This blog is an accounting of my personal journey to find fitness. All the content on this blog should be read as a biographical piece of literature, not a medical resource. I am a physician, but I am in no way giving medical advice or establishing doctor patient relationships with my readers. I am simply keeping a diary. If you are starting a diet or exercise program or require medical evaluation or advice, please see your own family physician.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Healthy Legacy

I listen to a lot of sports radio. Some of these stations do more talk than sports and it's usually funny. It's a lot of "guy" humor, but I like it.

The other day they were talking about how the DJ's son had a list sent home of approved healthy snacks and you can't bring anything that isn't on the list. They were saying it is ridiculous and that if a parent wants to send Twinkies to school, they should be allowed to. After all, this is America, freedom of choice, all that.

I don't agree with these lists because there are a lot of healthy things that weren't on it, like fruit. But, I do know that when parents are packing the snack kids don't get to choose. And don't we need to look out for those kids whose parents don't know better? Our school doesn't have a list you have to stick to, but they ask that snacks be healthy. Then last night, my daughter asks me if she can have candy for snack. What? That's not a snack. It's a treat. "But Mommy, Haley brings candy." Oh lord.

I don't want to get off on the subject of the horror of school food programs. But, I am wondering why a parent would let a kid have candy as a snack? Even if the child is not overweight, what is that teaching them about healthy food choices? And this is in first grade. Kids tend to get more sedentary as they get older.... they play more computer games, gameboy, play station, blah, blah, blah. If they learn that a snickers is a good snack at 6, won't it be that much harder to unlearn that later?

And why would those parents pack those snacks anyway? It's not like it's a gray area like those "fruit snacks made from whole fruit" that have more sugar and corn syrup than fruit. No, this is candy. Everyone knows candy is not healthy. So why? Is it because they are dieting and wish they could eat it? Are they living out their food desires through their kids? Or are they an emotional eater like me? Do they think food=love? I did for a long time. It's still hard to shake that habit. After all don't we all kill ourselves to cook the perfect dinners on holidays? Why? Because we love our family.

Or, are they another of those parents that take the easy way out? It's much harder to say no when your kid is begging, "Please please please Mommy, I'll be good. Just one piece, just this time." I know because that's what I faced with my daughter last night when she did this asking for candy(not that we had any in the house to give her anyway). But we had a quick talk about the difference between a SNACK and a TREAT.

I'm not saying my kids never get candy or cake or cookies. I'm not one of "those parents" who are all about no sugars at all or chemicals or blah blah blah.... But, we need to realize that our kids will model us and only learn what we teach them about nutrition. They learn very little in school about this. That's why this is so important. I am trying very hard to model good behavior for my kids. It is hard and I am not perfect. But, I've already taught my 12 year old to read labels and he's learning about quality foods and good choices.

My first grader and I look at the menu for her school every week. The school actually prints out a menu for the semester. Each day they have green foods-healthiest choice, yellow-healthier, red-not very healthy. We talk about which foods are green and why. Although I don't always agree with their ratings, cheeseburger=yellow?, it opens up the topic to good discussion.

I'm not teaching her to count calories at 6 before some of you freak out. But, I do want her to learn what is healthy and what are things you can have, but only sometimes. For instance, this week she chose to have a baked potato over the pizza(a red food). But, she has decided that next week, maybe she'll have pizza. Fine. Today, they have only a red food and a yellow food so she decided she wanted to pack her lunch. She chose to take a salad, yogurt, banana, cheese stick and juice box. (I'm not crazy about juice, but we were out of the little organic milk boxes. At least she had the yogurt.) For snack she's having raisins and a Nutri-grain bar. She chose these food because she likes them. She picked them out. She will enjoy eating them AND she knows they are healthy.

It's a fine line between teaching them healthy habits and making them obsessive about their weight. I want my kids to feel good about themselves from the inside out. I want them to learn that they don't need external validation to feel self worth. But, I want them to be fit and healthy. It is hard, but not impossible.

I talk to patients all the time who say it's hard for them to diet since they have to buy stuff like chips and cookies for their husband and kids. "Why??? They don't need that food anymore than you do." That's always my answer. Just because someone is not overweight doesn't mean they don't need to eat healthy foods.

And you wouldn't believe the numbers of thin, healthy parents that have fat, unhealthy children. If it's not something you would eat, your kid doesn't need it. If you are up exercising everyday, your kid should be, too.

Everyone thinks about making sure our kids have a better life financially than we did and leaving them a good financial legacy. What about the Health Legacy we're leaving them? Kids with diabetic, hypertensive parents are more likely to grow up to that. Kids of obese parents are twice as likely to be obese. This scares the shit outta me. And one of the main reasons that I realized I've got to change my ways.

Plus, how am I going to make sure they have a bright future, financially and otherwise if I drop dead from a heart attack? What legacy does that leave?

I am committing to creating a healthy legacy for my kids. Not one that starts long after I'm gone, but one that starts now. One where I'm healthy active and fit. One where I can help them be that way too. One where I can watch them leave that legacy for their kids, their grand-kids and stop the cycle of obesity in my family. One where we live happily together a long, long, long, long time.

How do you handle it when your kids want something completely awful for them? Do you let them since they are "just a kid"? What are you doing to leave a healthy legacy?


  1. I wish I had read this post 20 years ago. I am the parent who watches what she eats but gives her kids crap. Yep, not just the cookies I baked my son this week for his trip back to college. You should see what we bought to stock his dorm room. Thank goodness neither of my boys have a weight issue or eating issues. Yet.

    I know that I have done them a tremendous disservice. If I could go back and do this over, start with healthy foods when they were first voicing an opinion, I would. And I applaud you for starting yours off on the right foot! And I would encourage anyone else with young kids to think long and hard.. and to not make the mistakes I did. It is pretty darn hard to change them once they get to be old enough to just drive to the store themselves!

