When you’ve grown up eating a certain way, maybe you’re discovering now that wasn’t the healthiest, it’s hard as a family to change everything you know. Many times not every family member is on board and wants to change how and what they eat. Most of the time Mother Hen pushes and the family follows in line. But this can seem like a huge task to undertake.
Personally, I’ve learned where my traditional thoughts on food needed improvement through studying nutrition and becoming a health coach. I’ve been pretty good about feeding my children healthily since they were born. I was ambitious enough with my first to puree my own baby food. With my second, I got even more impassioned and grew my own green beans for baby puree (that only lasted that first summer). Babies that start off eating every veggie, fruit, and meat you put in front of them do not stay that way. I’m sorry. I would love to say that even most babies will have this world-class taste for exquisite foods into toddlerhood, but if you have a toddler you know they have a mind of their own. One day they love braised leeks, the next they won’t eat anything but a hot dog and some cheese. If you’re in the toddler phase, you have my sympathies, hang in there and don’t lose hope. If your kids are growing a little older, I have some suggestions to foster good eating habits and healthy food choices.
You know this: it can take at least 10 times or more of being exposed to a new food for a kid (Ha! even some adults!) to start gaining a taste for the food. Taste buds can be trained. At a young age, as an adult in his 30’s, even a senior citizen. Our bodies are wonderfully adaptable! Our bodies want to eat food that nourishes us, repairs damaged cells, boosts our immune system, and keeps everything in working order. Taste buds also protect your body from sickness or poisons. When someone is unwell you may hear them say, “I just don’t have a taste for that right now.” Their bodies are asking for foods that will help replenish what is lacking- OJ for vitamin C, water for dehydration, cheese for calcium, meat for protein. Your body talks to you. A perfect example is a pregnant woman. Early in pregnancy the smell of coffee will start to make her stomach turn. Why? Because drinking more than 200 mg of caffeine early in pregnancy can lead to a miscarriage or low birth weight. Her body is protecting herself and the life she is growing. Another example, some kids ask for milk in the winter months and water in the warmer months. In the winter, the body needs calcium and other nutrients to support the immune system and maybe extra fat for protection from the cold. In the summer, kids sweat more because of the heat. The body asks for water to help with hydration. Follow your body’s direction, but also know that tastes change over time and in different situations. Be lenient with your body.
Obesity in children is on the rise in the United States. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), “In 2015–2016, the prevalence of obesity was 39.8% in adults and 18.5% in youth.” Obesity is defined by the CDC has having a Body Mass Index of over 30. For an adult, that means being 5′ 9” and weighing over 200 pounds (*this does not factor in muscle mass). For a child, it means being 4′ 8” and weighing over 135 pounds. Being obese as a child has a direct correlation to remaining obese in adulthood. All of that carries over various health problems (heart disease, stroke, etc.). Obesity can affect a child already with:
-joint problems and discomfort
-Depression, behavioral problems, and problems at school
-self-esteem and self-confidence issues
-liver problems; heartburn, digestive issues
-asthma and sleep apnea
One of the main culprits encouraging obesity is added sugar and refined, processed flour and foods. The American Standard Diet has gotten off course over the last 50 years. Thinking low fat and low carb was the way to go, is actually proving to be bad. Curbing a sugar addiction can take time and lots of will power. Take it slowly. Gradually replace high-sugared foods with fruits. While baking, use less sugar than the recipes call for. Reading labels on packaged foods is important to recognize just how much sugar we are consuming and where we can start to gradually eliminate it. I’m not saying never eat sugar again! But sugar should be an occasional treat, not something we eat in our bread every lunch as a sandwich.
Besides the actual food we feed our bodies with, there are habits that can be changed to be more health as well. Being mindful while eating and paying attention to each flavor, texture and smell of ingredients can create a more enjoyable eating experience. It also allows you to hear the messages between your stomach and brain. Your stomach speaks to your brain and tells it when it’s hungry and needs fuel and also when it’s a full tank and to take the nozzle out (i.e. your fork). Being mindful while eating will help you hear and recognize these conversations and prevent overeating, which in turn can lead to less heartburn, bloating, and weight gain.
Another habit that can help you become aware of your hunger cues is to stop watching TV while you eat. Watching TV while eating is said to be a big No-No because it distracts you from recognizing your body’s satiety cues. Until recently, I had my kids sitting at a kid’s Ikea table in the living room and watching TV while they ate dinner. Why? Because they would zone out enough watching the show that I could more easily shovel food into their little mouths and they would actually eat. Also, I had read that when a young child’s feet are able to touch the ground or an object, they are more likely to sit still and stay in a chair. And my kids proved that right. Then, recently, I decided I had enough sitting on the floor next to them, my son was getting too big to sit at the table comfortably, and I really needed to teach them how to eat and pay attention to their bodies better. Kids learn these lessons young and take it with them into adulthood. So to the dining room table we met. And what happened? Well, they do have some trouble sitting in their chairs the entire time. They do take now over an hour to eat their dinner because they aren’t distracted (which is what I’m tackling next). But you know the best part of it all? Something I didn’t expect? They are bonding. Sure adults know that eating and socializing are a great mix. I didn’t think the same thing for my kids. Because my kids have to entertain one another while they sit across at the table, they’re making their own games. Sometimes they just try to make each other laugh (hence the hour + dinnertime). Sometimes my 1st grade son will read the book he got out of the school library that week to my 3 year old daughter. They’re getting closer and have started playing more together after dinner. I’ll still be real with you, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. They still fight. But there is a bond forming because they aren’t zombies watching Puppy Dog Pals.
Changing old habits can seem daunting. But it can be done! Give yourself some grace that old habits of a lifetime can take months to alter, and start small. Make your changes doable and realistic.
If you’re ready to start making some of these changes, or ideas of your own, but would like some guidance and more information on how to do so, please contact me and we can chat about coaching.