Friday Fitness: Change What You Think You Know About Kids’ Health

Bear in mind as you read that I go back and forth between our health behaviors as parents, and kids’ health practices because I feel they are synonymous.  Our children mirror our behaviors and attitudes, and how we treat our children is often a reflection of how to feel about ourselves.

1.  Fitness is a conscious choice.

Not really a new idea for adults, but I recently read an article that said we need to stop telling children to exercise because “exercise” is a buzz word that makes it sound like a chore.  We need to soften our approach and call it “activity” because it should be a part of our daily…activity.  I get the importance of the small steps, and trading out bad habits for good ones.  But, does candy-coating exercise really lead to a life of fitness and vitality?  And, are “activities” really getting our kids off the couch and away from their screens?  Even if they are, are they enough to sustain a lifelong commitment to fitness?  We all understand that to be truly fit and to maintain our health takes work – even hard work.  It IS a chore, and a choice we have to make with great effort sometimes.  So, let’s teach our kids the value of a good workout, which include stress-relief and self-confidence, that they might put down their remotes/phones/keyboards, and start doing something every day that makes them sweat.  That is how to be fit, and that is what we should expect from ourselves and our kids. Our bodies are a gift, and it is our stewardship to care for them.
I recently had this conversation with an accomplished pianist – how success in life takes work.  He told me that people hear him play and lament how they wish they could just sit down and play beautifully like that.  He said, “me too!”  This accomplishment didn’t just happen overnight.  It took work, practice, time, patience, and consistency.  There is value in hard work, and accomplishing difficult tasks.  Self-efficacy, physiological balance, and self-confidence are big rewards for finishing a job well done (Annesi, 2010).  Check out this link for ideas on how to set goals to achieve fitness.

2.  Food is not what makes us fat.

Where do our kids hear that eating will make them fat?  Oh, right…EVERYWHERE!  Just watch any TV show directed at attracting a teen/tween audience (Lawrie, 2006).  The fat kid is always the one eating or thinking about food!  This food-to-fat association is what leads to too-restrictive eating even in very young children (Evans, 2013).  While is it true that more calories consumed than expended causes weight gain, it is not the only culprit.  All of us know someone who can eat whatever they want and never seem to gain weight.

a) The quality of the calorie makes a difference.  For example, simple carbohydrates turn into sugar which can turn in to fat if we don’t expend it.  Meanwhile, complex carbohydrates are digested slowly, bind with cholesterol, and lend to the health of our digestive tract.  One gram of either equals four calories.

b) Imbalances in the body cause weight gain.  For example, hyperthyroidism, and other hormone imbalances, sleep deprivation, candida (supposedly), water retention, etc.  There are many reasons why our bodies gain weight and retain fat, including stress (especially when we tend to eat more when stressed).

c) Dieting (believe it or not).  This is another form of imbalance.  When you diet/deprive yourself, your body thinks there is a famine and you are starving yourself.  SO when you give up, or try to get back to normal eating habits, you gain all the weight back – plus some more.  Your body is shoring up for the next drought.  This is where the term “yo-yo dieting” comes from.

d) Heredity.  Our genes can sure make our lives more difficult if we are aiming to lose weight.  We all know someone who has to work very hard, and watch everything they eat or they will gain weight no matter what.  It is our lot in life.

e) Inactivity.  Eat perfectly but it will catch up to you if you don’t exercise.