  2. Fantastic post. Balance is the key. I was talking to my hubby about this last night. We used to get carrot sticks, an apple or raisins for snacks at school and we walked everywhere. No sedentary lifestyle for us. We also lived in the day when one parent could stay home and one could work and still own a home. My mother stayed home so she was able to make those home-cooked meals every day. I think parents today are just burnt out...hurry, hurry, ding, ding...burn out.

    I guess parents need to lead by example. I like the way your child's school does it with the green, yellow and red light choices and you can discuss it with them.

    What I really think we need to do is start a Kick Fast Food / Processed Food to the curb (as much as possible) Revolution!

  3. What a great post and I sure wish a lot of parents of young kids would read it.

    I didn't let my daughter have chocolate or candy but when she was 2 years old a neighbor lady gave her a Hersheys chocolate kiss and of course she loved it.

    After that I let her have treats in moderation. She does not have a weight problem and she would choose a fruit over a candy most days now being in her early 20's. She has a healthy relationship with food, loves most things healthy and eats sweets when she wants them but not in binges. Thank goodness!

    My son came along 4 years later and was the picky eater, hated fruit and veggies, meat and loved carbs and any junk food he could get his hands on! Same mother, same food plan just a different kid. Now that he is 20 he eats almost everything that is healthy except fish, he has tried but just can't like it. He loves salads and all the healthy stuff I make now. I thought it would never happen!

    I never deprived my kids of things they wanted to try but I did teach them about eating healthy and I have always cooked "lighter" but with moderation including a wide variety of foods.

    Yes, they did get McDonalds and sometimes too often as I now look back at it. But I guess I didn't do too bad as they both are slim and trim and have a healthy relationship with food and a good self image.

    I don't believe in deprivation just moderation.

    I think Just Me is right about mom's working outside of the home now and resorting to fast food to feed the family or convenience items. I have been luck to be a stay at home mom and have had the time to put a healthy meal on the table every night.

  4. This is a great post. As an educator, I see kids eating way too much junk. Because they have been fed sugar, fat, fast food, and additives, they have developed a taste for it, and they don't like the healthy stuff. Tastes for certain food are developed over time. That's why it's so important to start kids eating fruits and vegetables at an early age.

    BTW, thnks for stopping by my blog and also for the pep talk in your commentary. I needed it. I think that one reason weight loss is so difficult is because it takes a good deal of patience and willingness to accept what is realistic. Programs such as "The Biggest Loser" skew the view of weight loss under normal, healthy circumstances. I'm looking for "quick and dirty," even though I know it's not right for many reasons. By the way, I really like your blog. Good to hear from you.

  5. This. YES. Well said, all of it.

    When my kids want something thoroughly dreadful, I strive for balance. Sometimes the answer is yes, but only if it's been a reasonable passage of time since the last "almost zero redeeming feature" treat. I'll admit, Little Debbies have entered my house... but not on a weekly or even a monthly basis. Most of the time they actually choose a veggie or fruit and cheese tray from the produce department. Or perhaps they'll want a small shrimp platter.

    They're really pretty eclectic little guys. I'm fortunate.

    I was brought up by a mother who was very very into good nutrition. She was a bit too intense at times, even to my adult thinking (she's really eased up), so I try to instill good habits in the boys while still making a bit of room for foods that are more on the "eat rarely" than "eat daily" list. In fact, that's how the boys and I discuss foods -- things we could eat daily (vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, fruits, reasonable dairy servings) and foods that should be eaten with less frequency (fattier meats, full-fat dairy, more processed foods) on down to foods that we shouldn't eat except occasionally.

    I'm not perfect by any means, and I don't strive for perfection with the boys. I just do my best, and some days it's more sterling than others. My goal is for them to have a good grounding in nutrition, in why we eat what we eat, and to not restrict true "treats" to the extent that they go utterly nuts over them when they move out (me! me! I did that! God bless poor Mom, LOL). Then hopefully the habits will carry them forth when they're adults.

  6. Fabulous post!

    Balance and moderation. This is my motto now, but when I was raising my own kids it was not always front and center (That is why grandkids are so great!). What I know now is that depriving kids of foods that they like (like fast foods or other junk) may lead to binging and overeating later. Far better to help kids to learn about making good and healthy food choices and how to go easy on the junk foods (M. Nestle). This way they also learn to practice moderation. Maybe that candy for a snack was a once in awhile treat??

  7. I think that the fact you are gently guiding them and showing them by example is the best idea ever. I think if you force kids, they tend to buck, but if you are taking your approach, you make impressions on them and then it is their idea and not your orders. Bravo Doc!!

  8. I told my kid that she didn't like chocolate when she was little. Not because it was a healthier choice for her, but so I wouldn't have to share. How messed up is that? Then I got a little vaca on my own for a few days and daddy ruined it all when she was 3. Nowadays, almost 6 years later, she gets chocolate and I don't. paybacks.

    We talk a lot about good choices and about how my weight and health are a result of years of bad choices that I hope she never makes. She reads labels, and mostly makes healthy choices. She knows that food dyes and trans fats are to be avoided and she realizes that it's more difficult to control her behavior when she has a lot of sugar without some protein and whole grains. She loves veggies and fruits. So, I think I'm doing ok.

    I wish other parents would be so mindful.

  9. Candy as a snack huh, just aint right. As a treat, sure. But a snack meaning it has a regular occurence in my mind - just aint right.

    Legacy, trying to get it all corrected and put out there. My bog captures it all as I go on this mission. If it can be there and of use to anyone, then that is a bonus.


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