable physical activities with them.

5. Don’t say “it’s good for you”. Studies with preschoolers show that a more effective way of getting young children to eat vegetables is to say nothing or to tell them that they’re “yummy”. (It helps of course if they really are yummy!)

6. Say “try this”. Telling your loved one what to eat is more effective than telling them what not to eat. Research finds that positive messages which start with “do” are better received than negative messages which are start with “don’t”.

7. Try and try again. A 2015 study found that children were more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they were introduced to them on repeated occasions and if their parents also ate them with their children.

8. Start a gardening project. There is consistent evidence that children who participate in gardening projects are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables.


Stressed? Try walking it off…

Workplace programmes which encourage employees to be more physically active not only reduce their employees’ body mass index (BMI), body fat, high-density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol), and blood pressure, these programmes also alleviate anxiety and depression and improve psychological mood and absenteeism among employees.

Recent research even suggests that physical activity can be as effective as medication at alleviating depression. And the lastest news is that the more we exercise as we age, the less likely we are to be depressed. In fact, the current theory is that exercise protects our brain from the fallout of chronic stress — depression. Just a month ago, a study revealed that we can keep our brains agile with only 75 minutes of exercise a week.

In short, exercise is an excellent strategy for managing stress.

Why? Because exercise allows the release of endorphins which is associated with positive mood, causes an increase in temperature in specific brain regions resulting in muscle relaxation, and makes more neurotransmitters — serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenalin — available, which in turn helps us manage our emotions. Explore the theory about how exercise improves mental health here

We can’t promise that we won’t become a hot sweaty mess when we exercise. But exercise need not be the unpleasant experience we associate with school PE lessons. Music and movement classes along with zumba are an easy choice, especially with a wide range of dance classes available for newbies in the upcoming October da:ns festival.

There’s an even easier choice! It’s called putting one foot in front of the other and repeating it over and over. Research shows that those who walk get better sleep. And combining walking with spending time outdoors is even better. Going for nature walks helps people experience less stress (maybe because spending time in a natural environment seems to lower our stress hormones) giving rise to us experiencing better mental health. Read this article to learn more…

So we suggest some ways to feel good which involve walking:

  1. You don’t like the outdoors and sweating. So go walking in the comfortable aircon gallery of the new Pinocotheque next to Fort Canning. Their current feature exhibition on the Myth of Cleopatra runs till 4th October.
  2. You don’t like the glaring sun, UV rays, and sunscreen. Join in the festivities and view the exhibits of the upcoming Singapore Night Festival which stretches from the National Museum, Singapore Art Museum, to the National Design Centre and starts this weekend. There are even interactive workshops and an artists’ bazaar at the Green next to Dhoby Ghaut MRT on 29th and 30th August.
  3. Walking in the same neighbourhood park is boring. It’s the same all the time. Visit the current floral display “From Tales to Legends: Discover Singapore Stories”  at the Flower Dome in Gardens by the Bay (on till 13 Sept). It’s still SG50!
  4. You find shopping and art galleries too much of a passive pursuit. Instead, you could challenge yourself in a photography competition. Take part in the Canon Photomarathon this Saturday 22nd August at Marina Bay Sands (plenty of ground to cover there). Prizes include cameras, tripods, and other accessories!
  5. You don’t have a camera and you’re not into Instagram. You could instead bring along your sketchbook, watercolours, colour pencils, and markers for a SG Heart Map Sketch in the Botanic Gardens this Saturday 22nd August. If you don’t have art supplies, fret not. Sketching materials are provided on this special sketchwalk!
  6. Art and photography aren’t the kind of things you find yourself good at. And you like having people to walk with. Join the Singapore Footprints guided tour around Chinatown on Saturdays at 9.15am (sign up at the Chinatown Visitor Centre). Their other guided tour is along the Singapore River which starts at 4.15pm at Raffles Place MRT every Saturday and Sunday.