Young children that excessively restrict their diets are likely to have an eating disorder as they grow up (Goodrick, 1999).  Kids do not need to hear that eating will make them fat.  Their bodies are ever changing and growing.  They need plenty of nourishment and a balanced diet to grow well.  When we try to dictate everything our kids eat, they stress about pleasing us, or rebel against us.  They lose their eating self-efficacy.  Junk food (what I like to call “fun food”) is not the enemy when eaten in moderation.  Some occasional emotional eating is normal.  The problem is that we indulge ourselves without thought, without limit, and usually when we are distracted.  Do allow some indulgence within reason, while being cognitively aware of what you are eating.  Not only so you can enjoy it, but so you also know when it is time to stop.  Change one bad habit and you’ll be better off.  Teach children about healthier options, balancing their portions, and moderating their own consumption of fun foods.  We need to teach our kids how to make smarter choices without implying they will get fat, and empower them to know the difference between healthful choices, and foods that need to be eaten in moderation.  There are other issues that come from eating poorly than just weight gain: fatigue, illness due to malnourishment, dental cavities, indigestion, constipation, hormone imbalance, insatiability and more eating because we are unsatisfied, and crave more, to name a few.  Give them these reasons, not, “stop eating that, you’ll get fat!”  This will only make children feel self-conscious, feeling preoccupied by their appearance, rather than the healthfulness of their food (more on this later).  We should be empowering kids, and ourselves with self-efficacy – meaning the power within ourselves to determine our own behavior (AbuSabha, 1997).

“The core determinants of [effective health practices] include knowledge of health risks and benefits of different health practices, perceived self-efficacy that one can exercise control over one’s health habits, outcome expectations about the expected costs and benefits for different health habits, the health goals people set for themselves and the concrete plans and strategies for realizing them, and the perceived facilitators and social and structural impediments to the changes they seek…Unless people believe they can produce desired effects by their actions, they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of difficulties” (Bandura, A., 2004).

Note: the goal is internal health and vitality (fitness), not necessarily weight loss.  Sometimes, when weight loss is the primary goal, those “desired effects” do not manifest for a long time, so we give up.  Kids might not understand why they need to eat well or exercise, but it needs to be their choice.  Lovingly instructing them, and then being patient with them, will empower them to make their own choices which will facilitate “effective health practices.”

But remember…

3.  Getting fat is not the worst-case scenario.

In our culture, there is a prevailing lie that fatness equals laziness, no self-discipline, low intelligence, ugliness (Urquhart, 2011).  Thinness is just the opposite.  Imagine what we put ourselves through when we gain weight, even as a natural process of aging.  We subconsciously tell ourselves we are not worthy of love, not even from ourselves.  So, we put ourselves through torture to fit into some ideal that, in reality, doesn’t exist.  The average BMI is 24 while the ideal is 18 (Urquhart, 2011).  This is virtually unattainable without going to unhealthy extremes.  Yes, obesity is linked to chronic illness, and leads to lower life satisfaction for many.  But is it the worst thing our children could endure?  The National Institute of Mental Health has an extensive list of symptoms of eating disorders that sound a lot more severe and immediate than getting a little fat.
I’m not saying we should just let our kids (or ourselves) get fat.  But, they do not need the pressure of worrying themselves about whether they will gain or lose anyone’s approval by how they look.  “Dietary restraint mediates the relationship between thin-ideal internalization and disordered eating attitudes, even in the absence of body dissatisfaction , due to the wish to attain a socially desirable figure” (Evans, 2013).  This pressure may backfire and lead to weight gain in itself.  Too-restrictive dieting leads to eating disorders, also in part because we stop being able to listen to our bodies (Johnson, 2005).  We stop knowing when we are hungry AND when we are full, which leads to binge eating.  “Although disordered eating is usually associated with underweight in popular media, it is more common in overweight individuals.  Overweight females report a greater fear of binging, preoccupation with weight, and use of unhealthy weight control behaviors than do non-overweight females (Urquhart, 2011).  Diets are destructive.  We need to relearn how to listen to our bodies and stop stressing too much about appearance.  Health works its way from the inside out.

The food relationship from Ellyn Satter‘s book “Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family” is, we choose what and when to eat, and children choose if, and how much.  The idea is to avoid a power struggle, and possibly to provide options – two kinds of vegetables at dinner so they can choose.  Allow kids at least three exposures to food before they can officially rule it out.  I love that there is no longer a food guide pyramid.  It was harder to understand what portions are realistic.  The plate is a better guide.  We can easily divide our plates in half, fill one side with fruits and/or vegetables, and the other half with whole grains and lean meats.  Wegmans calls it “half-plate healthy“.

