I have always been open about the fact that I love exercise but struggle with nutrition. My relationship with food has never been stellar and I have spent way too much time throughout my life dwelling on it. I know I’m not the only one who has faced that. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if we could devote all of that wasted mental space to more important things?
Once I became a parent I started to think a lot about how to stop that pattern. I want to keep my kids from having that same experience. I want to help influence change for future generations so that positive body image and well-rounded nutrition is the norm and not the exception. Here is the million-dollar question…how do we teach our children and grandchildren to enjoy but also RESPECT food in a way that is healthy and balanced?
My first memory of going on a diet is from second grade. For me, that was the beginning of the yo-yo pattern that is common for so many of us. My life was punctuated with “I’ll start again on Monday” moments and periods of rapid weight gain followed by every diet in the book. Cravings, binges, and unhealthy fads. Fast forward to where I am right now and I have improved by leaps and bounds. I have redefined my relationship with food and my body. I have learned that being healthy is more about being in tune with what my body actually needs and what makes it feel good. Nourishing myself with real, whole foods so that I’m energized and satisfied. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still struggle, because I do. I have to work to maintain this new norm. It is easy to fall back into old habits and patterns with food.
All of these issues make me think a lot about how I feed my children. I am not a “crunchy” mom. I am not obsessed with buying organic, grass fed, non-GMO. Maybe I should be but as moms sometimes we have to choose our battles. Right now, my priority is simply trying to set a good example for them. More than anything I want to make sure that they don’t view food as an enemy that they have to rage against. I want them to recognize that food is primarily to nourish their bodies but that it should still be enjoyed. I want them to learn that moderation is key. I want them to make healthy choices most of the time and to learn to love fruits and vegetables and to choose real food over processed food.
I get increasingly concerned in our little suburban bubble when treats are used as a way to celebrate and reward every little thing that our children do. My boys have been given Oreos, Doritos, and candy after their sporting events. Why would we reward exercise with junk food? There is a special occasion warranting cupcakes and candy almost every day at school, church, camp. People often default to using treats as the easiest way to win a child’s affection. Does it work in the short term? Maybe. Is it doing them any favors in the long run? Absolutely not.
I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle and I don’t know how to win it. I do know that I’m going to keep fighting. Hopefully my children have inherited my husband’s metabolism AND penchant for moderation and portion control. I seem to be missing both of those genes. In the meantime I will keep trying to model appropriate behavior even if I’m struggling on the inside. I will also talk about my struggles with them, because secretly hiding them isn’t healthy for any of us.
You will see my children eating a happy meal and other treats from time to time and I don’t feel guilty about that. Sometimes people act shocked when they see us eating something that isn’t healthy. When we do treat ourselves it is just that, a treat. The kids know that it is special and not a normal occurrence and therefor they really appreciate it. Denying them those things will just create more of an issue down the road. We talk about what we eat, why we are eating it, and what nutrition is all about. I want them to enjoy food but I certainly don’t want them to spend as much time as I have over the course of my life thinking about it.
In addition, getting enough exercise is just as important for kids as healthy nutrition. It is fantastic when they see us modeling these healthy behaviors and they learn how critical it is for them to move their bodies and stay active. I want my kids to learn that exercise is something to be enjoyed because of how it makes them feel! Demonstrating and encouraging a healthy lifestyle full of exercise and healthful eating is one of the greatest ways we can influence their future.
Childhood obesity is a very real and serious issue with lots of far reaching tentacles. This is not just an issue for parents of young kids to handle on their own. It’s increasingly important that we all work together to set the next generation of children up for success in the health and nutrition department. It truly takes a village – parents, grandparents, teachers, church, friends, etc. A little community team work could really make a powerful impact!
Hadley Sorensen is a health and fitness coach who lives in Virginia with her husband and 3 boys. She is an avid reader, runner and fitness instructor who has a passion for helping others learn to enjoy exercise. Hadley uses one-on-one coaching as well as virtual accountability groups to provide support and motivation to her clients. Her guiding philosophy is that it’s never too late to take charge of your health and improve your level of fitness. Find her on Facebook @HadleySorensenFitness