How to Talk About Diet and Exercise Around Your Kids
How to Talk About Diet and Exercise Around Your Kids
Saying the right thing in any given parenting situation is hard. So hard for me, in fact, I usually get it wrong. It’s actually a huge source of anxiety for me. I’m worried my behavior and word vomit is going to negatively impact my now 6-year old and 3-year old for their whole lives. I am not your patient, gentle, understanding kinda mother. I’m your angry, annoyed, WTF-blurting kinda mom. Am I proud of it? No. But we all have our issues, right? Yes. And I’ve spent a good deal of time, money, and energy working on the mental side of things in this regard. All we can do is try our best, over and over, day after day.
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What fitness means to me, then and now
A big part of my ongoing quest for self-improvement in the mental arena has been addressed through taking care of my physical self. I began my “fitness journey,” if you will, at 3 months postpartum with my 2nd child. Prioritizing movement and nutrition helped me crawl out of a pretty dark place, and I will forever be proud of myself for starting when I did. I’m so damn grateful I found a healthy outlet to help me cope with depression and truly discover myself again.
Needless to say, health and fitness is a huge part of my life, and has been for 3 solid years now. Prior to the last few years, I had almost always been conscious of my weight. I’d cut calories when I felt it was time, and I exercised when the stars were aligned. Aligned meaning I had a few pounds to lose and an event or vacation looming. Some years I was on the weight loss/gain roller coaster and some years I stayed pretty much the same. “Fitness” wasn’t really fitness, nor was it a lifestyle. It was just a temporary means to weight loss when deemed necessary.
Now, I am proud to say, I’m intentional and consistent with my training and nutrition because it brings me joy. Legit joy. I don’t give a damn if I have a vacation or wedding or anything else coming up, because it wouldn’t change a thing about my lifestyle, diet, or routine. I just do it because I love it and how it makes me feel, mentally and physically. Also I have 2 young children and we’re in the middle of a worldwide pandemic… Hello, I haven’t been on vacation in years. So it’s a good thing my motivation isn’t tied to that anymore.
With fitness being such a constant in my life, and therefore my kids’ lives, I had to be intentional with how to talk about diet and exercise in front of my kids.
As a mother, I have big responsibilities…as you can imagine and relate if you’re also a parent. One of those big responsibilities is discussing hard to broach subjects with my children. Luckily the birds and the bees convo is still a ways away (thank goodness!). But discussions about racism, substance abuse, bullying, violence, and death have all already made their appearances in my home, both with and around my kids. And they should be discussed, even at a young age, because they’re important.
Also important is teaching our children from a young age what it means to care for their emotional and physical well-being. And in this day and age, raising children to find joy in movement and value in nutritious foods ain’t easy! We have video games in the palms of our hands and greasy drive-thrus on every corner. It’s so. damn. easy. to sit on the couch and shove junk down our throats.
And you know what? It’s fun to do that. The health consequences of perpetually doing this, however, are not. Our physical health deteriorates. And our mental health suffers. As humans, our bodies require proper nourishment and crave motion. Our minds require stimulation and thrive on interaction.
Easier said than done
We must cultivate environments that satisfy these needs. Diet and exercise is a delicate topic to approach, and still it’s easier said than done. Good intentions alone only get us so far. And not to sound extreme but, as the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Figuring out how to talk about diet and exercise around your kids can be tough. Or it can be super simple. Seriously, it can go either way. It’s gonna depend on where your mind is. Our actions may originate from a positive place or a negative one. How we execute, and the attitude we have while taking action, has everything to do with how fitness is perceived by the impressionable little minds watching and listening.
Why and how we start focusing on fitness
Starting a diet and exercise routine for almost any reason is worthy. Whether it’s to look better, lose weight, regain control, clear your headspace, support a friend/family member, or follow a doctor’s orders, taking care of yourself is worthwhile, important, and overall positive.
Regardless of the reason we start, we have two options for how we go about tending to our health: we can either 1) enjoy the ride moving forward, maneuvering and adjusting through the bumps and curves in the road along the way, or 2) force ourselves onto an impassable road and make ourselves miserably carsick until we can’t stand it any longer and stop the vehicle. Then, put it in reverse for a while until we decide we’re ready to endure the highway to hell again.
It’s literally up to us which route we take. This decision greatly impacts our attitude when it comes to health and fitness. Our attitude toward health and fitness greatly impacts that of our children.
The Path Less Taken
Sadly, an overwhelming number of people go the second route, on repeat, retracing their tire tracks over and over again but never gaining traction! This is a common issue particularly when the primary motivation for starting is weight loss. Nearly half of American adults claim they are trying to lose weight, so it’s safe to assume that’s the most common thread when it comes to beginning a new fitness and nutrition routine.
