A healthy eating journey for the whole family
“She’s not a huge eater, but she was gaining weight,” says Jelena Myke, mother of six-year-old Delilah. “I was getting concerned, so we went to see our physician and he referred us to the Children’s Exercise and Nutrition Centre. They’ve been very encouraging and supportive – right from the start.”
Delilah has been a patient at the Children’s Exercise and Nutrition Centre (CENC) at Hamilton Health Sciences’ McMaster Children’s Hospital for the past two years where, along with her parents, she has been working towards adopting healthier eating habits with the help of a dietitian.
Delilah has a vibrant personality and a neon green scooter to match. Before the pandemic hit, she would bring her scooter to appointments at the hospital. Since then, appointments have been over the phone.
“She knows we meet with the team by phone to make sure we’re eating healthy food,” says Jelena. “Before, when we attended in person, she really enjoyed going. They had pretend food for us to play with and they let her scoot around the hallways.”
Achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle
The goal for the CENC is to support families in being as healthy as they can. “Every family is unique,” says Stephanie Tibelius, registered dietitian at the CENC. “We aim to support each family in a way that works best for them,” she explains.
The program the CENC operates is technically a weight management program. However, the main focus isn’t on weight. Rather, the program concentrates on the healthy behaviours families can implement and sustain.
“We believe in health at every size and a child’s best weight is that which they can achieve with the healthiest and enjoyable lifestyle,” explains Sheri Nsamenang, child psychologist at the centre. Families and children are encouraged to take charge of their own changes and the team plays a supportive role that guides them towards achieving a healthier lifestyle. “This can include education, goal setting, parenting support and other healthy living strategies,” adds Tibelius.
The CENC team consists of an exercise physiologist, kinesiologist, psychologist, nurse practitioner, pediatrician, and registered dietitians and endocrinologists. Each one plays a role in helping families achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Forming healthy habits
The CENC can see patients who are under a year old all the way up to 17 years of age. Approximately 200 new families join the CENC each year. Delilah began attending appointments at the age of four. The weight management program is a two-year course and Delilah is approaching the end of it.
“Since we started with them, they’ve taught us so much – how to swap certain foods for healthier alternatives and trying new vegetables. We play different games such as the vegetable rainbow,” explains Jelena. “I’ve even benefited from this program. I’m not a big veggie person, but this has definitely helped me, too.”
Tibelius agrees. “Delilah’s parents’ consistency with exposing her to new foods and positive role modelling have helped her overcome her food selectivity,” she explains. “They’ve reduced added sugars and we’ve seen a big change in her vegetable intake, too. They’ve also upped her intake of healthy proteins and established a routine of nutritious meals and snacks.”
Improving physical and mental health
In addition to implementing healthier eating habits, the CENC also works with families on improving physical activity. “Delilah and her parents have been successful in maintaining daily activity throughout all four seasons, including indoor and outdoor,” explains Sonya Thiessen, kinesiologist at the CENC. “They’ve learned the value of being active together as a family.”
These past two years with the program have been life-changing for the Myke family. Jelena notes that it’s been a full journey for not just Delilah, but for her and Delilah’s father, too. “The team has helped us all through this journey. I’ve broken down and cried in their offices. They’ve lifted me up, supported me, and have even given me support for my own mental health. They’re really good at keeping your spirits up. They take such good care of your family.”
Adds Tibelius, “Our patients and their families are the leaders in their care plan. We get to celebrate the successes with them and build them up to feel confident in their changes.”