Sheniah Everson, a sixth-grader at Jerry Zucker Middle School, is probably more focused and determined than most adults trying to lose weight for the new year.

“Whatever it is I’m going to have to do — I’m just going to have to do it,” the 12-year-old said when asked what motivates her on her quest to lose 20 pounds.

Sheniah applied in October to participate in Louie’s Kids, a nonprofit organization that helps kids lose weight, after seeing a poster for it at school. “I didn’t want to look like the other kids at school. I just wanted to stop getting made fun of. I just wanted to change,” she said.

Louie’s Kids founder Louis Yuhasz can relate. He started the organization because he struggled with obesity as a kid and wanted to help other kids overcome it.

“When I was 13 years old, I was very motivated to not be my father. I didn’t want to physically be my dad (who was obese). I wanted to go to college, travel. ... It took a lot of self-discipline. I chose to run because it was cheap and accessible. I just ran and ran and ran, and I lost 30 pounds,” he said.

Sheniah has lost about 10 pounds since starting the program. She plays softball, goes on walks several times a week and has found healthy foods she enjoys.

“I can see the program benefitting her,” said Sheniah’s mother, Undryell Everson. “She never really struggled with low self-esteem, but she feels much better about her appearance.”

Everson goes on walks with her daughter throughout the week, makes dinner with her and eats healthier, too.

Making the change

Laura Connors, the nutritionist for Louie’s Kids, and Yuhasz believe weight loss is not about dieting — it’s a lifestyle change.

Connors said an important thing to keep in mind is that kids should not try to lose weight like adults.

“They’re still growing, especially middle-schoolers. They have some inches to grow and put on weight before height,” she said.

Carrie Singh, a local wellness coach for Dr. Sears Wellness Institute, said people also should keep in mind that children are not only physically different from adults, but also mentally different.

“If you start infringing restrictions on them, it could do more damage than good,” Singh said. “Focus on quality. Unhealthy attitudes about food opens them up for eating disorders. If you really start restricting stuff, they’ll try to get it and hide it or binge.”

Connors said adopting a healthier lifestyle should be gradual. Start by cutting out sodas and drinking more water. Make at least 30 minutes of physical activity part of your routine, like walking the dog, jumping rope or playing a sport.

And eating breakfast is a must. Connors said you don’t even have to stick to traditional rules either. She said a healthy, homemade pizza could be breakfast.

“Even if it’s not a breakfast food, a small something in the morning is better than nothing. Leftover dinner is better than cereal or Poptarts with sugar that makes them crash in a couple of hours,” she said.

Connors and Singh said allowing kids to try new foods, especially fruits and vegetables, also is important. Helping kids find the foods they actually like helps them make better choices.

“Kids’ palates are always changing. Get them to try new food once a week. Make a new recipe together as a family. If they don’t like it, at least they’ve tried something new,” Connors said.

Sheniah said she snacks on fruits and vegetables throughout the day, and her favorites are string beans, grapes, bananas, apples, pears, mangoes, kiwi and cherries.

“If you present things in a positive, creative, educational fun way, it opens their attitudes about trying things,” Singh said.

And sticking to it

Yuhasz said there are several factors that can help kids lose weight. The most important thing is that the child has to want it for themselves.

“You have to be very self-motivated. It’s about living your new self in every opportunity, every day. We will stick with them every step of the way, but we can’t want it more than they want it,” he said.

He also said family is an important factor, too. It is easier for kids to lose weight when they have positive role models in their homes and other groups to hold them accountable.

“I love being there with my friends. We can talk to each other about things. They’re like your own family,” Sheniah said about the Louie’s Kids team.

She also said having her mother there to encourage her and do things with her makes her “comfortable about losing weight.”

“Listen to your kid. Find out what their needs are, what’s important to them and what’s going to benefit them in the long run,” Everson advises other parents.

Yuhasz said it’s hard for kids to make the right food choices at first when they are surrounded by the very things they are trying to resist.

But Sheniah said kids have to learn how to resist temptation on their own.

“Don’t let other people get in the way of what you’re trying to do. Have trust in yourself because you’ll be happier that way,” she said.

“No one else has to be around. You know if you’re cheating yourself,” her mother said.

Everson also said she wants to get other kids in the neighborhood involved with their walks.

“It’ll make it fun. They won’t even look at it as exercise,” she added.

And fun is the keyword for youths losing weight. Making exercise part of their routines and eating right early and in a way they enjoy have lasting effects.

“If you make it fun now it’ll be fun as an adult,” Connors said.

“It’s not about counting calories, it’s about creating lifestyle changes they will carry out their entire life,” Singh said.

Sheniah is also in the Fit Club and Technology Club and on the yearbook staff at her school. She hopes to become a social studies teacher.

For more information about Louie’s Kids, its grocery store tours or free Saturday workouts go to louieskids.org.

Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@postandcourier.com.