The path less taken is the first one: enjoying the ride and persevering through any temporary setbacks. Not everyone has the luxury of getting this right on their first go. Whether you start with this mindset or learn it over time, it’s the only way to successfully go about a fitness journey. It may take time to discover and internalize this mentality. That’s okay.
As parents it’s important to be mindful of our actions and words when it comes to weight loss, and our fitness routines in general. Negative methods and a negative body image can easily, unintentionally be passed to our children.
Diet and Exercise gets a bad rap
“Diet and exercise” has a negative connotation, however, it’s simply how we fuel and move our bodies. Unfortunately, these days “diet” is definitely a 4-letter word. And “exercise” is something many people dread, put off, and avoid as much as possible.
Instead of creating a diet around how well we can eat while nourishing our bodies and souls, we use food – or the lack thereof – to inflict misery and unsustainable punishment upon ourselves. Instead of viewing movement as a way to thank and strengthen our bodies for everything they do for us, we torture ourselves with activities we don’t even like doing.
Let’s instead think of diet and exercise as how we eat and train, and communicate it as such to our kids. Read on to learn how to talk about diet and exercise in front of your kids.
Yeah, okay. But how?
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Like so many things in life, health and fitness must be modeled. Participating in physical activity must be a consistent presence. From organized sports and formal workouts to a bike ride just for the hell of it and even cleaning the house. Show your children there are so many ways and reasons to want to move our bodies, and to appreciate the ability to do so.
Eat like a grown-up for Pete’s sake, and do what you can to incorporate fruits, veggies, yogurt, and cheese into your diet. Show your children that it’s not all burgers, fries, and candy. When you model mindful eating in front of your children, and even have them help you prepare and cook food they will be more likely to develop a taste for, or at least the normalcy of, healthier food choices.
Since I began moving and eating with intention, I have a more intense desire to be, and stay, active. I have more energy, and a “get shit done” mindset that has benefited many aspects of my life. My home is cleaner, I’ve found joy in cooking meals for my family, and I fill my cup with activities like this blog, and obtaining my NASM Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach certifications.
My kids see me prioritizing myself so I can prioritize them, day after day after day. I don’t complain about doing the laundry or dishes, or cooking the meals, or taking them to extracurricular activities or on outings. At least not often…ha. Not gonna lie, I bitch about picking up dog shit in the yard and running around flushing all the toilets and turning off all the lights on a regular basis. Fitness brings me joy, but there are some things it just can’t make enjoyable. Y’all feel me?
Expose your children to your routines. Let them in. They’re curious. They want to be a part of what you do, and they want to understand why you do it. It’s up to you to display the proper behaviors and mindset you want them to adapt as they grow older and possibly, more self-conscious. No pressure…
Words are powerful. Choose yours wisely.
When it comes to exercise
My kids know I workout regularly. Like, daily. Whether they’re home with me and witness it, or they hear about it during recaps of everyone’s day around the dinner table, they know. I love that they are aware of how important it is to me to be physically active. I’m careful with what words I use surrounding my workouts. Never do I say I have to workout, or I need to exercise.
When I talk about our schedule for the day, I prepare the kids ahead of time if, when, and where I’ll be working out. Pre-COVID I’d make sure they knew first thing if we’d be going to the gym that day so there were no surprises. It’s hard enough to get them moving as it is. If I plan to work out during my daughter’s naptime, I let my son know in the morning that he can either have a snack and the iPad at that time, or join me in the workout room with his cars and truck toys.
When I’m going over all these things I am mindful to express my desire to workout in a positive light. I say how I want to workout.
During my workout, when they wander in or hang out with me in the workout room, they are watching and learning. They see me add weight to the bar, or doing bench jumps, and they want to help and mimic me. Often they’ll see me lift, even struggle, and say, “Wow! You’re strong, mama!” with such admiration it damn near brings a tear to my eye.
Afterward, I always thank them for allowing me to do my workout. I tell them how much I appreciate them letting me move my body.
My favorite way to verbalize why I do what I do – before, during, or after a workout – is to basically tell them my forever fitness goal. Which is simply to be happy, healthy, and strong. I workout to be happy, healthy, and strong.
Never have I told them I workout because I need to lose weight, get smaller, or be thinner. Never have I told them I workout because I ate too much or put on a few.
I workout because I want to be happy, healthy, and strong. I say it and I mean it.
We can do hard things
Recently my son asked me why I was putting more weight on the bar, just after witnessing me grunt and struggle through the previous set. I told him because we can do hard things. Then I mentioned how challenging ourselves makes us proud. I explained how feeling strong physically translates to mental endurance in all aspects of our day. I didn’t rattle off bullshit about how I need to fix my pancake booty or lose my love handles. Fitness is so much more than that. Life is bigger than that.
