I am trained in nutrition and my particular son needs are still getting fat. Ask Ellie


Q: My two sons, both have special needs. A 13 year old son is a mega-hugger and has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The rest, 16, are tech-savvy and have ADHD.

They are truly the best time of my life.

As an epidemiologist and toxicologist, I had been “preparing” for a pandemic for years. So first we had a lot of food in the house, including some prepared food. Usually I have cooked them from scratch. Babies through primary school, I could control their feeding. Both have food sensitivities. But I am trained and consult in nutrition and complex specialty of environmental medicine.

Irony? Difficulty with my children, their weight! The youngest had initially severely restricted eating in just five foods. With the help of experts, we expanded his diet to eat almost everything, and at least try a new food.

With adolescents, controlling diets is almost impossible! Sometimes they have money, and just buy junk food for themselves. When the 13 year old, he had a big weight gain (his school was on the street from a McDonalds AND a 7-11).

Our “rule” was to eat healthy at home, so we can treat it sometimes. He eventually had growth spurts and is now overweight at the end of normal, but not “overweight.”

My husband thinks that I was too harsh on him on food making him self-aware of his body. He will not take his shirt off in public or in private and is always self-deprecating.

Now the youngest follow this same weight pattern. Since the lockdown, we haven’t been as active and are stuck inside.

I feel super guilty for screwing up my kids and not knowing how to deal with the younger ones. He knows that I don’t want to eat junk food and that there is room for treats. I know he sneaks food in the middle of the night.

– I get it – eating teens. I just want to learn about portion control and eat healthy.

I grew up obese and it took a long time / intervention to reach normal weight. I’ve been stable for 10 years (I’m 43).

So it’s much more difficult to remove, especially after your teenage years, and I don’t want to be obsessed with food, or their weight.

How can I do it constructively, without blaming?

A: Who says it’s easy to raise kids?

Every parent who reads your story, including this one, will say, “Not me”.

And everyone can recognize how hard you are trying.

You are a very knowledgeable, dedicated and hard-working mother to help your son, already struggling with their own diagnosis of the problems, in order to avoid a self-image, weight problem, that you had struggled with in your past.

Which is the key to your frustration … remembering the psychic and social pain of being obese.

Another key is the guilty feeling of mismatch between your nutritional expertise and your son’s preference for breaking it.

I receive your concerns for their self-image as much as for their health. But they are mostly expected worries, despite the self-awareness in the old boy, are not uncommon among teenagers.

Generally, in adolescence, boys typically gain weight and then experience adolescent growth spurts.

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Your husband warned to release the pressure. I agree.

Keep the “sometimes” aspect of treats, and introduce socially distant family and virtual exercise programs. Look for information sessions aimed at your children of ages as well as for your whole family. When the older boy gains some muscle strength, he will feel better about himself.

Ellie the tip of the day

Health-conscious awareness of children and adolescents is a multi-year process of modeling good practices without putting constant pressure on them.

Ellie Tesher is a columnist for The Star, and based in Toronto. Email your relationship questions: [email protected]


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