National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month provides not only awareness but education. Your family may not personally be affected by obesity or the struggle of being overweight, but this month provides us ALL with the opportunity to learn more about nutrition (or lack of nutrition) and serious health conditions that are linked to unhealthy food choices. Although we may be eating plenty, our bodies may still not be getting the proper nutrition.
Proper nutrition provides the body with the macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients that it needs daily. The fact that there is a month dedicated to childhood obesity genuinely raises my concern about what and how we are feeding our families. It is time to ask the question, “Are Happy Meals” really making our children happy in the long run?”
Don’t let the introduction scare you away!
I promise you there is no need to run for the hills! In no shape or fashion will this be a food shaming post! You will not see mention of gluten-free, low-carb, Paleo, or Whole30 diets. I have nothing against any of these dietary lifestyles and have many friends who enjoy them, but I personally am a strong believer in nutrition education and feel like it cannot be bottled up and labeled in just one package. Rather, read on and you will see words such as variety, balanced, nutrient-dense, and healthy.
Childhood obesity is the condition in when a child is significantly overweight for his/her age and height. It is affecting many children in our nation — so much so that childhood obesity is now considered an epidemic. There are dangers to a child being overweight. It leads to children being at higher risk of chronic health conditions such as asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, depression, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. There is evidence showing that obesity and being overweight can be genetic, but the number one contributor is poor food choices. Weighing in heavily at number two is lack of physical activity. Another factor is the lack of access to affordable healthier foods, while high-calorie foods are easily accessible and inexpensive. Statistics show that 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese (according to the American College of Sports Medicine, 2015).
There are now many school and community programs that are at the forefront of the fight each day. These are programs such as PE-NUT, a nutrition and physical education program to motivate students, parents, and educators to be physically active and eat healthier. A few years ago I too decided to get involved and join the fight against obesity and other chronic diseases that are associated with unhealthy eating, but this battle was not in my community nor in the school system; it was in my own HOME!
The Battle Begins
Let’s be honest — what mom has not thrown something quick on the dinner table or hit up a drive-thru after playing the role of taxi driver all day?! I know I have. There are many days that after working eight hours and going to some kind of practice, I consider it a HUGE accomplishment and pat myself on the back for even getting my little humans fed! That’s me, I am THAT mom!
However, being a mom that has struggled with weight gain (since being pregnant with my middle child) pushed me to consider not only what I was eating, but also what I placed on the table for my family to eat as well. I am also THAT mom! I thought I knew the challenges that I would face. For goodness’ sake, I am a “chef” with a degree in nutrition science. I was wrong! I had no clue that changing my family’s eating habits was really going to be a
For the first couple of months as I made dramatic changes, I quickly earned the nickname “The Food General” in my home. My family constantly resisted, and their forces were strong, for they clearly outnumbered me! The strongest resistance came from the youngest, my son. How can someone so small be so stubborn and picky? I had apparently (while shouting from the mountain top about being a healthier family) forgotten that I allowed him to choose his own foods many times simply because I was happy he was eating. It was the night that he literally fell asleep at the dinner table because I told him he was not allowed to get up until he ate his vegetables, that I wanted to wave a white flag and surrender! But I quickly realized that “anything worth having, is worth fighting for,” and my family’s health is worth the fight.
My Battle Plan
My first weapons of choice: education and information. I trashed my “Food General” hat and began to teach instead of preach! It was important to discuss our family’s medical history, which included a long list of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. These are all preventable diseases, and the common denominator is eating habits. My second plan of attack: change my approach. I made smaller changes instead of trying to enforce dramatic changes. I also became proactive instead of reactive. My family no longer saw me using healthier foods as a way to lose weight (reactive), but instead as a way to nourish and fuel by body (proactive). I got them involved as much as possible. I allowed them to not only help with meal planning, but with meal prep as well.
I made it my mission to teach my children about chronic health issues and to teach them how to make healthier, nutrient-dense food choices. But most importantly, I began to lead by example! We are still on this journey and are not the fittest family — honestly, we are not trying to be. Just like there is a balance with becoming healthier, there is a balance that works for each family.
Quick strategies for making small yet effective changes in your family’s health:
- Watch soda and fruit juice intake. Sodas and fruit juices are loaded with sugar and empty calories. Encourage water. Water not only provides hydration, but helps the body to remove waste.
- Watch portion sizes. Today’s portion sizes are double what they were in previous years. For the correct portion sizes and many other helpful ideas, MyPlate is one of my favorite go-to sites!
- Cut back on processed and fast foods. I know cooking can be time-consuming, but the calories and sodium contained in processed and fast-food are well over our daily requirements!
- Allow options. My son does not like broccoli, so I give him the options of green beans and salads.
- Enjoy your meals! Make eating healthy exciting. If you have a negative outlook on meal time, so will your family!