8 Easy Steps to a Healthier and Fitter Family
Getting fit and healthy can feel like a daunting task that is destined to fail without the proper support system in place to help you succeed. That’s where getting fit together comes in to make it a family affair. By engaging the whole family, you set yourself (and your family) up for the most successful lifestyle change. Many families share the same eating and exercise habits. Getting everyone on board and committed to healthier practices may be more effective than other approaches.
Today, many kids are overweight or obese. Studies have shown that an alarming 1 in 5 children and adolescents in the US have obesity. Obesity prevalence between different age groups are:
- 13.4% among 2-5-year-olds
- 20.3% among 6-11-year-olds
- 21.2% among 12-19-year-olds
Obesity rates also differ by race:
- 25.6% amount Hispanic children
- 24.2% among non-Hispanic Black children
- 16.1% non-Hispanic White children
- 8.7% among non-Hispanic Asian children
Obesity is known as a family disease. A healthy lifestyle can help maintain or reach a healthy weight which can also help prevent future health issues such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. By creating healthy habits early on, your family will be more likely to maintain their health for a lifetime.
By committing to a healthy diet and activity level, you and your children will learn how to make smart choices for their health and learn how to maintain them. By making a few small lifestyle changes, you’ll become healthier without much time or effort. It’s important to get creative with the habits you adopt and make them work for your family and schedule. Getting healthy is a journey, you do not have to do everything at once. Plus, the rest of the world is not going to stop for you to focus on your goals, so you have to work them into your daily schedules and requirements. Read on to learn our tips for you and your family on nutrition and exercise.
SET A GOOD EXAMPLE
The single most effective way to change a child’s diet and level of physical activity may be to set a good example as a parent. Children usually don’t do grocery shopping or food preparation. They don’t organize activities or drive themselves to the recreation center or park. Children aren’t able to change these behaviors on their own. To help children eat better and be more physically active than parents need to get involved.
Being a good role model and doing something active every day helps your child see that this is important but it may also get them interested in joining you or finding activities they like to do. If we want our kids to eat healthfully and exercise, we have to model that behavior. You can’t expect your child to commit to a healthier lifestyle while you're sitting on the couch eating ice cream out of the carton.
Have you ever heard of the “Halo Effect?” This is the idea that when parents lose weight, so do their children, even if that wasn’t the original goal. Dr. John Morton, who performs gastric bypass surgeries, noticed a trend among his gastric bypass patients and their families. He conducted a formal study to test his theory. After following patients and their families for one year, he found that overweight and obese family members also lost weight. The lost between 8-45 pounds just by the families adopting healthier lifestyles.
USE POSITIVE MESSAGES
Research looking at overweight children or those at risk for becoming overweight has looked at prevention tactics. The results were clear that using positive eating and activity messages is critical. Putting children on strict diets, food restrictions, or forcing them to exercise may actually promote weight gain and negatively affect later eating and physical activity behaviors.
Your words have real power! What we say about food and physical activity significantly impacts kids’ habits. Positive messages will help them develop healthy habits, however, negative messages can lead to guilt, poor body image, disordered eating, and more.
When attempting to encourage your child to try a new food saying things like “This fruit is really sweet like a strawberry” instead of “If you don’t eat one more bite, I will be mad,” will help encourage the child to try new foods rather than to eat for approval or love. When trying to curb overeating saying something like “Has your tummy had enough?” helps your child recognize the signals of fullness rather than saying “You have to take one more bite before you can leave the table.” Phrases like these teach your child to ignore fullness and to eat for other reasons. Saying things like “No dessert until you eat your vegetables” or “If you stop x, I will give you dessert” are not helpful either. Offering food as a reward for finishing other items, like vegetables, makes some foods seem “better” or more desirable than others. Giving food to a child when they are upset teaches your child to eat to feel better, which is not a healthy habit, especially over the long term.
There is strength in numbers. The entire family should be “on board” including siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other caregivers. This has shown to be effective in helping parents and children reach their goals by ensuring that everyone is involved in the process of healthy behavior change.
