I have been thinking a lot about this topic since working with children. It comes up even more now that I have children, especially a daughter, of my own. What example are we setting for the next generation of children about their body image? It is kind of a general statement but it really covers a bunch of different areas that occupy my thoughts.
What example am I setting? How are my Words, Actions, facial expressions, deep sighs as I look in the mirror, affecting the little eyes watching me. Children do not understand Sarcasm and take what we as adults say very seriously. They learn from watching more than they do from being told what to do. I will make my children a healthy snack and then tell them it will help to make them strong and give them lots of energy to play and then I sit down and eat some chips and complain about how tired I am. I make a joke about how tired I am because I have to “keep getting up all night with you crazy kids”, but really, I am tired because I am not respecting my body. I am not practicing what I preach.
I have been athletic my whole life and involved in very competitive sports. It was not until university that I started to really become aware that I was no longer able to burn off all the calories I was ingesting. My life was busy with studies and work and I was no longer playing sports. I tried to take up running but was not as motivated as I wanted to be. Joining a team or a gym was something I just didn’t have the money or time for (mostly money). You make time for what is important. I made time for friends and my wonderful boyfriend. The time spent with my boy friend paid off though, he married me:) .
After I got married I worked while my husband finished school. I cooked the meals while he studied. We enjoyed our freedom to eat and make what ever we wanted. After our first year of marriage we noticed we had gained a bunch of weight so we went on a “diet”. We made healthier lower calorie foods and worked out together each day. It was wonderful. We fell into a routine and started to quickly see results! I had never been more happy. Then we moved. We moved back to where our family and friends lived and our simple little life got disturbed. Then we had kids. It all spiraled down hill.
Life got better but our weight gain got worse. We were no longer in control and the negative thoughts started to creep out of our mouths. Worst part of it all, we now have children who are listening. So now it is truly real. Now we need to take charge and be our healthiest both in body and mind. We are teaching our children about how much God loves them and how He made them to do great things and that we need to follow his plan and respect ourselves and our bodies. Yet, I preach this as I stuff another donut in my mouth. Donuts are not the enemy. My own laziness is.
So, what is the plan?
We have been talking about following some sort of diet or plan for a while and keep putting it off. I really don’t want to be on a “diet” because I want this to be more of a huge life change. I need to view food differently and have a positive out look on being healthy. I do not want my children to even notice. I just want food to be something they eat to gain more energy. Not something they use to reward themselves, comfort themselves, or even something they do to pass time. Food is amazing. Food is delicious. Food is fun. But food should not rule your life. Food should compliment your life. Like a good wine. Do not have too much, just enough to fill your appetite and last you until your next meal. Why do I always eat like its my last meal? sheesh!!
My family has decided that it is also important to exercise our bodies. We have explained to our children that we need to keep our bodies strong and an important way to do this is to play outside, ride bikes, go swimming, go for a run, play sports, or go for a hike. We make it a priority to do something active with our children each day. They are only 1 and 2 but we want them to have a successful start in life. We want it to be the norm. Form the habit early in life and it wont be hard to keep up later in life. It is super easy to motivate my children to get active. It is harder to motivate myself. I seem to have a list of excuses saved up in the back of my mind for whenever I don’t want to exercise. I just pull out a great reason to not break a sweat and I feel like I am off the hook.
Practice what I preach.
So here are some ways that I am finding are helping our family move towards a healthier and happier life style:
1. No Carbs at dinner. This is working great so far. My husband and I substitute the carbohydrates at dinner for a salad. My son and daughter will still have some rice or pasta with our meal but I am noticing that they want to have salads as well. Of course they do. They are watching. They want to be just like their mommy and daddy. Have you ever seen a 2 year old boy devour a spinach salad? I have:)
2. Food is not a reward. This one is hardest for our family to follow. We love to celebrate with ice cream or give a jelly bean for peeing on the potty. But we are finding that material rewards actually work better. So in place of the jelly bean we made a trip to the dollar story for little toy cars or other trinkets he finds fun and we are giving those as a reward to small accomplishments. When he does something major or our family has something worth celebrating we now do something together. Examples: finger paint as a family, go play soccer, go for a long bike ride (family favorite), or just play outside at the park. We want to reward our children with things they love not things they love to eat. We still get treats but we do not put labels on it such as “you get this ice cream cone because you shared with your sister”. I mean candy and pop corn are amazing when watching a movie. Who would deprive anyone of that? Ice cream cake for birthdays? I am not saying no! We are just learning to watch how we use food. Changing our mind set and becoming less lazy.