I realize that there is a lot (A LOT) about our kids that is out of our control.  We cannot make our kids’ choices and we can’t control their environment or how they think.  There are some factors that need to be considered and balanced, like our parenting styles, and our kids’ dispositions.

However, we can set a good example for our kids.   We start by having a healthy attitude about our own bodies, and about food.  We show our kids how to eat a balanced diet and having an active lifestyle by doing it ourselves.  We support good behaviors with positive reinforcement.  We also teach them by our own words and actions how to value their bodies by not engaging in fat talk (about ourselves or anyone else), but loving our bodies no matter how they look.  Our children will echo our words and attitudes for better or for worse. (P.S. that fat talk article is awesome!)

“The marvel of our physical bodies is often overlooked. Who has not encountered feelings of low self-esteem because of physique or appearance? Many people wish their bodies could be more to their liking. Some with naturally straight hair want it curly. Others with curly hair want it straight. Occasionally some ladies, believing that ‘gentlemen prefer blonds,’ become ‘decided blonds.’
“Your body, whatever its natural gifts, is a magnificent creation of God.  It is a tabernacle of flesh—a temple for your spirit.  A study of your body attests to its divine design…How should these truths influence our personal behavior? We should gratefully acknowledge God as our Creator” (Elder Russel M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, We are Children of God, Conference Address, October 1998).

Here’s a great illustration of healthy habits. I love the Berenstain Bears. My only critique of this story is the inherent assumption that junk food = lazy.  Otherwise, I love it.

(Images courtesy of kidshealth.org)

Sources:
-AbuSabha R., & Achterberg, C. (1997). Review of self-efficacy and locus of control for nutrition- and health-related behavior. Journal Of The American Dietetic Association, 97(10), 1122-1132.
-Annesi, J., & Gorjala, S. (2010). Relations of self-regulation and self-efficacy for exercise and eating and BMI change: A field investigation. Biopsychosocial Medicine, 410. doi:10.1186/1751-0759-4-10
-Bandura, A. (2004). Health promotion by social cognitive means. Health Education & Behavior: The Official Publication Of The Society For Public Health Education, 31(2), 143-164.
-Evans, E., Tovée, M., Boothroyd, L., & Drewett, R. (2013). Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating attitudes in 7- to 11-year-old girls: Testing a sociocultural model. Body Image, 10(1), 8-15. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2012.10.001
-Goodrick, G., Pendleton, V., Kimball, K., Carlos Poston, W., Reeves, R., & Foreyt, J. (1999). Binge eating severity, self-concept, dieting self-efficacy and social support during treatment of binge eating disorder. The International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 26(3), 295-300.
-Johnson, F., & Wardle, J. (2005). Dietary restraint, body dissatisfaction, and psychological distress: a prospective analysis. Journal Of Abnormal Psychology, 114(1), 119-125.
-Lawrie, Z., Sullivan, E., Davies, P., & Hill, R. (2006). Media influence on the body image of children and adolescents. Eating Disorders, 14(5), 355-364.
-Urquhart, C., & Mihalynuk, T. (2011). Disordered eating in women: implications for the obesity pandemic. Canadian Journal Of Dietetic Practice And Research: A Publication Of Dietitians Of Canada = Revue Canadienne De La Pratique Et De La Recherche En Diététique: Une Publication Des Diététistes Du Canada, 72(1), e115-e125.
And so many more…Due to copyrights, I cannot share these articles over mass media, but I do believe I may be able to share them with individuals if you are interested in seeing them in print.

