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Learning Healthy Habits From Our Children

Learning Healthy Habits From Our Children
Michelle May M.D.

There are many that we need to teach children as they growbut they have many that we shouldnt try to change. In fact, we could learn a few things from kids! Here are some important lessons:

Eat when you are hungry. From the time they are born, babies know when and how much they need to eatand they cry to let us know too! As they grow, this important can be un-learned. By the time they are adults, they may have learned to eat for many other reasons besides hungermealtimes, tempting food, stress, anger, , and countless other triggers. By recognizing the difference between needing to eat and wanting to eat, adults can re-learn when and how much to eat too.

Stop eating when you are full. An infant will turn their head away when they have had enough to eat, and a toddler will throw a plate of food on the floor when they are done. But as adults, we clean our plates because there are somewhereor just because something tastes good. I am not suggesting that we start throwing our plates on the floor again, but we need to remember that food is abundant in our society so there is no need to eat it all now.

Being hungry makes you grouchy. Being hungry, tired, or frustrated make childrenand adultscrabby! Starving yourself because you are too busy to eat or because you are trying to lose weight usually backfires.

Snacks are good. Kids naturally prefer to eat smaller meals with snacks in between whenever they get hungry. That pattern of eating keeps their energy level and metabolism stoked all day. Adults who need to fire up their metabolism should try this too.

Play with your food. Most kids love to examine, smell, and touch their food. Since eating is a total sensory experience, they get the most from every morsel. This childlike approach will help you eat while enjoying it more. Youll appreciate the , , and flavors more if you arent driving, watching T.V., or standing in the kitchen!

All foods fit. Children are born with a natural preference for sweet and higher fat flavors. Though parents sometimes worry, these fun foods can be part of a healthy diet. In fact, overly usually lead to rebellious eating anywayjust think about the last time you werent allowed to eat something on a diet! Children and adults both eat healthier when they learn to enjoy these less nutritious foods in moderation.

Be a picky eater. Kids wont easily eat something they dont like. Think of how much less food you would eat if you didnt settle for food that tasted so-so.

You can learn to like new foods. Healthy eating is an acquired taste. Good nutrition is essential, so providing a variety of appealing, healthful foods will benefit the whole family. In our house, we have a two-bite rule. Everyone tastes two bites of everything; if they still dont like it, they dont have to eat itbut they have to try it again the next time we have it. Since that is The Rule, there are no battles at the table and the kids often surprise themselves by liking something they thought they wouldnt. (And we never say I told you so!)

Follow the leader. Face it, kids watch, and often imitate, everything we do. If they observe us eating a variety of healthful foods and exercising regularly, then they will learn to take good care of their bodies. Likewise, if they dont hear us making comments like I am so fat and she looks fat then they are less likely to suffer from poor self-esteem and a judgmental attitude.

There is more to a party than cake and ice cream! Invite a child to a party and theyll want to know what they are going to get to do. Invite an adult and theyll wonder what food will be served. You dont have to avoid parties to keep your weight down; just focus on the real purpose of social eventsto be social!

Eating with your family is fun. Since babies and toddlers must be fed by their parents, they naturally love eating with other people. Family mealtime is your opportunity to model good habits and connect with each other. Now that our kids are older, we sometimes play High-Low at dinner. Each member of the family takes a turn telling the others about the best and worst parts of their day. What a door opener!

Its boring to just sit around! Toddlers seem to be in perpetual motion as they explore their world. Young kids love to run in the grass, play on the playground, and challenge themselves and each other to increasingly more difficult activities. Of course, as they get older, television, computers, and electronic games compete for their attention. In our family, to encourage other activities, we use screen time which limits how much time our children are allowed to spend on anything with a screen. Sometimes adults would benefit by limiting their screen time and exploring their world a little more!

Sleep is good. After a full day, children need a good nights sleep to prepare for all of the adventures that tomorrow will hold. Wouldnt we all benefit from a consistent bedtime to make sure we get our rest too?

Live in the moment. Kids are masters at living in the present. They dont waste a lot of about what has already happened or what might happen tomorrow. They are fully engaged in small pursuits like discovering where the ants are going, chasing the dog, or seeing how deep they can dig with a plastic shovel. We, on the other hand, continue to scurry around, chasing after our dreams, and all the while, digging ourselves deeper and deeper. We could learn a lot from children!

About the

Michelle May, M.D. is a practicing Board Certified Family Physician with expertise in the cognitive-behavioral aspects of weight management. She is the author of Am I Hungry? What To Do When Diets Dont Work in collaboration with a Registered Dietitian and Psychologist. Visit her website http://www.AmIHungry.com for more ideas on managing weight without dieting.


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