When it comes to nutrition
I am a macro-tracker with nearly 2 years of experience and more visible ab definition under my belt. I have and use a food scale on a regular basis. It sits on our kitchen counter and occasionally makes an appearance on the dining room table. My children haven’t really questioned it a whole lot, actually. My son is more interested in weighing random things on it from time to time than he is concerned about it’s presence.
On the few times it has been brought up, I don’t say that I want to make sure I don’t eat too much. Never do I mention not wanting to get fat. Nor do I say things along the lines of not being able to have a lot of this or that. I simply say I like to make sure my body is getting enough fuel and the nutrients it needs to feel its best. I explain that our bodies do so much for us, and how I want to take care of mine with foods that make it healthy, happy, and strong.
Moderation is key
My kids know that certain foods will make them grow big and strong, and every food is fine to enjoy in moderation. They have been told that too much anything, from ice cream to strawberries to chicken, may give them a tummy ache. Because it’s the truth. ODing on some foods is easier to do than some others, of course. An understanding of moderation is difficult for adults, but my son turned down a rice krispie treat before school drop off this morning because he was still full enough from breakfast. Kids get it.
Educate their hungry little minds
Providing a variety of foods and colors on your kids’ plates is great, and telling them how each one contains a different vitamin and/or mineral is important. Bonus points if you can tell them what role a vitamin or mineral from their food plays within their body. If my kids ask me why I’m eating carrots instead of fries I’ll respond with how the vitamins in my carrots are good for my eyesight, bones, and energy. I will not say it’s because fries are fatty and I don’t want to gain weight.
Variety is the spice of life
If it’s a struggle to get your kids to eat their fruits or veggies, make sure to give them lots of options. And maybe even some seasonings or dips for extra encouragement. My kids are big fans of the Kernel Seasonings ranch flavored popcorn salt on cooked broccoli, and ranch salad dressing to dip carrots, celery, and cucumber in.
Daphne, my daughter, will not touch blueberries or grapes, but will eat bananas, apples, strawberries, and oranges. My son, Reid, doesn’t like oranges and will throw a full on, four alarm fit over having to eat a potato. My daughter happily gobbles potatoes right up. Personal tastes vary. I know I’m not a fan of mushrooms, olives, oranges, or pineapple. But there are plenty of vegetables and fruits I do like, so I eat those. Take the time to identify what foods will and will not fly in your household.
Let them participate in food prep
A few weeks back I allowed my kids to “decorate” their own pizzas. This was a huge step for me, because omg the mess and hassle and sheer absurdity…I literally just shuddered thinking back on it. Anyway, the kids did it and they picked up some crazy ass shit to put on their pizzas! They ONLY ever want plain cheese. But I let them do what they wanted and they were throwing on bell pepper, spinach, italian sausage, olives, pepperoni…it was madness! Even more deranged, though, is the fact they ate it – and liked it! And of course, they had fun, it was cute, I was proud, blah blah blah. My anxiety was through the roof during the pizza-topping chaos, but in hindsight everything was fine.
So, maybe try having them help you prepare the meal or dish it out onto their plates. Having a sense of ownership and pride in what they’re served might make a difference in their motivation to eat it.
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The ultimate goal
It takes time to get your mindset right when it comes to weight loss, exercise, and/or nutrition. Everyone experiences and processes these things differently, at different rates, and with different attitudes. No matter what, however, we need to raise our children with an appreciation for their bodies, and to honor them with physical activity and energizing foods. We also need to raise our children with an appreciation for lazy days and junk food. It can be a delicate balance, but worth it.
Fake it ‘til you make it
If you’re not “there” yet, that’s okay. With a bit of mindfulness, and perhaps biting your tongue at times, your children can see you working to improve yourself without associating it with negativity. “Fake it til you make it” if you have to. Protect them from your own low self-esteem or lack of self-worth with a little white lie here and there. Reserve your dislike of your workouts and veggies for your friends, trainer, and therapist. Don’t unload it on or in front of your kids. Practicing and learning how to talk about diet and exercise around your kids will benefit both of you in the long run.
You’ll get there
With effort, time, and an open mind, you’ll eventually find the types of exercise and food you enjoy that also supports your goals. And it will change everything. Enjoying the ride will come, and your ability to model a healthy lifestyle for your kids will get easier. I promise. You’ll get there, and both you and your kids will be better off for it.
Thanks for reading How to Talk About Diet and Exercise Around Your Kids. Any tips or tricks you’ve learned during your own parenting and fitness journeys? My kids are still so young, and I’m sure there are additional challenges surrounding this topic that pop up as they get older, start comparing themselves to others more, and become more self-aware or self-conscious. I’d love to hear your insight on this, so feel free to leave a comment below and connect with me on Instagram.
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