Nearly 30 percent of El Pasoans are obese and Texas ranks as the tenth heftiest state in the nation. But Nydia Orosco, a registered dietitian, is hoping to make a dent in those numbers —starting with our children.
Orosco helps run Working on Wellness (WOW), a weight management program for pediatric patients at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso (TTP El Paso). The program challenges children — and their parents — to rethink their eating habits.
“My goal is for our patients to not gain any more weight,” Orosco explained. “It’s wonderful if the kids lose weight, but remember that children are still growing, so they can grow into their own weight eventually.”
Orosco has been a dietitian in El Paso for 10 years. Here are the top nutrition mistakes she sees El Paso families making.
#1 Sipping Sugary Beverages
More sugar equals more calories, resulting in weight gain. That means horchatas, aguas frescas, sodas and other sweetened beverages need to be dropped from our diets. “We can survive on water,” Orosco gently reminds her patients.
An average soda is laddened with 10 teaspoons of sugar; that’s more sugar than any child should take in. According to the American Heart Association, preschoolers should have no more than four teaspoons of added sugar a day, while preteens and teens can have eight teaspoons max.
Fourteen-year-old Luis Silva is proud that he has kicked this bad habit. Since completing WOW in April, he no longer drinks sugary beverages. “I used to drink a lot of Gatorade and soda,” he said. “But now I stick to water.”
#2 Skipping Meals
Contrary to popular belief, skipping meals won’t lead to weight loss. In fact, it actually slows down the body’s metabolism — or your body’s ability to burn calories. But there’s more: skipping meals often leads to binge eating and increases the risk of diabetes.
The bottom line is “don’t do it,” Orosco says.
#3 Assuming Your Children Won’t Try New Foods
Picky eating is frustrating, but not impossible to overcome. “Parents often tell me that they don’t offer their kids fruits or veggies because they don’t like them,” Orosco says. This approach may actually make picky eaters worse.
“If you never expose your children to certain foods, they will come across as ‘weird’ and ‘unappetizing,’” Orosco explains. “But if you’re constantly exposing your child to a food, it will eventually become normal to them.”
Before joining WOW, 14-year-old Silva had no idea zucchinis existed. But Orosco kept encouraging him to try new foods.
“My mom started putting zucchinis on my plate and putting them in soups,” he said. “Now they are my favorite vegetable.”
#4 Eating On the Go
Family mealtime is important. You’re less likely to make bad meal choices if you commit to sitting down and having a meal together as a family.
“You’re also less likely to eat fast food,” Orosco says.
Pizza, hamburgers, French fries and other fast foods are often energy-dense, ultra fatty foods. Orosco often shows her patients the amount of fat in a typical McDonald’s or KFC meal. While a home-cooked meal can fall under 20 grams of fat, a meal from McDonald’s can easily top 50 grams, or 13 teaspoons, of fat.
For Silva, Orosco’s guidance has been a life-changer.
“I really didn’t want to join at first, but in the end, I liked it because she really did help me,” said Silva, who struggled with obesity, but lost weight during the program.
Today, Silva has added exercise to his regimen. He goes to the gym four times a week with the goal of losing even more weight.
About the Working on Wellness Clinic:
The Working on Wellness (WOW) clinic at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso (TTP El Paso) is a seven-month-long nutrition program for obese pediatric patients ages two to 18 years. Children who are overweight and diagnosed with other risk factors, like type II diabetes, high blood pressure or acanthosis nigricans, may also qualify.
WOW consists of seven clinic visits with either a dietitian or a physician. TTP El Paso health care professionals provide comprehensive medical and nutritional therapy using a family-based behavioral approach. Its mission is to create a culture of healthy and active lifestyles in El Paso through increased physical activity and nutrition counseling. Only individuals who are already patients of Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso may join.