When Giovanna Eisenstein was 5 years old, her weight was already beginning to outpace her height. Because her body mass index (BMI) was slightly higher than it should have been, her pediatrician recommended keeping an eye on her eating habits and activity levels.
A year later, when her BMI was still slightly high for her age, Giovanna’s pediatrician recommended the Healthy Weight Program at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“Our pediatrician said ‘CHOP’s program is great, you should check it out,’” says Giovanna’s mom, Sarah Eisenstein. “She told us it was where we needed to be.”
The family’s first appointment was three hours long. “It was very informative and we had great conversations with several members of the Healthy Weight team about Gigi and how we could help keep her weight gain under control,” recalls Sarah.
Learning how to incorporate healthier habits into the family’s daily life was the first step for Gigi, Sarah, her husband, Leo, and their older daughter, Isabella. While educating parents and children about healthy eating and exercise is a key focus of the Healthy Weight Program, it was especially important for the Eisensteins.
“I’m a runner and my husband is a yoga instructor, and we’ve never really thought much about what we eat because we’re active,” says Sarah. “Both of our daughters, though, are adopted. And we needed help learning how to eat and fit in exercise in order to help Gigi stay healthy.”
In the three years since Gigi’s first appointment with the Healthy Weight Program, her BMI has decreased. When her team learned she wasn’t getting enough vitamin D, they helped her add foods to her diet that were rich in the nutrient. Now, she’s no longer vitamin D deficient. And though her family has learned she’s at risk for diabetes, her team monitors her blood sugar levels at each visit. So far she’s doing well and shows no signs of pre-diabetes.
So what have the Eisensteins learned and what changes have they made? Here, the family shares some important lessons they’ve picked up from the team at the Healthy Weight Program.
- Getting healthy should be a family affair: “Family involvement is essential to developing healthier behaviors,” says Elizabeth Coover, RD, LDN, a registered dietician with the Healthy Weight Program. “The Healthy Weight Program encourages a family-based approach to healthy lifestyle changes, and Gigi’s family’s persistence has helped her adjust to the changes she needed to make.”
- Bust boredom to distract kids from over-snacking: Sarah says her girls would often complain about being hungry, so she was always handing out snacks. “Now, when they say they’re hungry between meal times, I find something to distract and redirect them, either mentally or physically.” Sarah also says she’s no longer the “snack mom” with bags of unhealthy treats stashed in her purse.
- Don’t be afraid to try a new activity: Sarah signed both Gigi and Isabella up for CHOP’s Healthy Kids Running Series. “Isabella always liked running on her own, but Gigi thought running was horrible,” says Sarah. “But with the Running Series, there was a competitive spirit to it that she loved! She enjoyed pushing herself and improving her time — and she was so proud of herself and felt empowered when she broke 5 minutes on the half mile!”
- Don’t blame yourself, or be afraid to get help: “I think it’s easy for parents to get down on themselves and say, ‘This is my fault,’ or ‘What did I do wrong?’” says Sarah, who also often wondered if she could just “fix” Gigi’s weight problem on her own. It’s important for parents to remember that laying blame doesn’t help — but getting help can. “The Healthy Weight Program has really given our family the tools we need to help Gigi and to make living well a natural part of our lives.”