Monday Motherhood: Socialization

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Whenever I bring up that I will be homeschooling my preschoolers who are approaching kindergarten age, the response is often well-meaning concern over how my kids will be socialized.  I know my daughter is very social, and I understand what she loves to do right now.  This may come as a shock to many of you, but I don’t care about socialization.  I have no intention of stressing over socialization at all.  It’s the least of my worries.  It’s funny to me that people really worry anymore whether homeschool kids get enough social interaction.  There are enough resources now for homeschooled kids that it is overwhelming!  There are opportunities for groups, activities, and classes to pack our schedules.  I have no doubt my children will push us to use many of these resources, and I intend to use them.  If you still have a misguided worry that homeschool turns out “weirdos”, consider that public school has its share of “freaks” as well.

What kind of socialization are we really even talking about?  The kind of socialization kids get in public school often leads to peer dependence.  “Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner and his Cornell teams found that children who spend more elective time with their peers than with their parents until the fifth or sixth grades…will become peer dependent.  Such knuckling under to peer values incurs four losses crucial to sound mental health and positive sociability.  These losses…are self-worth, optimism, respect for parents, and trust in peers” (Moore, p49).  Children will adopt the values of the most influential people around them.  I would rather those people be their parents and siblings.  Children who spend a lot of time with their peers depend on peer approval, even though they are insecure about their peer connections.  “Does anyone who knows children believe that the yellow school bus takes children down the road to constructive, positive sense of society?” (Moore, p50).  If my kids seem strange to you, maybe it is not so much that they are weird as it is that they are just different because they will not base their worth on whether or not you like them.

I am not worried about whether my kids will get the kind of socialization they would get in public schools because I don’t intend to give them mere self-esteem, which comes from peer approval, and too much praise.  I intend to teach my children to gain self-confidence, self-efficacy, self-control, self-respect, self-worth, self-sufficiency, and a healthy self-concept.  This will come through exposure to true society, work, service, culture, classes, real life situations, sports, art, and music from a wholesome and eternal perspective.  Family is the foundation for these characteristics.  “There is absolutely no evidence to support the prevailing assumption by parents and educators that the average school is more of a positive socializing agency than a good home…And there is powerful evidence that we are schooling our youngsters today to be young narcissists” (Moore, p50).  I am homeschooling my children because I want our family to mean something.  I want our family to matter to them.  That bond that we create will give them the resilience they need to reach their full potential.

“Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World).

And more:

“The home … is the workshop where human characters are built and the manner in which they are formed depends upon the relationship existing between parents and the children. The home cannot be what it should be unless these relationships are of the proper character. Whether they are so or not depends, it is true, upon both parents and children, but much more upon parents. They must do their best.
“If I had to suggest one thing which I think we as parents are most lacking, it would be a sympathetic understanding of our children. Live with the children; follow their paths. … Know everything that claims the interest of the children, be a good sport with them.
“We have been trying to impress upon parents the need of paying more attention to their children, having a little more of the spirit of the gospel in their homes, a little more unity and a little more faith; a little more responsibility religiously, spiritually on the part of the fathers; also, of the mothers; more of the teaching of the gospel in the home.
“To parents in the Church we say: Love each other with all your hearts. Keep the moral law and live the gospel. Bring up your children in light and truth; teach them the saving truths of the gospel; and make your home a heaven on earth, a place where the Spirit of the Lord may dwell and where righteousness may be enthroned in the heart of each member” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith,Chapter 4: Strengthening and Preserving the Family).

There is a lot of pressure to just give in and let my kids go to public school.  There is a misguided assumption that parents are not capable of teaching their own children.  My first stand to resist peer pressure will be to not buckle under the pressure, but to remain firm in my belief that I am doing what I believe is best for my family.  Socialization will come naturally.  Learning will happen too.  Rarely do you hear people ask, “What about their education?”  There are innumerable resources for kids who want to learn, and parents who support them.  The most important resource I can offer my children right now is love.

(Moore, Dr. Raymond & Dorothy, “The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook”)
Image courtesy of lds.org