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It's official: My 9-year-old son Norrin is overweight. That's what the pediatrician announced during our last visit. I suspected Norrin's weight would be an issue. I have eyes, after all. His cheeks are getting chunkier and his belly is getting bigger. It was seeing the numbers that surprised me. At 4 feet, 6 inches tall, Norrin weighs 102 pounds. Not only did it surprise me, it worries me.
My husband and I both have a family history of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I don't want that for Norrin. I want him to grow up to be a healthy young man who knows how to make responsible choices.
Norrin's autism and ADHD has had a great impact on his physical activity. He doesn't have the motor coordination or focus to ride a bike or a skateboard. And while he enjoys swimming and being outdoors, his daily outdoor playtime is limited due to living in a New York City apartment, after school therapy and having working parents. We try to keep him active when we can. Norrin plays on a special needs baseball team and next week he will participate in the Special Olympics.
While the doctor didn't say a diet was necessary, he did offer suggestions I'm more than happy to take. I've stopped buying concentrated juice and offer Norrin water or flavored seltzer instead, and I've started to buy low-fat milk. I'm learning to look at labels and make better choices.
I'm lucky that even though Norrin has autism and a multitude of sensory issues, he has a healthy appetite. He eats a variety of fruits and veggies—especially broccoli, carrots and string beans. He eats chicken, turkey and some fish. He loves to snack on walnuts, almonds and edamame. But like most kids, he also craves ice cream, cookies and candy. I try to limit sweets in the house. But I don't think that's the entire problem.
Norrinlovesrice, be it white, yellow or fried, and could easily eat it every single day. Rice with beans. Rice with chicken. Rice with corn. Or just plain rice. He can eat bowls of it. And my old-school Puerto Rican mother is more than happy to oblige.
It's rice. Norrin loves rice, be it white, yellow or fried, and could easily eat it every single day. Rice with beans. Rice with chicken. Rice with corn. Or just plain rice. He can eat bowls of it. And my old-school Puerto Rican mother is more than happy to oblige. I'm lucky that my parents help me out with after school childcare and that my mom prepares dinner for him.
To my mother, dinner means chicken, a few heaping spoonfuls of rice and maybe overcooked broccoli. She doesn't make just enough rice for the one day, she often makes a huge pot — enough to last us three or four days. The thing is, when I cook, Norrin is content eating grilled chicken and vegetables. He may ask for rice but if I don't offer it, he eats what's on his plate. This absolutely horrifies my mother.
"He's a growing boy. You're starving him. He needs rice," she'll say.
It's like when Norrin was first diagnosed with autism and I wanted to try a gluten/casein-free diet. My mother said that Norrin would starve because we were taking away all the foods he loved. And my argument was he was 2 at the time; he didn't really know what he loved yet, and I needed to expose him to different foods. Ultimately, I didn't stick with it. It was too difficult to get everyone on board.
I know it's going to be the same battle with rice, but this one I'm determined to win.
I know that Norrin's weight gain is due to a combination of things. However, changes to his lifestyle and diet need to be made. I love rice too. But a life without rice can be lived. It's not something needed for absolute survival. And Norrin will never "starve" without it. I'm not saying we'll never eat rice again, but for now, I'm just trying to eliminate it as a dinner table staple—and get my mom on board, too.