It’s no secret that obesity is a problem in the United States. And in spite of the fact that a hunger problem exists as well, our population as a whole eats more and moves less than the citizens of other countries. Sadly, it’s no longer just affecting adults, but children as well. Even though medicine has made huge strides and people, on average, are living longer, it has been said that today’s generation of children and teenagers may not live as long as their parents will. So, Houston, we have a problem.
Sometimes, well-meaning parents and grandparents will look at a child and say things like, “oh, he is just big boned” or “she’s just carrying her baby fat a little longer than other kids” or “he’ll eventually thin out when he grows taller”. But what if the “baby fat” doesn’t go away? What if he doesn’t “thin out” as he grows taller? Without meaning to, we are creating an entire generation of overweight, tired, unhappy young adults. And please know that I’m not here to point fingers or speak to you from my soapbox. I have said those words. Even though I worried and didn’t truly believe them, they somehow made me feel better. And the years went on.
If you have been here before, you know that I wasn’t always a green mom with all the answers on health, nutrition and fitness. I still don’t have all the answers. But through my journey I have made the mistakes and rededicated myself to my family and my home and now share the information with you in hopes that you can make even some small changes that will last. Here is what I know:
Food is Fuel
Period. Your kids need to understand that just as we put gasoline in a car to make it go, we need to put food in our bodies to make them go. There are different “types” of gasoline and there are different “types” of food. Try putting diesel fuel into a non-diesel gas tank and you’ll have issues. Same things go for our bodies.
Food Does Not Equal Love
This is a tough one for some parents (and grandparents). We reward with candy. We bribe with ice cream. We bake cookies because Junior had a bad day. If you want to show love, instead of food give your very self. Play a game, sing a song, do a puzzle, read a book, ride a bike, take a walk, give a hug, say “I love you”. Remember, food is fuel. Period.
Feel Your Feelings
Kids learn early that food is what we use to celebrate. Food is where you turn when you are sad. Bored? Let’s see what’s in the kitchen. In these scenarios, we are not using food as fuel. We are filling a void so that we don’t have to feel what we’re feeling. Teach your kids (and yourself) to put words to what you’re feeling and surround yourselves with people. What we need in our emotional lives are connections, not more food.
Until your kids are in charge of the grocery shopping, it’s our responsibility as parents to ensure that they are being given the best nutrition possible. I am not against an occasional treat. But treats are the exception, not the norm. If we want our children to grow up with strong bodies, functioning immune systems, and have the ability to ward off illness and disease, then we must make better choices for them. Lean cuts of meat for protein and iron that fuels muscles and gives energy. Omega 3 rich foods for brain function and heart health. Include a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables for anti-oxidant protection that prevents disease and helps all of the organs to function properly. If the majority of the food your kids eat comes out of a box, bucket or Styrofoam container, they are not eating a healthy diet.
Who is Super Sizing for Anyway?
When you go to a restaurant, you will almost always be given way more than you can (or should) eat at one sitting. But when you go to a fast food restaurant, you will almost always be offered the largest item in that category: Would you like fries with that? For only 10 cents more, you can get a large drink. Can I make that a combo for you? They do that because it’s all about the profits. You accept because you think you’re getting a deal. It’s all about the MONEY. You’re smarter than that!
The Tired Excuse is Well, Tired
Show me a parent that is not tired. Show me a parent that is not overwhelmed by work, the kids, the household, other family responsibilities, social engagements, etc. Show me a parent that doesn’t feel that the car is home because that’s where all of the time is spent. I get it. One large house, a husband, 3 kids, 2 dogs, a demanding job that required frequent travel, and sports activities year round. What I did: got some cookbooks and mapped out the menu for the following week (sometimes waiting for a game or dance recital to start), made my grocery list and had my husband take the kids somewhere fun so I could shop. They got daddy time and I got to go shopping alone. Then, I would take an afternoon and the 3 kids and I would chop, sort, puree, cook, brown…whatever prep work needed to be done. All the meals and snacks could be ready in a matter of minutes. We were spending time together and we “got er done”.
Technology is fabulous. But modern technology also means that we are more sedentary than at any other time in history. It used to be that when kids weren’t moving, it meant they were resting, reading or doing some sort of activity like drawing, coloring, playing a board game etc. And they only did that if it was raining outside. Today, kids will stay in on the sunniest of days so they can watch T.V., play video games for hours, spend time on the Internet, or text their friends. And sadly, the over-worked, over-tired, over-stressed parents allow this to happen because they’re getting some peace and quiet.
Kids (and their parents) need to MOVE their bodies. Ride a bike, take a walk, go swimming. Shoot some baskets, go skating, run around in the sprinklers. Kick, throw or catch a ball. If you start your kids young, they will love joining you in an activity that requires them to move. Raining outside? That’s OK. Put on some music and MOVE!
When babies are born, their lives are full of possibility and we have the highest hopes for them. What parent hasn’t wondered what their kids will look like, what career they’ll choose, who they’ll marry? We want what’s best for them and pledge to give them the very best of ourselves. This is an ongoing process. Remember, we are training our children on how to live, and how to teach their own children to live. Still not convinced?
Here are some reasons that might convince you to take another look at the problem:
- Asthma. Did you know that carrying extra weight can contribute to allergies and breathing issues?
- Type 2 Diabetes. Poor food choices and no exercise means the body can’t metabolize sugar.
- Early Puberty. Childhood obesity causes hormone changes that can lead to a really early puberty.
- High Cholesterol. It’s not for middle aged men anymore. Plaque buildup can start very young.
- Bullying. Let’s face it, kids are cruel. Fitting in and being accepted are difficult enough.
- Learning Problems. Being overweight as a kid is stressful and can cause learning issues.
- Depression. Obesity can lead to social anxiety and low self-esteem. Watch for the signs.
We all love our kids. We want what’s best for them and to know that they’re loved and cherished. And for some parents, denial is difficult. But remember, you’re not denying, you are replacing. Replace emotional eating with a good, heart to heart talk. Replace high calorie, junk food with nutritious, whole foods. Celebrate with people instead of food. Reward with a special activity instead of food. Play outside rather than playing video games. Take a walk instead of sitting in front of the computer.
Your kids will take their cues from you. And if you resolve to take small steps now, you will be training them for a lifetime of health and happiness later on.
To Your Health and Happiness
Penny at Green Moms and Kids