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Healthy Grown-Ups, Healthy Kids

Family-at-Dining-Room-TableWelcome to Healthy Grown-Ups, Healthy Kids! This is our month-long look at the impact of overweight and obesity within families.

You probably already realize, weight problems don’t happen in a vacuum; they happen in the context of families. That is, our eating patterns, food preferences, exercise habits and body image all are formed within our families. This is true of the families we create as adults and the families we were raised in. Each has vast influence over our approach to food and to weight loss.

Throughout the month of June we’re going to explore some of the challenges we face when it comes to creating a healthy food and exercise environment for our families. And be clear, if you’re a parent you’re creating an environment one way or another – positive or negative, perhaps a little of both.

As a way of establishing some context, let me say I have a little bit (okay, a lot) of experience with this subject. Somewhere around the age of 7, I became a fat kid. Because of my current age (a tad over 29), I was a fat kid before being a fat kid was common. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but the words stung and I can feel the shame that my peers’ ridicule brought on even now, some 40+ years later. Under the intense pressure I felt, I endured diet and after diet starting at age 10 and near-starvation as a teen in order to appear normal. Of course, there was nothing normal about what was going on inside my head in terms of the way I talked to myself about food and about my body. If you’ve ever been a self-conscious teenager, you may know that voice.

Before the ink was dry on my marriage license I started eating. Okay, I said that to be funny, but there is nothing funny about what I did to myself for the next 21 years. Because of the patterns I established in childhood – turning to food for comfort, stuffing down my feelings with food, a penchant for sugary/salty/fatty foods – I fell into a vicious cycle of using food inappropriately as an adult. I’m not proud of it, but there is no denying it either.

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It wasn’t until a “perfect storm” of circumstances in my frenzied, hectic life came crashing down on me that I was able to see clearly what I was doing to myself. It hasn’t been easy to unlearn the long-standing habits I developed, not to mention confront the feelings I was stuffing down all those years.

There are still dozens of triggers that I face every day. But I have brought a level of awareness to my behavior I never had before and that has made committing to change possible.

Throughout my journey I have been busy raising four kids, the youngest of whom is still subject to my cooking on a regular basis (pity him) and will enter high school in the fall. Among the four of them there are adventurous eaters, picky eaters, naturally thin (they get that from their dad, lucky ducks), a couple who gained a fair bit of weight in the late elementary school / early middle school years, and one who became obese. We’re gonna take a look at those issues from a parent’s perspective, and my patterns from my own childhood that landed me in a whole lot of trouble as an adult.

I offer my experience – as a fat kid, as a diet-crazed teen and young adult, as an morbidly obese adult, and as the mother of a formerly obese child – simply as a backdrop to the discussion about raising kids to have a healthy relationship with food and with their families.

And we must acknowledge, there are big, societal issues at play here too. It’s not like our kids are solely under our influence; from a very young age they are subject to advertising and marketing that’s directed right at them. Then there’s peer pressure – in the form of what’s going on at school and at other kids’ houses. And of course, the communities in which we live influence us all; there are socio-economic, regional and cultural differences that impact how families teach their children to eat. All of these things influence childhood obesity.

It’s a huge subject and I don’t presume to have all the answers. But neither can we wait around for a sweeping government program or magical pharmaceutical to solve the problem either.

It will take each of us who cares about children’s health stepping up to be a part of the solution.

Losing weight is hard. Childhood obesity may be even more complicated to tackle. But it’s not impossible, and it will get easier when we band together. And they’re so damn worth it!

Let’s go get it!

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