Teaching My Kids Healthy Eating Habits (Even Though Mine Always Sucked)

Health & Wellness on 03.11.11
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My entire life I've struggled with weight and body image. I vividly remember standing in front of the floor length mirror as a teenager and hating the way my stomach stuck out, and not much has changed. Now, after giving birth to two children, I aspire to look that "fat" again. Even before I became a mother, I always worried about my future children having to struggle with the same issues. How would I raise confident, healthy children without bombarding them with "Don't eat that! You'll get fat!"?

Making matters more complicated, I have a 4 ½ year old son, who, since the day he was born, would drink (anything but water) and eat non-stop if I let him. This child is also "off the charts" at almost 4 feet tall and 70 pounds. As his pediatrician says, "On paper, it looks horrible." In actuality, he's just a really solid kid who's built like a rugby player. The doctor's not worried about his size; he's big, but healthy - not obese. And even if he lost a few pounds, he'd still be a 65-pound 4 year old. He's not a typical kid. And the last thing I want to do is give him a complex about his weight just because I have one about mine.

And so this past January, I made a resolution to take control of the battle of the bulge. Like millions of others, I started a new program (Weight Watchers) to get myself skinny - er, I mean healthy.

My Life as a Yo-Yo Dieter
This is not the first time I have joined Weight Watchers. I've done it twice before with great success, but eventually I would stop counting points (their way of tracking food intake), start bulking up my portions, and decrease my number of trips to the gym. Before I knew it, I'd packed back on the 20-30 pounds I had just worked so hard to lose.

I joined again because everything else I'd tried on my own wasn't working and I couldn't take being at my current weight anymore. But more importantly, I knew I had to start practicing what I wanted to preach to my kids. Shedding the pounds turns out to be only half the story. Leading by example, that is, showing my kids how and what to eat, is the best way I can give them the tools for developing a healthy relationship with food. I'm praying that this time I won't slip back into my old habits.

Light Dawns 30 Years Later
Since my last courtship with WW, they've switched from "Momentum" to the new "Points Plus" system  for tracking foods. The biggest difference is that now participants can eat any fruit or vegetable (almost) in unlimited quantities and not have it count toward their daily allowance. What a revelation! Now I never have to be hungry like I was on the old program. It's no shocker that grabbing seemingly harmless handfuls of the kids' Goldfish when my stomach started rumbling was really not helping me. But what finally dawned on me was that it wasn't helping them either.

So many of us fret over what we buy at the store - I shop for organics and avoid high fructose corn syrup religiously - but then grab a cookie as we're running out the door or hit the drive-thru if we're tired after work. It's hard to tell your kids to give up empty-calorie foods without giving them a guilt complex. It's even harder when you're not leading by example. By swapping out pretzels and chips for apples and bananas, not only did I begin to shed pounds, I was also showing my kids how to eat more healthfully.

Healthy Mom, Healthy Kids
After the first week, I'd lost six pounds. (Hooray! And since then, I've shed another 10 pounds.) That's all it took to convince me to stop buying all those nutrition-less snacks and instead stock the kitchen with fruits, veggies, and nuts. My cupboards are literally almost bare, but my veggie drawer and fruit bowl are overflowing. Now choosing healthy snacks is the kids' only option, too (with a few exceptions, of course). The best part is that now I don't struggle for the right words when they ask for something to eat. And they don't miss the pretzels. I feel like I'm encouraging the right behavior - and without being a hypocrite. And when Grandma gets the ice cream out or it's cupcake time at school, I don't have to sweat it. Hopefully, by learning this as little ones, they'll take these habits into their teen years and beyond.

I know this isn't a guarantee that my kids will turn out perfect when it comes to body image and self-esteem, but for the first time, I really feel like I'm on the right track, like I've found a plan I can stick with. Relieving myself of this anxiety has already helped me work toward the healthy-lifestyle example I want to set for my kids. So here's to the next sixteen pounds, and three lifetimes of healthy eating.

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