To help give our kids the tools they need for a healthy future, pediatrician, Dr. Joanna Dolgoff created Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right, a safe, effective plan for the whole family that uses the colors of the traffic light to divide food into three categories. This program is customizable, interactive, and fun and will help your family lose weight and start living a healthier, together!
Dr. Dolgoff appears frequently on national and local media as a childhood obesity expert. She is also a contributor to The Huffington Post.
She is the creator and founder of Dr. Dolgoff’s Weigh (www.drweigh.com). She attended Princeton University and graduated cum laude with a degree in molecular biology. She was elected to the Sigma Chi International Research Honor Society based on her research done at Princeton. Dr. Dolgoff earned her Reebok fitness instructor certification during this time and taught fitness classes at Princeton University and at various gyms in the Princeton area. Dr. Dolgoff continued her education at NYU School of Medicine, earning the award for Outstanding Student in Pediatrics and serving as president of the NYU Chapter of the Alpha Omega Alpha national medical honor society. She also founded and ran the NYU School of Medicine Step Aerobics fitness program and taught at Synergy fitness clubs in Manhattan. Dr. Dolgoff completed her pediatric residency at Columbia Presbyterian Children’s Hospital of New York. She has previously worked as a private practice pediatrician, helping many children reach their weight loss goals. She is a board certified fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Most importantly, she is a proud mother of two children, ages 7 and 4. She and her husband live in Roslyn, New York.
The Child Obesity Epidemic
As we know, child obesity is an epidemic. A recent study showed that Most Parents Don’t Realize Their 4 Or 5-Year-Olds Are Overweight or Obese, and as you state in your book, Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right, think that “baby fat” will melt away as their kids get older. This is a serious misconception parents have about their children. Our idea of what a child should look like is so skewed, that over 70% of parents of overweight and obese children think that their children are either normal weight or underweight. The problem with this misconception is that parents are not seeking treatment for their children because they don’t think there’s a problem, so to they’re not trying to get their kids healthier by eating better and encouraging them to exercise.
The emotional side of obesity
Overweight and obese teens and children carry around more than just excess weight. They also carry some oversized emotional and physical worries. Emotions start with shame, loneliness and embarrassment. Kids feel awful. They tend not to have many friends and there’s a much more risk of depression in an overweight or obese child. The emotional aspects these kids have get carried on into adulthood.
Acanthosis Nigricians – An early warning detector
Dr. Dolgoff points out something very interesting in her book, Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right that most parents, teachers and care givers may not know about called acanthosis nigricians. And yes, that is quite a mouth full. Acanthosis nigricians is a thickening and darkening of the skin in the back of the neck that looks almost like a velvety textured pigmentation in the back of the neck. It’s a sign of pre-diabetes. Very few parents know about this and very rarely do pediatricians diagnosis this. This is the first thing Dr. Dolgoff looks for and she sees this 2-3 times a day in her office. Children who have this are at a much higher risk for the development of diabetes. To check your child, look by the hairline at the back of the neck.
When it comes to nutrition, children are not mini adults
In an effort to help their child lose weight, some parents may put their children on a popular adult diet not realizing that the dietary needs of children are different from adults which can be dangerous. Children have different nutritional and caloric needs throughout the various stages of development. The nutritional needs of a six year old are different from the nutritional needs of a nine year old and so on. When you put a child on an adult diet, you’re not giving them any of the nutrients they actually need. Children on adult diets can have vitamin deficiencies. Their growth can be impacted if they are not getting enough calories or nutrients. They’re not going to grow and they are not going to develop normally.
All of these adult fad diets are unsafe for children, especially the low carb/high protein diets. Kids need carbohydrates for energy and development. Not only are these diets not safe for children, they are also ineffective. Children on low carb diets will cheat. They binge on carbs behind their parent’s back. What will happen is that the child will feel like they are failing. They tried a diet; they failed and will be more reluctant to try something that will help them.
Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right takes into account the child’s age and gender. You can’t put kids on a one size fits all diet. They backfire.
Your child knows he/she is overweight – Don’t ignore your child’s weight
As a parent, you know that excess weight creates serious health and social obstacles for your child. You want to help, but you don’t know how. You don’t want to ignore that your child is overweight. Overweight kids know they are overweight. If you are not talking about it, chances are the kids on the playground are talking about it.
Not talking about it with your children can make them feel shameful, thinking you are ashamed of them for not saying anything about it. “I know I’m overweight, but mom doesn’t say anything about it. She must be embarrassed.” These are the kids that turn to unsafe measures to lose weight. Those are the kids who are bingeing, purging and starving themselves.
