A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about a women I encountered on the beach who tried to tell me I shouldn’t be in a bikini. The main thing that bothered me about that encounter was that her comment fell on the ears of the four little children she had with her. Four very young, impressionable children (two boys, two girls) who already have challenges ahead of them that none of us faced in our childhood. Sure, we faced tough times growing up but my upbringing compares nothing to the social media cyber bullying storm that kids have to face today.
As adults, I feel like we have two responsibilities for our youth in terms of self esteem and their health:
Responsibility #1 (mindset/body positivity): To monitor the things we say about ourself and about anyone else when it comes to physical appearance. That day on the beach, that mom taught her children it was okay to shame a complete stranger for being in a swimsuit and her words also showed her daughters they should feel ashamed of their body if they ever want to wear a bikini. Whenever I am around my niece or nephew, I am VERY careful about the words I choose. Our ugly thoughts said out loud can very easily become their own. When you make comments about yourself or about people you see in the grocery store or out shopping, you are teaching your children how to think and speak to themselves and others. If you are saying something like “Ugh, I look so fat in this dress!”, your kids are picking up on that and they too will start taking a closer look at their own body and picking it apart. They already have enough challenges ahead, lets teach our youth to love their bodies and to celebrate health. Praise them when they move their body. Celebrate how smart they are. Teach them that being kind is a priority. Show them how food is fuel and why its so important to eat well and not by shaming being fat but by encouraging health.
Responsibility #2(Taking action): To lead by example and teach our youth the healthy habits that are necessary to lead a great life. So many parents I work with who have weight issues have told me of their struggles at home. They will fall off their plan and end up eating things in their house that are “for the kids” because they’re hard to resist. When I tell them to toss the trigger foods, I’m met with an appalled reaction because what kind of childhood would it be without Little Debbie cakes and totinos pizza. Look I get it! I’m all about moderation and having a special treat every now and then but to have those things as a staple in your household, not only is it sabotaging your own progress but you’re setting your kids up for health issues later in life too. A lot of parents I’ve spoken to about this will say things like “My kid doesn’t have a weight issue, its fine for him to have it, I just can’t”. THIS STATEMENT LEAVES ME PERPLEXED. We are in this exact spot in our adult life due to our childhood habits (read that again). Habits that were formed over years and years of repetitive action. No one starts off being the chubby kid…our habits get us there and I can guarantee you that your child will have weight issues down the road because they formed habits early on of eating junk food. It works until it doesn’t. Meaning, our body will do its best to keep in tip top shape until it can’t keep up anymore….so although your child may not have a weight issue now, eventually those Little Debbie cakes and pizza will catch up to them just like it caught up to you. We owe it to our youth to teach them foundational healthy habits that they will carry on forever. There is a crisis amongst children and the rising rate of obesity. Back in 1980, only 7% of American kids aged 6-11 were obese. Now, that statistic has risen to about one-third (33%) of American children are classified as overweight or obese. Why is this a problem? Not only do these kids face psychosocial problems (hello mean kids on the playground), they’re also on the fast track to not only childhood disease but many major adult diseases down the road.
More and more teenagers are showing signs of cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, impaired insulin sensitivity and prediabetes to name a few. Being overweight or obese at a young age also has a large impact on their hormonal development….girls are hitting puberty much younger and more boys are developing gynecomastia (breast development).
The ultimate goal when approaching this topic with our youth is to never use shame as an approach or start making them think food is the enemy. I personally feel like the word diet should never be used with children nor should you ever make the goal to lose weight. Instead, the focus needs to be overall health and how amazing they can feel with some small changes to their nutrition. Explain and try to educate them to the reasons it’s important for all of you as a family to eat better. I feel like a lot of the time, kids feel like they’re told what to do without an explanation. Thats fine, they’re kids. But when it comes to good nutrition, they’re going to be WAY more receptive of it if they understand the ‘why’. Most kids don’t want to be the chubby kid at school. Teasing is almost always involved and honestly, its really hard to play and be a kid when you’re already plagued with being overweight.
Here are some easy things you can start incorporating today to help your household improve overall health without using the word “diet”.
-Get rid of soda and juice, replace with water. I know…it’s not exciting or fun but both of those things are jam packed with sugar and unnecessary calories. If those things are a common every day drink in your house, this ONE change can make the biggest impact, do it now. Plus, most American’s aren’t drinking enough water and are usually dehydrated. Did you know its very easy to mistake hunger for dehydration? Most of the time when we are craving something or grabbing a snack, its really because we just need some water.
-Get rid of the sugar cereal. I’ll be honest, this one was the hardest challenge for me! I looooooove kid cereal but you know why? Because its full of sugar. Most kid cereals such as cinnamon toast crunch or fruit loops packs as much sugar per serving as ice cream. Plus, have you actually measured out a serving? I would venture to say most people have 2-3 servings per bowl when we actually fill our bowl. Don’t let them start their day with massive sugar spike followed by a crash during 10 am math. Toss the cereal and find healthier alternatives like a couple of scrambled eggs and a piece of whole grain toast with honey.
-Have healthy snacks on hand at all times and make them convenient to eat. Buy a covered dish that fits in your fridge and keep chopped up peppers, sliced cucumbers, baby carrots, broccoli and cherry tomatoes. Have fresh fruit on hand thats easy to eat. Freeze blueberries and grapes for an easy frozen treat. Make hard boiled eggs and deli meat rollups. Whatever your family likes! We are much more successful at eating well when its available and ready…your kids are much more likely to grab a healthy snack if its already prepared and ready to eat.
-Toss the junk food. I’m sure I’m going to get eye rolled at this one but most of the time, kids can’t depend on willpower to say no. Heck, adults can’t either! If its there, we are more likely to eat it. If you feel like a mean guy tossing your kids favorite junk food, ask yourself, is this in alignment with the life I want them to live? If you really want a treat as a family, go out and get it! Go to your favorite bakery or ice cream store and get your single serving fix but don’t bring extra back to the house. If we have to go out and get it every time we crave something, we’ll usually think twice about if we really want it or not.
-Make sure they’re getting protein and a healthy fat at every meal. Protein is the MOST essential of the 3 macronutrient groups and something that most of our youth is not getting enough of. Protein takes the longest to digest thus holding us over longer when we eat it so they’ll be much less likely for grazing in between meals if they’re eating adequate protein. Fats are the foundation for healthy hormones and brain function, need I say more?
-Make moving your body a family hobby. How can we expect kids to move more and play outside more if we don’t? Screen time is higher than ever so schedule in time for you to play, go on a walk, ride a bike…whatever it is your family enjoys doing, make it a priority.
Instead of bringing shame and judgment to the table, when it comes to health and wanting the best for our youth, we are much more successful by teaching with positivity and focusing on the good. Our thoughts, our words, our actions are picked up constantly by those young ears surrounding us so let’s start to set a better example. Let’s celebrate each other’s victories and achievements no matter what that persons physique looks like. Let’s praise people when they work their butts off. Give compliments when you think them and hold back judgments. Make healthy habits a priority so you can lead by example. Our children are very much a reflection of us so let’s help in any way we can start turning around those statistics I mentioned earlier and teach them self love along the way.