As a parent, it can feel like all of the changes are up to you to make them happen. However, depending on the ages of your children, they may be able to help prepare healthy meals, help around the house, and find activities that you can do as a family. It’s important to treat your family like a team and encourage everyone to work together.
Eating meals together is another way to involve others to reach success. Eating family-style dinners helps to show your family what healthy eating looks like and teaches them a lot. If they see you eating something they are more likely to try it themselves. This also applies to negative food comments, if you say you don’t like something or comment that it is ‘gross’ they will be less likely to taste that food.
Research has highlighted the many advantages of having meals together for our kids. Benefits for children and teens who share at least 3 family dinners per week include:
- Less likely to be overweight or obese
- More likely to eat healthy foods
- Perform better academically
- Less likely to engage in risky behavior
- Have better relationships with their parents
- Have fewer emotional and behavioral problems
Research suggests these benefits roll over to the parents too. Eating without distractions leads to a healthier overall diet and reduces the overall calories consumed. Eating in front of the computer or TV increases mindless eating and often leads to eating about 50% more. Slowing down your eating, enjoying your company, and sitting down at a table with your family can help you control your intake and weight and teach your children valuable lessons.
FOCUS ON HEALTH, NOT WEIGHT
The entire family should be engaged and focused on being healthy. It’s not about losing weight as much as it’s about eating right and being active to be healthy. When everyone in the family gets involved, it shows that eating healthy foods is not a diet for losing weight, but rather it’s a diet for being strong, fit, and healthy. Also, it’s not about short-term changes or quick solutions.
This also helps to deal with any feelings of guilt, shame, or feeling singled out which can be a lot of pressure and responsibility for just one person to deal with. By everyone focusing on getting healthier it makes it more fun and achievable without one person feeling solely responsible for everyone having to change.
When the family is on board, working together, and committed to making lifelong behavior changes, it highlights the positive while moving toward something good: a happier and healthier family. The key is taking baby steps. Getting healthy is a journey! You do not have to do everything at once nor are you focused on just reaching one goal.
REWARD WITH PRAISE, NOT FOOD
It’s important to award the accomplishments you and your family have been able to reach but it is important to reward yourself properly. If rewarding weight loss with food, you are teaching an all-or-nothing approach to health but also could be sabotaging the efforts you have made with losing track of habits and behaviors you have put in place to put you on the path to health. You also don’t want to place your family on the dieting cycle that so many people are familiar with. Are you familiar with this cycle? Go on a diet, deprive/restrict, reward or give in to cravings, feel guilt/shame, go back on diet or try a new diet.
It is important for long-term commitment that your diet not to be tied into how you feel about yourself and to practice balance and moderation and to forget the all-or-nothing diets of the past. Learn how to enjoy treats in moderation and accept them as a healthy part of the diet. While rewarding successes think of nonfood rewards. Examples include having a dance party, getting a manicure or pedicure, saving money and paying yourself, going shopping for new clothes, going for a quick trip, new exercise gear or equipment, learning something new, or giving to charity.
It is recommended to try to be active for 30-60 minutes each day. Short sessions of movement throughout the day add up and count for the daily total too. Including physical activity in your daily routine makes it simple and can help your family stick to the routine. Taking a walk together before or after meals, shooting hoops after school, or playing a game of tag can be a fun way to get the family active at home.
Limiting screen time is another important part of getting more active and spending less time being sedentary. Limit TV, computer, and video games to less than 2 hours per day. View screen time as an award that can be earned when homework and chores are complete. If cutting back on screen time is a difficult task for you and your family, work on slowly cutting back and choosing more active games, such as Just Dance or Mario Party, that require the players to get up and move rather than sit on the couch. It is recommended to also remove all screens from the bedrooms. This recommendation helps to encourage better sleep, improve anxiety and stress, and also can promote more movement. And remember, no snacks or meals in front of the screens! This almost always results in mindless overeating.
EAT WHEN HUNGRY
Many of us fall into habits that cause eating when we are not actually hungry. It’s helpful to pay attention to your hunger and ensure that you are really hungry when you eating by listening to and following your body’s cues for what you need for a healthy weight. Many people get into the habit of eating because they are bored, tired, or stressed. Before eating something, it is helpful to ask yourself if you are hungry. You can rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10. True hunger should be below a 4 on this scale. You can also pay attention to where you feel hungry. True hunger stems from your stomach, so if you are feeling hunger outside of your stomach, you are most likely not physically hungry.