3. Watch our words. This one is hardest for me. No more standing in front of the mirror and frowning. No more complaining that my clothes don’t fit right. No more whining that I am too fat! No more joking that I am too fat. No more Fat talk!! It has been banned. No more pinching my roles and avoiding pictures that involve a full body shot. No more! I am learning to use loving words and emotions towards my own body image. I am learning that this is only a stage and it will take work to be at my healthiest. Complaining and then doing nothing is only hurting those around me. It is only setting an example of how to be defeated by own words. I want to show my children by my own actions and words what being healthy means. I do not want the word “Fat” to be used when referring to their own bodies. By changing my words I am changing my outlook on my own body.
4. Enjoying nature. A great way to get active is to step outside your house. Go for walks, hikes, bike rides. We make every Saturday a family adventure day and we go for an adventure. Mostly we go for hikes and explore this amazing Province we live in but other times it is a near by beach, or a bike ride to our favorite river. Our son owns a bike and a bike ride has been his reward lately. Man do we feel great after hiking 15 km up and down a mountain. We started out small but now we go for day trips and are hoping when our children are older to do an over night hike. The Grand Canyon! We can not wait!!
5. Make a list. I have made a list of recipes, snacks, activities, etc. to help me when I am stuck. Some days I just resort to my old habits because I go on auto pilot and do not have the energy to do different. So I have a list of go to snacks, dinners, lunches. I also have a schedule of what my ideal day would look like. There is a few slots marked out of where I could fit in exercise, devotions, and cleaning. It is my choice of what order I do them in. Some days I feel more energetic and I do my exercise first and others I need to save it for last. The point is that I have a schedule to follow and it allows for flexibility. This helps me because I love check lists! something so satisfying about getting to check something off with a pen!
6. Water. This is an easy one. We each have a water bottle and my husband and I have to drink 3 a day and my children have to drink 2. Its easy and it is fun and it helps our children see how important water is for our bodies. Plus, it helps with appetite.
7. Facial expressions. I know I talked about this one already but I think it needs is own point. when you look at yourself in the mirror, Smile! Write positive encouraging scripture, sayings, or quotes around your house instead of looking in the mirror if that is more helpful. Smile more. Be positive. You are beautiful. Your children are beautiful. Your life is not perfect, but whose is? Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself. This is so important. surround yourself with people who you want to be like. People who encourage you to be the best you can be. People who do not want you to change but will support you as you do. If you don’t know anyone like that, then dump all your friends and make some new ones. Smile. If you can not find anyone who you think loves you, there is a God who does. He made you. He loves you. He supports you and has a plan for you. He wants you at your best loves you at your worst. He loved you before you loved Him. Unconditional. Smile!
Those are just a few ways we are changing how our family sees and treats food and exercise.
I really want every child to have a positive outlook on their bodies. Every little girl is so beautiful in their own way. I am not going to blame society for the fact that children are developing eating disorders or being bullied about their weight. In my opinion, it starts at home. Children need to have positive roll models to show them how to treat their own bodies and how to treat others. If we are teasing each other about our weight or out ward appearance, how do you think children will treat each other? I know there are a bunch of different factors that come into play where eating disorders and bullying take place, but I am focusing on the little worlds we can impact. We can control what language is being used in our house and what your family holds as its main priorities.
Please, be careful what you say. Please, be careful when you do. Please, be careful what you deem important. Be a safe place for children to grow and learn and make mistakes. Set children up for success. Set your self up for success.
Most of all. Watch your facial expressions and know that you are Loved!