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Ask Dr. Sears: Too Short and Heavy?

Q. I am an 11-year-old boy and I'm worried about my weight and height: I'm 4 foot 2 and 128 pounds. My friend told me that when she was 11, she was 5 foot 1 and 72 pounds. That's a 56-pound difference! Is he a normal size, and if not, what can I do about it?

A. Thank you for sharing your growth concerns. It's difficult to tell what your "normal" weight and height should be since these are influenced by several factors, including your genes. You are likely to inherit the predominant body type that runs in your family. There tend to be four different body types: "bananas" (tall and lean), "apples" (shorter and wider), "pears" (wider at the bottom than at the top) and "yams" (big all over). Please realize that one body type is not better than another—it would be a dull world if we all looked the same! However, certain body types are affected more by eating habits than others. Bananas, for example, tend to burn a lot of calories, so they tend to be naturally lean. Apples tend to store calories, especially around the middle, so they need to have very healthy eating habits. It sounds like you're an apple body type.

Your first step should be to visit your family doctor for a complete checkup. Your doctor will plot your height and weight on the growth chart and show you how you compare with the "normal" 11-year-old boy. Growth charts, which reflect the average measurement of thousands of children of all racial backgrounds across the United States, are simply a screening tool, but they do give a clue to a possible growth concern. The average 11-year-old boy would be around 55 inches tall and weigh around 80 pounds.

When your doctor shows you how you plot on the growth chart, you'll notice that you are quite a bit below the average in height and quite a bit above the average in weight. This combination is a red flag, indicating that the hormones responsible for helping you grow are out of balance. Your doctor will likely want to do some hormone tests. If the tests (such as growth hormone and thyroid hormone) come back abnormal, then your doctor can address the problem with certain medications. If they come back normal, then you probably have yet to begin your teenage growth spurt (a span of a few years in which most boys grow two to three inches a year).

Another measurement your doctor will take is your waist size. If you are lugging around a lot of extra weight around your middle, it's important for you to begin a weight-management program to get lean. By "lean" I don't mean become skinny (which often isn't healthy), but rather have just the right amount of body fat for your body type. A reasonable weight-management goal would be to shave a few inches off your waist and stay the same weight for at least the next two years. Since you are entering your teenage years, you will naturally go through a body-changing process called "leaning out," in which you grow faster in height than weight. Staying the same weight for the next couple of years while growing taller would be a healthy way for you to get trim. Because there's such a wide difference between your height and weight, I suggest you take weight-control very seriously. Once you lose the extra fat around the middle, you'll have more energy, improve at sports, concentrate more effectively at school and feel so much better all around. Here are my top fat-loss tips:

Omit foods with "bad words" on the label.

Get used to looking at food labels. If you don't eat or drink foods that have the following three bad words on the label, you'll be well on your way to getting lean:

  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • hydrogenated oils
  • any number, such as red #40

Eat lots of "free foods"

These are foods that fill you up and help you feel satisfied without putting on extra fat. Good free foods are: vegetables, fruits, plain yogurt, beans, peas, lentils, soy foods, eggs, and wild salmon. Eating an apple a half hour before dinnertime and beginning your meal with a healthy salad will keep you from overeating at the evening meal.

Eat healthy carbs, not junk carbs

Healthy carbs contain protein and fiber (for example, most vegetables, brown rice, beans, whole grain products) and junk carbs are just that—full of junk (like sugar, white flour, preservatives). Food labels will indicate protein and fiber content.

Downsize your servings

Use smaller plates, take smaller servings and refill as needed.

Chat and chew

When you're eating, chew each bite ten to twenty times and talk between bites. The slower you eat, the sooner the appestat (the area in the brain believed to regulate appetite) registers: "Enough, you're full. Stop eating!" Gorging on too much food too quickly is likely to put on extra fat. In fact, grazing on six smaller meals during the day rather than eating the usual big three should help you feel more satisfied with a smaller amount of food. Grazers tend to be leaner than gorgers.

Don't mindlessly munch in front of the TV

When your mind is off of your tummy, you're likely to eat more.

Slow down on the fast food

Shun kids' menus, since they tend to be full of fattening junk foods. Also, limit sweetened beverages. Drink water instead.

Keep an "instead of" healthy-choice diary

For example: "Instead of french fries, I had fruit." "Instead of a white bun, I had a whole grain bun." "Instead of butter, I had olive oil and balsamic vinegar." "Instead of potato chips, I had plain yogurt and fruit for a snack."

Move!

The best way to get lean is to move, or run off, the extra fat around your middle. Join a team, play sports, walk fast, run around and play games outside. Be sure you spend more time moving than sitting in front of the TV or playing video games. You can even exercise when you are watching your favorite shows: Stretch bands and a mini trampoline are great for this.

Lastly, I suggest you read my book, Dr. Sears' LEAN Kids: A Total Health Program for Children Ages 6-12. You will find step-by-step instructions on how to get healthy. I commend you for taking a step to address your concerns. By following these guidelines with dedication and discipline, you are sure to grow into a healthy young man.

 

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