Thursday, April 10, 2014

Raising a Health Nut

Spontaneity brings excitement! Right?!  Well, this past weekend I spontaneously reorganized my pantry.  Yeah, not so exiting, but it did get me thinking.  One thing about clearing out clutter is it helps you to reflect on where you've been. The reason it becomes clutter is that it is no longer really important in your life.  You never think of things that are important to you as clutter, although someone else might.  Your treasures are clearly not important to them.

I cleared out the packaged food that clearly no one in the house was going to eat. I remembered the days when my family - which consists of me and my son who is now a young teen - would eat some of those trinkets up like it was going out of style.  Eating those healthily unhealthy delicacies.  How many times have you reasoned with yourself that the tasty little treats you might have been allowed to have once a week growing up, was OK as a daily staple because kids will burn it off fast? The truth is that children typically do have high metabolisms.  Our feelings aren't completely invalid.  However, it's a fact that childhood obesity has tripled in the past two decades and something must be done to teach our kids how to eat nutritiously and enjoy it.  I believe wholeheartedly in my responsibility as a parent to, as stated in Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way that he should go..."

What is so interesting is that during the time I was convincing myself that those little things didn't really matter, as a family, we weren't quite where I wanted to be.  Somehow I was hoping and wishing my son would magically see the light when it came to his nutrition and the the effect it had on him reaching his dreams.

I have always been one to struggle with my weight.  When I became a mother, I vowed to learn how to treat my body right and ensure my kids knew how to treat their bodies right. I definitely didn't want my children to have the same struggles I had with my weight due to lack of understanding about proper nutrition, which ultimately led to my low self-esteem

I know there are many who grew up with horrible eating habits, but who's athleticism kept them lean.  I personally know plenty of individuals who have been able to sustain their so-so eating habits into their adult lives and appear healthy.

Regardless, my reality is that my family doesn't have those genes.  We have a high rate of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes; all related to weight.  Even at the age of 11, my son was at risk for developing diabetes.  He wasn't obese.  He was hardly overweight.  But he weighed more than the BMI chart recommendations and the doctors were concerned.  Of course I was concerned.  When I looked back at our daily habits, week after week, I began to feel like I wasn't doing my job as a parent.

So what changed?  How was I able to convince my son to improve his eating?  How did I get my kid hooked on healthy?  What I have is not a formula, but what worked for us; for him and for me, based on our situation and personalities.  As unique as we are, I know there is someone who can identify with some of the items I have listed below.

1. Teach your child why it is important to eat healthy.
My parenting style, as I would define it is a 'no nonsense' type of mother.  It is partially a result of the fact that I am a single mother and have raised my child on my own since he was 1 year old.  He has grown up around a lot of adults and like me, he is very intelligent and he thinks analytically.  He has not been raised the way I was raised, but I was also raised in a two parent home, so I prefer not to make comparisons.  My end goal is for him to be able to reason for himself.  For someone like him, giving him the logic behind the choices makes them stick.

The bottom line is, people that are in good health have a better quality of life; thus they are happier people.  You ever been around a bunch of fitness instructors?  They are chipper like cheerleaders at 5 AM!  Its not by chance and faking anything at 5 AM is impossible. There is something about eating good food and releasing endorphins through daily exercise that keep your energy and your moods up.  Even though I would occasionally use physical activity for my son as a 'punishment' for bad behavior, the truth of the matter is, he loved it, so the jury is still out on if it accomplished the intended goal.. 

2. Be honest with your child about the dangers of unhealthy eating.
When my son was 11, the doctors were concerned about his kidney function.  I took him for a physical just before preparing to spend the summer with his father. His father lives 1000 miles away from me.  Much too far for my own comfort; especially when it came to making healthy decisions as it had been proven in past summers.

Just 2 short summers before that one, I recall my son telling me how him and his cousin would walk to the store every day to get 99 cent fountain sodas.  That corner store was just outside the complex!  I made it vividly clear what he would be facing if he chose to repeat that summer.  He was full aware that he could very well be facing a life of sticking himself with a needle before he ate, after he ate, before he played sports, when he woke up, before he went to bed just to be sure his blood sugar was stable so he could eat and play sports IF he was allowed and if they hadn't needed to cut his feet off yet.  Would that scare a kid?  Maybe.  Is it a reality to some?  Absolutely!

3. Allow your child to make choices about the foods they eat.
I gave my child tons of knowledge about making food choices; how it was OK to have something your body couldn't use, just not every day.  He was also given plenty of opportunities to make choices.  I learned this technique from a class I took and book I read called "Parenting with Love & Logic" (  I still recommend this course to all parents today.  The whole premise is to allow your children to make mistakes through their decision making process while the consequences are small and they will be able to make wiser choices when it really counts.

Giving children this type of freedom can definitely lead to some funny moments.  I still remember leaving soccer practice one Monday evening when my son was about 8 and he really wanted some ice cream.  He proclaimed that he had earned it because he worked so hard during practice.  Of course, I told him "No."  And of course I followed it with a "because we had sweets while we were out of town this weekend."  Case closed!  Right?!  Not for this kid.  His response, "I wish you didn't LOVE me so much!"  He knew he couldn't argue the point that he didn't have sweets during the weekend.  His only resort was to the fact that I cared about him too much to allow him make a bad choice for his body.

4. Get your child involved in activity.
For my son, it happened to be sports.  He loved soccer, basketball and of course, football.  We live in Texas.  However, there are plenty of activities even outside of sports where its participants are encouraged to be healthy.  Heck, in life you are encouraged to be healthy.  It may be just coincidence, but when my son came back to me after spending that summer with his father when he was 11, he was a little leaner and definitely quicker.  Instead of spending the summer with video games and corner store sodas, he played soccer with some of the neighborhood kids.  I didn't have to make the choice.  He did!  As time went on and his athletic desires increased, he began to get a glimpse of what it would take not only physically, but nutritionally to achieve his goals.

5. Practice what you preach.
Even with all the knowledge, education, warnings, seeing other family members deal with the negative effects of high blood pressure and diabetes, and with all the choices he had a chance to make, nothing made a bigger impact on his ability to get focused nutritionally than when I became focused on my nutrition.  It has been 18 months since I said enough is enough and I got back on board with my health and fitness.  Not only have I gotten leaner and healthier, but my son has too.  Since he is still growing, his 11 pound loss is astounding.  He looks like a completely different person.  Not only is he focused on putting in the work, but he is focused on what he is putting in his body.  This is not to say that we don't ever have food that is great for the taste buds, but completely void of nutrition.  We just do it purposefully.  Those prepackaged trinkets manufactured for a long shelf life can stay on the shelf  -- just not in our home.

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