As a parent, you probably filter some of your habits while your children are watching. This can mean something as simple as substituting a few “choice” words when you are cut off on the freeway, or watching Dora the Explorer instead of the new Walking Dead episode. You likely work hard at censoring the obvious, but did you know
I’m talking about your health and nutrition habits. Every day, your children watch what you eat. They pay attention to how you treat your body, so they can gauge what’s “normal.” They are determining the way they should think about their own body through your actions.
I know what you are thinking, as if the hectic life of parenthood is not stressful enough, now I need to go on a diet? The answer is: no! That’s exactly the opposite of what you should be doing. If you are jumping from fad diet to fad diet, you are teaching your family that deprivation and unhealthy trends are okay—as long as you lose weight. You are also sending the message that overweight people deserve self-punishment. (Neither of which are true.)
Unhealthy habits can be subtle, like:
- Negative self-talk—trying on a dress and announcing how fat you feel.
- Shamefulness—saying things like, “I can’t swim with the family until I lose ten more pounds.”
- Portraying others negatively—gossiping other people’s looks down to make you feel better.
- Portraying others as better than you—saying something like, “Jimmy’s dad goes running with him because he is a marathon runner. I’m too fat for that!”
If you give yourself a negative image, it hurts the way your children see you as well as the way they see others. The good news is, changing your habits is simpler than you think. Skip the filtering and make better choices altogether. In other words, don’t act healthy—be healthy. Follow the tips below to make healthy living a habit in your family.
- Prepare your pantry ahead of time. Stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables and pre-slice them so they are as convenient as a bag of chips. Encourage your children to help themselves to the healthy foods when they want a snack.
- Don’t feel bad about off days. There are times when you will run out of ingredients for dinner and you may have to pull out a box of old stuffing mix and half a bag of frozen corn and make-do. You are not a failure for giving in to the convenience of a drive-thru once in a while.
- Begin introducing healthy foods to your family in new and exciting ways, and keep doing it until something sticks. Make a green smoothie starting out with more fruits than greens, and serve carrot sticks and hummus as a snack. Cook a vegetarian chili for dinner or have your kids help you make banana bread. Fill up water bottles and encourage everyone to drink water.
- Stay active as a family. There is little use telling your kids to stop watching so much television when you spend hours on your computer. Grab a Frisbee and head outside. Take a family walk or go on a bike ride. You know what they say: the family that walks together has a strong cardiovascular system together. (Maybe that isn’t how it goes, but it’s true.)
- Teach your children. Take them to the produce aisle and show them different vegetables. Discuss their unique nutrients and how they can give our bodies “super powers.” Encourage them each time they make a good choice and let them feel empowered to choose for themselves.
- Get rid of your unhealthy habits. Kids notice when you say things like, “Mommy needs her Dr. Pepper before she can play with you outside.” This is dangerous to kids in two ways: it makes soda seem like a priority over them and it teaches kids to accept that they will need to resort to caffeine when they are older.
It is never too late to pick up positive habits. Remember all those times you shared food with your children because they begged for a bite? If you begin to eat more wholesome food, think of all the nutritious snacks you can get your kids to eat without ever nagging them.
Take care of yourself, and teach your children to love their bodies and appreciate all of the amazing activities they can accomplish each day. Remember that in their eyes, you are perfect. Next time you think about sitting out on an activity such as swimming, keep in mind that your children will not remember how big your thighs looked in your swimming suit. They will have memories of playing with you and having fun together, and that is really what matters most.
Before you know it, you and your family will be healthier and happier. It only takes small changes to see a big difference.