Originally published January 29 2008
Eat Better to Live Better - 5 Steps for Preventing Childhood Obesity
by Roosevelt Pitt
(NaturalNews) "You are what you eat." A once universal theme of awareness has become all but lost to us when it comes to improving our children's eating habits. I fondly remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Hooks, warmly walking down each row of desks passing out snacks. It was the time of the day every one looked forward to. As usual I would play with my two quarters, rolling them on my desk anxious to choose my usual chocolate milk and chocolate chip cookie. To my surprise as she lowered the tray, there was only apple and pear slices and grape juice. I asked her where the cookies and milk were as I clinched my quarters in my hand for safe keeping. She smiled and said, "We have to be careful what we eat. Cookies taste good but are not meant to be eaten all the time." I frowned and place my quarters in my pocket. She placed the plate of fruit and juice on my desk recognizing my defiance and said, "If you want to be healthy and strong, you have to eat healthy and strong foods. Remember, you are what you eat."
Her words permeated my thoughts that day and helped me to realize later in life that if there were strong foods there were also weak foods or foods with little or no nutritious value. So making choices of what I ate could determine what I would be. Even cartoon shorts such as School House Rock (those of you old enough to remember) hammered that philosophy into our brains as well as into our parents. "You are what you eat." A once universal theme of awareness has become all but lost to us when it comes to improving our children's eating habits.
With the rise of childhood obesity in record numbers over the past three years, it's time to breathe life back into that phrase and to truly take to heart the importance of being aware of what we consume day to day. It's clearly the time to lift the banner and strive to eat better to live better.
But how do we do it? How do we regain control of our health and subsequently our children's? It's much easier said than done when our lifestyles are seemly moving at a pace beyond light speed. Surprisingly, all it takes is a bit of self control and slowing down to embrace our lives. Looking at ourselves and our habits are always the perfect places to begin.
Let's take a look at five ways I've found to be successful in combating obesity by using knowledge and proactive habituation.
"Children can't change their exercise and eating habits by themselves. They need the help and support of their families and other caregivers. This is why successful prevention and treatment of childhood obesity starts at home." - Mayo Clinic Staff Jun 30, 2006
1. Understand That Weight is a Family Affair
In order to set the standard for healthy eating habits for our children, we must take the time to improve and teach good Mental Eating Habits. What are mental eating habits? Simply put they are those "habitual choices we make when choosing certain foods based on our overall knowledge about those foods." The better we know about the foods available to us, the better the choices we can make. For example, just taking the time to read the manufacture's label of ingredients is a good start. But don't stop there, study those ingredients that are foreign to you and research them. It was alarming to me how much sugar is found in nearly everything I purchased. And then there were the chemical additives, something I encourage everyone to research thoroughly. With the internet, it's not hard to find out what your family is consuming and the possible effects it may have on your children. The key is to research individually and as a family. Learn together and start early.
One particular aspect of our eating that often goes undetected is our Emotional Eating Habits. What we eat when we are happy, sad or angry can be and often is the reason behind our poor health. These habits we also easily pass on to our children. I remember my oldest daughter at 5 months was crying and without thinking I stuck a bottle in her mouth. I didn't realize that at that point, I was teaching subtly that food was a pacifier when needing comfort. Once discovering that, I made a habit of picking her up first and realizing that most of the time she just needed my attention or just a diaper change. "For many of us, emotional eating is such an ingrained habit, we're not even aware we're doing it", says Paige Waehner at About.com. So as parents, it's important to explore why we eat when we're not hungry and why. What triggers the behavior? Boredom? Stress? Anger? The quicker we are able to grasp the causes and control them, the less likely our children will adopt them.
2. Don't Betray Your Body or Theirs
We all age and grow older. But it's entirely our habits that determine how we enter our golden years and how we as parents help our children to reach theirs. "Today's generation of children is the first generation of children not predicted to live longer than their parents" - Newsweek Magazine September 22, 2003. This was a startling revelation to me as a father of five. In order to help my children embrace longevity of life, I realize that I had to look inward. It was essential that I first adjust and improve my attitude about age and the body, so that I can express it and set better examples for them.
