I am constantly reading articles about how to get kids to eat healthier, how to get kids to exercise and get moving outdoors, or how to get kids to commit to healthy habits like flossing their teeth or getting enough sleep. Articles like this have broad appeal for parents because they a) emphasize control and protection over one's family, and b) shift the focus - and accountability - for family health from the adult to the child.
The problem with advice like this is that it neglects the source from which children learn their healthy habits: mom and dad. Whether you have children or not, the fact that your habits set an example for those around you - particularly those that look up to you - is steadfast. It is nearly impossible to force broccoli down a child's throat when you've been sharing mac n' cheese out of the box with them for the past few years!
I recommend "five M's" for making healthy, lasting change in your own life while setting a better example for others. Check it out:
The single best way to encourage healthy habits in others is to adopt and practice them yourself. A recent (2008) article about healthy habit formation in the International Journal of Obesity* found that those following a simple self-monitoring checklist lost nearly 5 pounds more than those who did not self-monitor over the 8 weeks of the study. The old adage "fake it 'till you make it" can also apply here - maybe no one gets fired up to steam cauliflower, but if you try your best to be enthusiastic about healthy eating, perhaps those around you will pick up on your positive energy too.
You may be surprised at what a single serving of breakfast cereal or an ounce of cheese actually looks like. Not only is accurate food measurement a diet boon, but it can be educational for children and parents alike. Invest in creative, low-cost measuring cups and a kitchen scale and take turns reading labels and parsing out portions when preparing meals and snacks. Proper portions can also help kids (and us) understand what fullness feels like in the body - rather than what we think fullness "looks like" when we're hungry and dishing out huge piles of food.
Chiding your kid for an addiction to video games as you zone out on the internet? Seems a bit counterintuitive to me. Instead, try making exercise a fun and anticipated part of the day by working it into things you already do - try Wii Fit games instead of sitting in front of a PlayStation with a youngster; "walking talks" with a teenager rather than cross-examinations under the kitchen lights or Mommy & Me yoga classes with a toddler instead of plopping them in a stroller for a short walk around the park. Coming soon, bene-fit will offer our Boot Camp programs with affordable child care options for busy parents who want to get a workout in and know their children are having a great time as well!
Simple tricks can make even the most foreign health habits seem second nature. Encourage your kids to sing two rounds of the "happy birthday" song while they brush their teeth to make sure they're doing it long enough. Serve up carrot stick "fries" in paper envelopes with homemade ranch "dip" to make even a healthy snack seem like a treat. Use your Netflix subscription to rent exercise DVDs that you can do with your family and friends for some sweaty bonding time. Be creative with your fitness and focus positive energy on becoming your healthiest YOU!
The final - and most important! - step in any lifestyle change is maintenance. It is pointless and frustrating to put time and energy into something you abandon a few months later (resolutions, anyone?). Real change means lasting change - a wise (and healthy!) friend of mine once said, "don't make any choices that won't turn into good habits." Smoking, diet pills, and juice fasts may help you lose weight, but making these strategies habitual will do much more harm than good for your long-term health. Wake up every day working on the best version of yourself, and try to make only the choices that help you get there.
See you next week, bene-fitters - and feel free to talk to me in the Comments section! I would love to hear about your personal journey as we strive together toward health and wellness.