Create other habits to deal with your feelings other than turning to food. If your bored, find an interesting hobby to keep yourself occupied. If you are tired, take a rest. If you are stressed, find a productive way to deal with that stress. By modeling listening to body cues, you will teach the rest of your family to do the same and not turn to a carton of ice cream after a bad day. Generally, by getting distracted with an activity for 20 minutes, you will likely work through that craving and forget all about the food. And by dealing with the original problem rather than just turning to food, you will end up with less stress or more energy, instead of developing another problem…. overeating!
Making healthier food available at home and making unhealthy food less accessible will help your entire family make better choices. But, sometimes it can be overwhelming and confusing on where to start! Follow these quick tips:
- Cut out trans-fat. Trans fat has disappeared from many foods but is still in some items. These fats should be avoided because they increase your chances of heart disease by increasing your “bad” LDL cholesterol and decreasing your “good” HDL cholesterol. Look for items that are trans-fat-free which contain no partially hydrogenated oil. To reduce unhealthier fats, choose baked, broiled, or grilled meats and limit anything fried. Using cooking sprays (nontropical oils) also helps you to use less.
- Increase your fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are plant-powered and provide the body with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols, and fiber. They also have high water content and high fiber content, which helps fill you up so you won’t feel hungry on fewer calories. Make these foods easily accessible and visible. Research shows that keeping fruits and vegetables in easy-to-grab areas will increase the likelihood that your family will eat them. We recommend including a fruit and/or vegetable at every meal and model eating them because your kids are always watching!
- Cut back on salt. Most of us exceed the recommendations to stay within 2300 mg of sodium per day. Remember, that the majority of the salt in our diet comes from what is already in the food, not what we are adding to our foods. So, just because you don’t add salt to your foods doesn’t mean that you are choosing low sodium foods and following a low salt diet. It is essential to read food labels and choose items with less salt. Prepare foods with other seasonings to add flavor.
- Choose more whole grains. Aim to squeeze out as much “white” rice, pasta, and bread as you can from the diet. Opt for whole-grain versions in its place. The white versions tend to be more processed, have less fiber and nutrition than their whole grain counterpart. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half of your grains should be whole grains. Examples include brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta, bulgur, or whole-wheat couscous.
- Cut out sugary drinks. Switching out drinks for unsweetened ones can help cut out significant amounts of sugar and empty calories from the diet. Choosing water, unsweetened coffee/tea, and even Seltzer water for sugary sodas, punch, sports drinks, and sweetened coffee drinks can cut hundreds to thousands of calories and help you better reach the guidelines for added sugars.
- Keep an eye on portion sizes. Switching to
smaller plates and bowls can trick your eye into taking smaller portions.
Taking serving platters and dishes off of the table can also reduce the
likelihood of taking seconds. You can always have the leftovers in the
refrigerator or on the counter instead of the kitchen table. Then if someone
needed a second helping they can get it but it will be much more intentional
than just scooping it out at the table.
Sleep is an essential element for healthy families: both adults and children. Getting enough sleep will help you have the energy to move forward with a healthy lifestyle. Research also suggests that sleep is vital to balance our hunger and fullness hormones. Without enough sleep, our ghrelin (hungry) hormone increases, and leptin, the fullness hormone, actually decreases which raises the likelihood that we will choose less healthy food and eat more of it than when we got a full night’s sleep. Aim for an early bedtime and a consistent routine for winding down (without screens!).
Studies have shown that kids who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health. Not getting enough sleep can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, and even depression. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following amount of sleep:
- Infants under 1 year: 12-16 hours
- Children 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours
- Children 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours
- Children 6-12 years old: 9-12 hours
- Teenagers 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours
Are you looking for a great meal plan to not only help your family meet their goals but taste great and will bring everyone together? Take a look at the great meal plans from Seattle Sutton that will leave your family feeling their best!