Thursday, July 1, 2010

Nurturing Radical Health For The Kids In The Regular World

I recently received a question from Katie Peterson, a mother of three struggling with the dilemma of how to pass healthy habits on to her children in a not so healthy culture. Katie asks, “Any idea how kids can grow up in a regular world but we still want them to be healthy?”

As I learn more and more about what “healthy” really means, it has become of upmost importance to me that I encourage beliefs and practices in my children that will support their health. My children live in the “regular world” as Katie calls it. A world, until rather recently I walked right in line with. Happily these days I go in the opposite direction. Even if my kids are not right behind me (maybe behind me but kicking and screaming), I have begun to make some specific changes that counteract the “regular world.”

I don’t use the words good and bad in regards to food.

I detest these limiting adjectives. Good and Bad are like Black and White, leaving little room for the shades of gray that are the reality of life. The “regular world” sends messages that some foods are bad and some are good (although it’s been known the change its mind several times.) If we eat “good” food we feel accomplished, when we eat “bad” food we feel guilty. How often do you feel guilty about what you eat? What if you never had to feel guilty again? Maybe if you had never thought of food in terms of good and bad things would be different. What if you thought about food in terms of a scale of nourishment? Some foods highly nourishing, some not so much. In my home I am attempting to level the playing field between chocolate cake and carrots so that the choice is devoid of guilt. I do this by not using these confining little descriptors. Rather I speak about food and its degree of nourishment, and its ability to make them healthy and strong. The whole good and bad thing is so ingrained in me that I sometimes I slip, but as soon as I do; I quickly acknowledge it.

I refocus the purpose of eating to nourishment.

Clearly the “regular world” promotes pleasure as the reason for eating. Just flip on the TV or check out the portion sizes next time you go out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely a fan of pleasure. However, the pleasure food brings easily can become an escape, I know this on every level. That is why I think it is important to teach my children that food tastes good, but we are eating first and foremost to sustain our amazing bodies. I find that this switch has improved my own habits greatly. I don’t want to eat some of the foods I used to love now that pleasure is not my main motivation. I love my body way more than any food. With my four year old I often say something like, “you ate some chocolate earlier, what can you eat now that will make your body healthy?” If I can convince my children that they LOVE their bodies, they might just adopt the idea being motivated by the love of their body rather then their taste buds alone.

My 4-year old enjoying dandelion greens!

I am easy on myself, it’s a process.

They say Rome was not built in a day, my own personal health sure wasn’t. I cannot expect a family that has spent the majority of its time in the “regular world” to change over night. There is a lot I let go. If I were to go 100% Commando Health Food Freak on the family, there would be a full scale rebellion. As a family we have made progress. They may not eat exactly the way I’d like but their way better off than they were a year ago. I have to keep that perspective. I can sometimes get lost in the future of what I want, instead of loving and accepting the culture that I have currently created.

I let them eat cake.

We all live in this “regular world” full of birthday parties and dairy queen. It is human nature to rebel against what is forbidden. Of course it is, we get SO MUCH pleasure from doing what we are not supposed to do (until the guilt sets in.) It’s not the forbidden fruit 9well maybe not fruit in this case) that creates all that yumminess, it’s the sweet rebellion. I think if I was hard and fast with my kids about what they could and could not eat, It would actually work against what I was trying to do. Moderation, exceptions to the rule, the 80/20 factor…they are good strategies for us, as well as our children.

I say no.

This is one of the most difficult changes for me. Considering my practically boundariless childhood, I’m not surprised. My little one may pitch a fit screaming and crying in exorcist style drama for another cookie and my bigger one may say “There is nothing to eat here anymore, its all stupid green stuff, I hate it”- as he stomps of mumbling under his breath. But as their mother, sometimes I have to JUST SAY NO. Despite their protests they need and want boundaries. Sometime I give in, I’m human. However I’m learning more and more to lay down the law when it’s important (I’m not buying processed foods and snacks on a regular basis no matter how much my pre-teen feels slighted) and feel good about doing so.

I set the example.

The most important way that I counteract the “regular world” and the only way I’ll teach them about health, is to be their example. Until I got a handle on my own issues about food and eating my previous attempts to improve their diet were doomed from the start. Truly they learn by what we do not what we say. What messages are you communicating to your children about food and eating? About how much you love and accept your body? About whether physical fitness is fun or a chore? Need a motivation to change yourself….what is more important than the loves of our lives, our children.

I have gotten a late start at all this. My kids were 3, 10 and 17 when radical hateloss changed my life. Late start or not I feel like I am making a difference. My gravitation pull is at least cutting grooves in the path less traveled, so that one day they can follow.

My fruit and vedgie purchases for the house,
in the past i bought barely a fraction of this.

"The young are looking for living models whom they can imitate and who are capable of rousing their enthusiasm and drawing them to a deeper kind of life. More than anything else, the young need sure guides to go with them on the paths of liberation that God maps out for them."
-Bakole wa Ilunga

I am signing up to do the Philly Metro Dash.  Its a race throught the city (no set route) to complete crossfit style challanges.  I should be okay to run on my knee by then.  To be honest running scares me a bit....okay a lot.

1 comment:

Joyce Eisenberg said...

What a great post. Your writing is so clear and gently persuasive! I am abolishing the terms "good" and "bad" from my food descriptions! Keep on inspiring us. Love, Joyce