“Boy Sleeping On Bull”
Parents have been bringing their overweight children to me for well over 10 years now – desperate for answers. Over that period of time, the number of children that come into my office with an unhealthy BMI has steadily risen – ask any pediatrician and they will tell you the same thing. In the beginning of my career, I can remember repeating the same old dietary rhetoric. “It’s just a matter of calories in vs. calories out,” I would say, or “You need to decrease the fat in your diet” As I think about that today, I cringe. The results were never very good – the parents would stop asking me or they would search for an answer elsewhere. I would continue treating their kids for other basic pediatric issues.
As physicians and dieticians, it is not uncommon when you are faced with such failure, to blame the patient. Rather than question the approach, it is much easier to question patient compliance. “They didn’t follow my instructions regarding diet and/or exercise.” Move on to the next patient. As the “monday morning quarterback,” it is easy for me now to look at the failed “Low Fat, Calories In Calories Out” approach and see the inherent problems from both a physiological and behavioral perspective. Indeed, not only did I experience this frustration as a physician, but as a patient too! Then I started talking to successful LCHF adult patients and I started reading anything that I could put my hands on regarding nutritional research – either in the bookstores or on the internet. Once I switched to an LCHF diet, the success was almost immediate. At that point I realized the vast majority of my overweight patients were NOT ignoring my advice and this was not a purely motivational issue – I was giving them the wrong information. It became obvious to me right away that parents and kids (particularly my overweight teens) would try ANYTHING to beat this problem and I needed to offer them Low Carb. So I started teaching the Low Carb (LCHF) diet to my patients about 3 years ago.
At the annual checkup appointments, parents will often ask about their child’s weight as a primary concern. Sometimes, I have to broach the subject. I will show the parent/teen the BMI chart and point out the problem. “Does this worry you at all?” I might ask. “I noticed that the BMI is starting to rise a little bit” is another lead in statement that I use. From there I can better gauge the level of concern. If there appears to be no real interest, which does not happen as often as you might think, I always finish by saying “You can always let me know if you want more information on nutrition and diet.”
If I am working with my patient at the checkup, I often hand them a printed version of my “Food Choices” page and I include the “Quick Low Carb/Paleo Snacks” page. I send them to my blog and direct them to those pages as starting points. We will run through a few details and I advise them to follow up if they have further questions. In addition to the checkup visit, I make myself available for more intensive, detail-oriented nutritional sessions. We call these “nutritional consults” and we block off an hour for these kids/families – particularly the kids who are well over the 97th percentile for BMI. In these sessions, I can spend more time targeting specific nutritional problem areas for the child. Are the breakfasts or lunches a bigger problem? What happens when the child is at mom’s house vs. dad’s house? Are there other medical issues that could be contributing (i.e. sleep apnea, thyroid issues)? We spend time discussing how normal saturated dietary fat is NOT the problem and is, in fact, quite healthy. I often discuss basic physiological principles such as glycemic index, the role of insulin as a fat storage hormone, and the liver’s infinite ability to convert excess blood sugar into fat. We go through the cookbooks and look at recipes. I emphasize that feeling hungry is NOT part of the program. We routinely run screening labs that look at, among other things, triglyceride/hdl ratios and diabetic risk factors. I ask the families to keep food diaries – an essential tool in fine-tuning problem areas in the diet. Finally, depending on the parental/patient level of comfort and also depending on BMI itself – we decide on followup intervals. Sometimes, I see the patients monthly (the appointments are shorter in duration). Sometimes, 3-6 months is appropriate (but I always make sure to let the family know they can come back sooner).
What I don’t do: I do not tell my patients to count calories or consciously control portions. I point out that if they follow my suggestions regarding foods that they should eat and foods they should not eat, portions will naturally control themselves through hormonal feedback.
My patients and their families have inspired me by their eagerness to embrace the latest in nutritional science. They energize me with their enthusiasm. They take the information and they go to work! When I recently asked a few if I could share their BMI chart on my blog, they wholeheartedly agreed! THEY want YOU to see what is possible!