Fat Camp? Not Anymore! Weight Loss Camps Have Come A Long Way
by Cynthia Vega
As most informed parents know, obesity in children is approaching epidemic proportions here in the US. Kids are less active than ever before, and don't always practice healthy eating habits in or out of their homes. When they gain weight, many children tend to avoid physical activity even more, because they are afraid they won't do well, or to avoid the teasing of other kids. Concerned parents of overweight children recognize that the earlier this problem is addressed, the greater success their child will have in school, with peers, and throughout life. Yet, very often, when asked if they have considered a weight loss camp, the answer is an emphatic “No!”
They say they don't want their child going to a “fat camp”. And part of their reason is because of the stigma they feel is attached to “those fitness boot camps”.
However, the parents who are open enough (or desperate enough) to learn about weight loss programs and even send their child to one, often tell a very different story in the fall.
“Bobby hated swimming before – he was embarrassed to take off his shirt in front of the other kids, because of his weight. But at camp he lost that fear when he saw that nobody there made fun of anybody else. He swam everyday and gained a lot of self confidence.”
The reality is that at a weight loss camp, no child gets singled out for their size. There is no stigma when everyone is in the same boat. In this environment a child's hidden talents can be discovered and nurtured. With the right post-camp support, kids can continue this pattern of emotional growth and confidence building all year long.
And, these days, parents have more diverse choices than ever before, when it comes to summer weight loss camp choices. These can include:
Traditional Weight Loss Camp
These are general camps that offer sports, arts and all the typical summer camp activities with a special emphasis on fun, healthy daily activities, classes on nutrition and healthy food choices, and the development of self esteem. Today's camps do not punish kids for being overweight but helps them to recognize why they may overeat and gives them the tools to make different lifestyle choices. Many of the “success stories” at these camps are the children who make friends, have fun, lose their excess weight and return to camp year after year, because all their friends are there! To them, it is just camp – and a way to keep up the good work.
Fitness and Weight Loss Camp Specialties
These days, there are other options that may appeal to a child that is not interested in general camp. Wilderness adventure programs, especially designed for these children, teaches them the survival skills and lets them participate in the rugged outdoor experiences that they may have only seen on TV – and never thought they could try. In these safe and structured environments, these children can participate without fear of being the slowest or not having the physical stamina for the tasks at hand. There is no match for the emotional benefit derived from climbing a rock wall, whitewater rafting, or whatever it is that a child never thought they could physically achieve.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, for those who want to achieve self improvement from the inside out, as well as the outside in, there are the newest entrants into the fitness and weight management program category for teens. These are the spa camps. In the same way that adults have been able to get away from it all and enjoy activities like yoga, hiking, meditation and tai chi, so too can teens, in these programs that emphasize the importance of the holistic approach. Like all weight loss camps, these focus on positive body image and self esteem, but also on more reflective activities that offer inner body as well as outer body training and health skills.
So, parents of obese or overweight children have more options than ever before. But whichever program seems best suited to a child's temperament and interests, it's critical that the expectations of the camp and of a child's performance there are managed and met. Some parents are more realistic than others. So, it is helpful to keep these points in mind when thinking about the benefits of a weight loss camp:
- Camp is the first step toward a healthier way of life for a child. It is not the final solution.
- It took more than a month or two to develop the eating habits and gain the excess weight – it will take more than just one summer at camp to completely resolve and correct these issues.
- The children who achieve the most success are those who find their summer experience motivating and empowering. The good work at camp will yield noticeable results and for many kids, that's incentive enough to keep going. With a strong after care program from the camp, kids can carry their new knowledge and healthy habits into their homes and schools as well.
- For all children, familial support is key to the success of their weight loss process. If their family is part of the problem by not encouraging healthy eating and exercise in the home, camp will be but a temporary fix in the child's life and any results achieved will not last. But if everyone in the family gets involved and supports the effort and the child, the benefits can be permanent.
Discuss the idea of a summer weight loss program with your child and explore their questions, concerns and expectations, as well as your own. This will help you make a decision that you and your child will be comfortable with and can get excited about. The more you learn, the more you'll see that those old fashioned “fat camps” have been replaced by “fun camps” where kids learn that healthy fun can be the most rewarding of all!
Cynthia Vega is Director of National Camp Association and has personally assisted thousands of parents seeking assistance with every kind of sleepaway camp for their children. To learn more about the different types of weight loss programs available for children and young adults, click here.
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