Studies show that if you treat an overweight child in a sensitive manner, you actually decrease the risk of them developing a disorder. Don’t be afraid to talk to your child about weight. However, you do want to make sure you are sensitive when you are having that conversation.
Talking to your child about weight
When you talk to your child about his or her weight, you do want to incorporate the word “we”. “We” need to eat as healthy as possible. Everyone is in it together. I think “we” need to eat better. I think “we” need to make healthier choices so that “we” can be healthier. We need to make some changes to get healthier as a family.
With this approach, you’re including yourself in it. You’re not accusing your child of anything, not making them feel like they’re being singled out, and you’re making it about health, not looks. What you do want to do is pick a time that’s not around food. You don’t want to have this conversation over the dinner table.
Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right
Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right is a program Dr. Dolgoff created that teaches kids of all ages how to make healthy choices and keep the weight off using a color system that not only makes it fun, but is very simple for kids to understand. Green light foods are the healthiest, yellow light foods are moderately healthy, and red light foods are the least healthy foods. Depending on your child’s age, gender and weight loss goals, you pick a certain number of green light foods for your child to eat at certain meals and snacks. Kids should have three meals and two snacks per day.
They get two red light foods to use each week as they want so there are no foods that are off limits and there’s no deprivation. Kids can go to a birthday party and eat pizza or cake and then make healthier choices during the week. If you want a yellow food, all you do is give up two green light servings. There are no counting calories and Dr. Dolgoff’s program has a 90% success rate.
The most important meal of the day
Breakfast is without a doubt the most important meal of the day. Most adults skip breakfast and kids tend to skip it as well or if they do have breakfast, it’s not one that’ll properly fuel them. Studies show, children who eat breakfast perform better in school, have more energy and do better in sports. You want to make sure you give your child protein and fiber to keep them full and you can quickly and easily feed your child a nutritious breakfast.
Not sure what to feed your children for breakfast? No worries. Dr. Dolgoff has some fun and simple breakfast ideas in her program. A Dr. Dolgoff favorite is a Banana Dog which is simply 1 whole wheat hot dog roll, 1 tablespoon peanut butter spread on the bun, a banana, and 2 teaspoons sugar-free jelly on the banana. Total prep time: 3 minutes
Snacking has been a big issue for both parents and children. Most of the time, snacks are shunned upon simply because they’re usually not healthy and parents think snacking will ruin their child’s appetite for lunch or dinner. There is so much misinformation out there when it comes to children and snacking.
We need to eat every 3-4 hours to keep our metabolism up and keep our energy going. Dr. Dolgoff tells her patients and their parents to think of your metabolism like a fire. If you want to keep your fire burning strong all day, you have to put wood on your fire every so often. If you go too long without putting wood on your fire, your fire will go out. Snacks help keep your fire burning, however, a snack should not be junk food. Every meal and every snack should contain a little protein and fiber to help keep you full and going strong.
Changing a child’s eating habits by introducing new foods to them can be frustrating and many children tend to be very fussy eaters and many parents believe that getting their kids to eat better is an uphill battle. What is a parent to do with a child who is a fussy eater?
According to Dr. Dolgoff, many overweight kids started out as picky toddler eaters, having things like just chicken nuggets. You need to imagine your child eating just that, every day for the rest of his or her life. Don’t get your child started on bad habits because you think they are under weight and want them to eat something, no matter how bad it may be. 95% of the time, parents who think their kids are under weight are not under weight. They may be thin, but they’re not under weight and there’s a big difference. You don’t want to do the Chicken Nugget Diet for your child. It’s one of the worst habits.
Dr. Dolgoff’s Two Bite Rule
Taste is a learned process. If we are giving our children sugary foods, we’re not giving their taste buds a chance to develop a taste for more sophisticated foods. You have to keep giving your kids the same foods. Sometimes it will take 15-20 times of trying a food before a child will accept it. Keep having them try the food even if your child hates it. Have them take just two bites. If they won’t eat anymore, that’s fine but stick to the two bite rule so that you’re training the taste buds to accept more tastes.
It’s a sweet and sugary world
We all know, the number one issue in most diets for children as well as adults is sugar and this causes a lot of confusion. There are many different varieties of sugar. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is getting a lot of attention. HFCS is another version of sugar. The problem is that the food we feed our children has way too much sugar. If you have an overweight child, we do know that sugar is the enemy which leads to weight gain and medical problems. Dr. Dolgoff recommends artificial sweeteners over sugar. According to the FDA, artificial sweeteners are perfectly safe for children in moderation. Rather than give your child a lemonade loaded with sugar, you’re better off giving your child a Crystal Lite Lemonade. Obviously water would be a better choice, but kids don’t want to drink water all the time. In this case, artificial sweeteners are okay in moderation.
