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Getting healthy is a family affair

13 Apr 2021

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How does a parent reinforce PE lessons at home, especially during a time when we try to stay home more often? Kelvin Tan writes about the “guerrilla warfare” they needed to wage on his kid’s sneakily expanding waistline.

The cabin fever induced by being stuck indoors had led me to pick up daily running and cycling for both physical and mental health reasons, and as a result, almost a year on, I’ve actually dropped close to 12 kilograms and reverted to a more healthy BMI.

Having said that, I only realised in recent months that while I had been trimming the waistline, I had also been derelict in my parental duties, and let my kid’s expand almost as quickly as mine was shrinking!

I immediately started doing an audit of his meals, and realised the problem – well, a few really. The first: we had become dependent on meal delivery services as a quick option for the family, and there weren’t many child-friendly options.

But that alone can’t account for his sudden chubbiness, I questioned. We went out for walks, and when Phase 2 kicked in, so did his swimming lessons and the usual physical activities he would partake in.

In school, it wasn't like he was a slouch either. They had different modules such as sports and games, dance, outdoor education and even high intensity interval training (HIIT) fitness sessions during physical education class time!

The answer came to me during a weekend when it was just him and me over a dinner of chicken rice.

It was a fairly large serving, and I had decided during ordering that it was pretty much enough for two. So, I got an extra plate, and had started moving chicken, rice, and boiled eggs from one plate to another, when suddenly I was interrupted by a plaintive wail.

“Why are you eating my chicken rice, Daddy?”

“What do you mean, son?” I replied, confused for a moment.

“That plate’s all mine,” he replied.

In that moment, all the pieces suddenly fit. His mom, who usually took charge of meals at home, had been letting the seven-year-old kid eat full adult-sized portions!

Of course he gained weight lah, I texted his mother, as my son grumpily tucked into his portion of chicken rice. It’s simple macro math: if he was consuming far more calories than he needed per meal, he was obviously going to balloon.

On top of this, the weight gain had left him lethargic in general, preferring to spend time at home on the sofa playing games on his tablet (which is another problem altogether, don’t get me started). Feeding him less food worked only so far, as he complained about being hungry constantly. As it stood, he was already grumpy enough that sweets and snacks had been taken off the menu, though thankfully he took well to fruits as a healthier substitute.

However, I told his mother perhaps we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much about how this happened. As parents, we were hardly alone in this battle against our children’s bulges.

Local studies showed that children and adolescents in Singapore could only meet up to 40 per cent of the recommended physical activity level, and above 70 per cent of adolescents exceeded more than two hours of electronic screen time daily!

The big, fat question was: what strategy to take?

The answer came to me while I was watching a re-run of Fast and Furious 8 with the kid, and saw Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson fill up half the screen with his bulging muscles. If we couldn’t drop the calorie intake, we’d ramp up the workouts!

At seven years old though, hardcore workouts like weight-lifting and high-intensity interval training weren’t options, but thankfully, we had other kid-friendly options, such as the neighbourhood Tae Kwon Do lessons (which were also wallet-friendly), tennis lessons and regular swims at a pool.

The thing is, kids don’t mind a daily dose of fitness – as long as it’s fun! Physical activity guidelines you’ll easily find on the internet generally recommend that they get an hour or more moderate-to-strong physical activity daily.

The best part of sports is that we can join him as well, which is a good way to spend time with him, as well as get bit of a workout for ourselves too!

Since we started this unofficial Trim-And-Fit club (some fellow parents might remember this from our own school-going days) with our son, both his mom and I have taken to weekly swims with him, which have been quite a good way to spend the evenings after a long day of conference and video calls at work!

I’ve also been doing in-home HIIT sessions with him that’s like what he does in PE class – particularly on days he wants sweet treats for dessert (10 minutes, at least, for a cone of ice cream)!

We’re certainly looking forward to the school holidays for more of this with the boy, and to see the fruits of our labour when he feels fitter, more energetic, and ultimately, happier!