What resulted was the realization that I must take responsibility for my body's condition. Growing older does not necessarily have to lead to your body failing you, or at least not prematurely. Besides proper eating, daily exercise and activity will do much to maintain our vigor, which in turn can be taught to our children. So allow your kids, if old enough, to join you during exercise. Let them spend more time outside for recreation rather than with the TV. They will learn through experience that our bodies rarely betray us, but we betray it by not supplying its needs.
3. Is Your Kitchen a Foreign Land?
Over the three years of researching to write my children's books, I interviewed parents from many diverse backgrounds and learned one recurring fact, that few involved their children in food preparation. Whether it was because of busy lifestyles where both parents work or the case of a single parent household, the results were the same. Unfortunately for these children, the kitchen was a virtual unknown when it came to basic cooking knowledge. The results were that as they grew older they relied on fast food restaurants and others to cook for them. This ultimately resulted in them becoming overweight and disease-stricken later in life. The kitchen cannot be foreign to us individually or as a family. Take steps to introduce you children to all aspects of cooking and the fundamentals of navigating the kitchen by getting them involved in the process. Not only will they understand the importance of healthy eating and knowledge of food preparation but also simple kitchen safety. My oldest girls asked me one time why some foods should be frozen. What followed was an in-depth bonding conversation about food preservation and what contamination means. Give your children the ability to be empowered and the option to make the best choice in deciding where and what to eat.
4. Make Grocery Shopping an Event Not a Chore
I'm guilty as I'm sure many parents are of dreading the entire grocery shopping experience, especially where children are concerned. It's a struggle to maintain your sanity when they seemingly overwhelm you with "I wants". It's easy to get consumed with the idea of just getting "it" done. Of course what we often don't realize is that 1) We pass that behavior on to our kid and 2) We often, in an emotional rush and dislike of the process of shopping, choose what's easiest and not what is best. If our emotional habits and mental habits are not in order we will make the worst choice in foods. What I've found to be helpful in improving the chore of grocery shopping is not to consider it a chore but make it an event for my kids. Allow kids to help in compiling the list of foods for a start. Also teach them to read the ingredients of the foods bought. For example, my children have been taught to research any ingredient that is unknown to them. You will be amazed and perhaps a bit shocked to learn what you may have been consuming over the years. Keep in mind that activities created to help steer your child toward healthy choices are always a plus. Encourage them to choose a nutritious food for the week or month then search for it when you arrive at the store.
5. Eat Better to Live Better
Lastly, it's vitally important to know and understand that how we eat is just as important as what we eat. I know at first glance this might not click with most; so I will elaborate. Let's look at simple chewing. How important is it to teach our children to chew their food properly? "Chewing your food is the first step in the digestive process. Powerful enzymes in your saliva go to work breaking down the food as soon as it enters your mouth." Quote taken from (www.ehow.com) .
"If you do not properly chew your food, what you have eaten will go through your digestive system as large pieces of food. Chewing properly is the only way to grind up your food so that it is small enough to allow the rest of your digestive system to extract as many of the available nutrients as possible." Quote courtesy of Dave Saunders at (www.FindUstuff.com) .
So it's clear that no matter how healthy we eat, if we don't chew our food properly, which is ideally about 25 to 50 times, we will not benefit from them. Therefore we must teach our children to chew, chew and chew. Make the habit not to eat in stressful situations or atmospheres. Don't eat with loud music or excessive talking; both influence a person to eat faster than they should. I remember a business partner telling me that I ate too fast and not to fight with my food but enjoy it. Simply he said, "Slow down." It wasn't clear at that time until I noticed my level of gas decreased and I ceased to have heart burn or stomach digestion problems. Put thought into teaching your child to get the most out of their food. In conclusion, make every effort to eat dinner before seven p.m. This allows the body to recuperate from the day's activities and to heal without using its energy to digest a full stomach.
These steps will help prevent obesity from a proactive standpoint with our children. Isn't it time we work to prevent it rather than react to it?
About the authorRoosevelt Pitt, Jr. is a veteran author of over five books and graphic novels. He is also the author and co-creator of Food Adventures with Charles the Chef, a book created to help children develop good eating habits early. For additional information please visit www.charlesthechef.com or email Roosevelt at [email protected]
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