Red Light Foods, Green Light Weight Loss
Today, Yves stands 5 feet tall and weighs 106 pounds, well within the healthy range for a 12-year-old boy. But the change hasn’t come easily for Yves—or his family. In mid-2004, when he was still 10 years old, Yves was 4 feet, 11 inches tall and 123 pounds. Recalls Eva, “Yves was wearing husky-size clothes, and even those were too tight. He loved to eat fast-food hamburgers with the special sauce. And he spent most of his free time at the computer—he didn’t really like to exercise.”
During an annual physical, the pediatrician told Eva that Yves weighed 44% more than the recommended weight for someone his height and age—putting him in the ‘obese’ category. The doctor said Yves needed to lose weight, change his eating habits, and begin exercising if he wanted to avoid serious health issues in the future. The pediatrician recommended that the family sign up for the Packard Pediatric Weight Control Program (PPWCP) to help Yves meet those goals.
A family-based, group behavioral program, the PPWCP helps overweight children, adolescents, and their families adopt and maintain lifelong healthy eating and physical activity habits. “At first, we were on the waitlist. But then we got a call in August that the clinic had an opening for Yves, and we signed up right away,” says Eva.
Yves joined a group of one other boy and ten girls—each trying to achieve specific diet and physical activity goals. Once a week for six months, the group met, weighed-in, and discussed their weekly progress along with their families. “In the beginning, it was very hard for Yves to keep track of and limit the food he ate,” remembers Eva. “Some foods, like his favorite hamburgers, chips, and cookies, were really hard for him to quit eating.”
Eva credits the PPWCP’s visual ‘Traffic Light’ program for getting—and keeping—Yves on track with his eating habits. “Sometimes Yves didn’t want to keep the eating log, and it was hard for me to make him do it, so we switched to another way to count his foods—with beads. That was easier for him.” Yves had two cups, one filled with red beads, and another that was empty. Each time Yves ate a so-called ‘red light’ food—such as cake, chips, or soda—he would put a red bead in the empty cup. In order to meet his weight-loss goal, Yves could have up to 10 red-light foods each week, and his cup helped him know how many red-light foods he had already eaten and how many he had left. Through this exercise, Yves was able to keep the problem foods—such as high-calorie juices, cookies, candies, and even his beloved hamburgers—in check.
And, Yves is not just eating less high-calorie food, he’s also eating more healthy foods. “He used to not like vegetables at all. “But now, he actually likes broccoli and other vegetables, and he will ask me to make them,” notes Eva.
Yves and his family
Six months after starting the program, Yves was 25% less overweight than when he started—a tremendous accomplishment for a 12-year-old boy. Both Yves and his mother attribute this success to the PPWCP: “The program really helps kids develop better eating habits. They don’t change the way they eat from one day to the next. It’s gradual, so the kids have time to adjust,” says Eva. “And because they check in every week, the kids can see the result, which is great motivation.”
Eva firmly believes that the group-based methodology of the program made the entire experience a positive one for the Perez-Velasquez family. “Everyone encouraged each other and was very supportive of each child trying to reach his or her own goal. If someone didn’t lose any weight one week, no one would scorn or tease. They would say, ‘Ok, what did you do that didn’t work? Next week, let’s try something else.’ I think that’s what makes the program work.”
Yves concurs. “Being in a group made a big difference. There are other people going through the same thing and you see you’re not the only one,” he says. “Losing weight isn’t easy, but you have to want to do it. If you give up, you won’t get anywhere.”
In addition, participating in a group with other families helped Eva change her family’s habits overall. “You meet other people who are struggling with the same things you are with your kid. Maybe you don’t know how to make certain foods and you hear someone else say, ‘Oh, I do this for my kid and she loves it,’ and then you try it and your son loves it too,” says Eva. “Parents don’t always know how to feed them better, and the program teaches how to avoid certain foods or how to fix how they eat certain foods and make them healthier.”
Learn MoreLearn more about the Packard Pediatric Weight Control Program and other weight control and loss programs at LPCH:
- Packard Pediatric Weight Control Program
- Center for Healthy Weight
- Meet Stuart Dooley, another Packard Pediatric Weight Control Program participant