It’s dinner time. Many people are pressed for time and on occasion, you may find yourself working later than expected or having to run your kids to an after school activity which can end late. Many parents will say that they don’t have time to prepare dinner for the family or are too tired and end up ordering take out food. What is a parent to do? If you do find yourself in a restaurant, special order your meals. Most restaurants will accommodate you. Order meals as plain as possible, meaning all sauces on the side.
To help reduce this type of situation, you can pre-plan meals so that you don’t have to end up at fast food places all the time. On the weekends think about the meals you’re going to make during the week. Go to the supermarket and get all the ingredients for all planned meals. If you have recipes that call for chopped peppers, chop them up in advance and store them a baggie so that when you’re ready to make it on Tuesday night, you don’t have to start washing and chopping peppers. When you plan and prepare, it’s easier to make healthy dinners. Plan and prepare on weekends and you’ll find you won’t be running out to dinners as often. Not only will this help improve your family’s waistline, it will also help you save money.
Do get your kids involved
Kids want to be involved. Dr. Dolgoff suggests you sit down with them on the weekend and have them help plan meals; this way there’s no arguing because they are helping to plan the meals they like. Be sure to offer only healthy options and let them choose ─ children like choices; however, you decide what they are choosing from.
Let your child help make the meals which gets the child further involved, teaches them how to cook and is great parent/child bonding.
Bring your kids to the supermarket and let them get involved in all aspects of healthier eating and you’ll have a much easier time. Have your child pick the vegetable of the week. You can say to your child, “you pick the vegetable of the week, so this is going to be your special vegetable.” When you are making the vegetable, you can tell your child, “I’m making your special vegetable.” The child will be so much more likely to eat their vegetables if you approach it this way and they will be excited about it.
Life Happens. Most kids don’t want to draw attention to the fact that they’re on a diet and not feel like they’re part of the group. Seems like birthday parties are constant, social meals out on the town with friends and then you have holidays. How do you help your child handle these situations? Well no worries, on this. Dr. Dolgoff has the solution.
Each child gets two red light foods per week. If you know your child is going to a birthday or holiday party, save the red light foods for that day. Tell your kids don’t a red light food when they’re home alone or when they’re just with their parents. Save your red light foods for a time when they’re being social and that is when they can eat a cup cake and be one of the group. If you’ve run out of red light foods and something unexpected happens, have a bite of something and say you’re not hungry rather than saying I’m on a diet; or you can say I don’t really like that kind of cookie even if you do. These are coping strategies your kids can use after they’ve used up their red light foods.
If you have a teenager, you know that your child will be going out to restaurants with their friends and the best way to handle this is by planning ahead. Teenagers and adults tend to frequent at least 5 places. If you have a favorite Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Sushi or Diner, that you end up at, think of a healthy meal at each place so that you don’t have to know where you are going; you already know what the healthiest choices are at each place so you don’t have to worry about it while you are with your friends. What you are doing is walking yourself through the situation mentally in advance on how you are going to handle the situation which can really make a big difference.
Fitness is for children and it can be fun. Take your child’s age and personality into account when planning activities. If your child is very social, a group fitness activity with other kids may be fun. If your child is more artistic, perhaps your child will enjoy dance or yoga. Match fitness to your child’s personality. You don’t necessarily have to put your child on a treadmill. There are so many other ways to get your child moving.
WiiFit is a great fun way to get your child moving. State parks or local parks are great for running, walking, biking and you can do this as a family. Tell your kids we’re going for fun in the park. Present fitness as fun. You want to build enthusiasm and excitement when you talk about an activity.
Dr. Dolgoff can work with anyone, anywhere through her on line program, http://www.drdolgoff.com. Once you sign up and enter your information, it will come up with a program for you to follow and the price is very reasonable. The program contains a complete data base of foods, tons of recopies, sample meals, nutrition lessons and a forum to connect with others who are doing the program. This is great for your kids as they can make friends with other kids doing the program and it helps them feel like they’re not the only one doing this.
Dr. Dolgoff’s take home message
The most important aspect of helping an overweight/obese child is not to ignore the issue. If your kids are overweight, kids do not grow out of baby fat. You decrease the risk of an eating disorder when you address the issue in a sensitive way and you give your children the tools they need to make healthy changes on their own.
Conacting Dr. Dolgoff