Time magazine's cover and lead health story this week was, "Our Super-sized Kids." Frankly, we do live in a world of super-sizing. It's great if you go to a store like Costco or Smart & Final since you can save significant bucks if you buy food in bulk; and who doesn't love buying a super-sized shampoo or body lotion so you never run out??? But our food is being super-sized to the point that both adults and kids are getting super-sized as well. It used to be that a wealthy person "wore" their wealth by showcasing a robust and full figure. We are way, way passed that point. Too many of us are overweight and we are passing not just those genetic predispositions, but also the habits that encourage weight gain, to our children. How did we get here??
Well, first of all I think most parents want only the best for their children. But to me, as the parent of two kids, one less material possession or TV viewing hour in the name of more play time with my kids was always a priority. Personally as a kid, I knew what my mom was doing in terms of her own personal lifestyle habits. My mom always brought lots of "treats" into the house. It became obvious to me that she hoarded food and ate it secretly. Food would appear and disappear in large quantities and we never really talked about it. I did learn the behavior and used it to deal with terrible emotional conflicts. Food was my mother's drug of choice and it became mine as well.
Our pantry was stocked with cheap candies and chips and sure we had apples and salad in the frig, but my mom didn't verbally emphasize the importance of eating these foods - they were just there if we wanted them. We ate an inexpensive, high fat diet and with my family's natural tendency to gain weight easily, I suddenly found myself a very overweight teen. I never remember my mom engaging in any exercise and frankly, most moms that I knew really didn't either - the true exercise revolution came much later. My dad played tennis occasionally but he was working 2-3 jobs to make ends meet so that only happened on Sundays. My parent models were not stellar examples of healthy lifestyle habits and so my personal motivation came from dating pressures at age 16. Want a cute guy to pay attention to you for something other than your fabulous class notes?? Get a fab figure and do it quickly. I took a year to drop about 40 pounds (some starts and stops occurred) and discovered willpower, self-esteem and the fact that my mom did not like my so-called weight rebellion. She lost her food buddy.
I also made the conscious decision when I became a mom that I would really educate my kids so that they would understand nutrition and I would make physical activity a part of our lives so that they would really miss it if it didn't happen daily. Not an easy task for a working mom, but doable because I made it my priority. I really wanted to break the habits that my family perpetuated. My feeling is that we choose to have children and it is our job to help them engage in life habits that nurture their health. I know that along with material possessions that they will value, they MUST value taking care of their bodies and their health. And little kids will accept these life's lessons IF and only if you model the behavior and make it an integral part of your home life. Kids don't need to be introduced to soda or French Fries as if it's a right of passage. If they clamor for it at some point, position it in their diet so it is a treat and not a daily food habit. Kids need to learn to grab "healthy snacks" (so you have to take the time to make them available ad attractive) and they need to understand basic nutrition rules with the most prominent principle being that - food should taste good AND be good for you. Hendel family mini nutrition lessons occurred whenever possible and let me tell you that my kids became expert "can I taste that fruit" taste testers in our local supermarket. They learned to stock my pantries after our weekly shopping excursion with "food sectors in mind" and became whizzes at deciphering ingredients and finding hidden fats, sodium overdoses and mega amounts of sugar. We did it with fun in mind and it really clicked for them.