Have you ever considered the problem our society has with obesity in children? If you're at all like me, you've heard it many times before: kids are playing too many video games and we need to get them outside. They eat too much fast food and we've got to feed them more vegetables and fruits. If we cut out carbs and gluten, that will help too. None of these statements are wrong; in fact, I could agree with every one of them. The deeper issue appears when we create this large list of "shoulds" and "should nots", but without any real idea of how to turn them into active reality.
Here is perhaps the biggest problem of all - many kids in general, including those with weight challenges, actually have little motivation to create wholesale changes in their dietary habits. They enjoy playing video games, are perfectly fine with fast-food meals, and have no problem with plenty of carbs and gluten. For many young people, these are "adult problems", and can even come across as Mom or Dad trying to control yet another element of life, which may in turn create resentment! We can simply start serving more vegetables, for example, but many kids and teens would simply choose to fill up on more appealing foods instead and avoid these foods that would no doubt give them much more energy and vitality.
As a parent of five-year-olds, I also understand on a personal level the degree of frustration involved at times with introducing nutrient-rich foods into the diets of picky eaters. Let me tell you, nothing fills my kids with excitement more than an announcement that they may have a Happy Meal for supper! I know I want them to develop healthy eating habits as they get older, and I also know that I can't force-feed them anything. At the same time, I would also like to have a weight that I could be happy with over the long term, without using any fad diets or starting an extreme fitness program that I cannot wait to finish. Nothing I had heard or read seemed to offer any new insights or ideas that I was happy with, until very recently.
An interview with Lia Huber, who runs a website called Nourish Network, provided an insight that I had not previously considered. She embarked upon a study of several different places in the world with a concentrated contingent of people who had lived to an age of 100 years old or more, seeking to discover their secrets for long life. What she found could have a profound impact upon how we approach food within our own families, and shed light on why we in our culture have a difficult time keeping our collective weight down and levels of fitness up. She unearthed the following commonalities from subjects in her study:
- Taking the time to enjoy the flavor and texture of food was important to all of them, and never regarding meal times as obstacles in helping our kids make the most of their productive time.
- Vegetables, fruits, healthy oils and proteins comprised most meals, though they were all very flavourful and enjoyable. Kids saw their parents modeling these preferences, and followed suit!
- Nobody dieted, and nobody made a clear intention to "eat less". Instead, enjoying food at a leisurely pace, with family and other company whenever possible, created a relationship with food that was healthy on levels we may not fully understand.
- Food was almost always sourced locally, whether through local producers or farmer's markets.
In short, the stronger the connection with our food and meals, the less likely obesity appears to become a problem with people, including families. When we take time to connect with our kids and teens over supper, ask them about the best and toughest parts of their day, and share some laughs as well, the eating experience tends to become a more positive and enjoyable one. Interestingly, this combined with a willingness to enjoy flavourful and appealing food can help us all have more joyful, connected, and healthier lives at home with those we care about most.
Andrew Portwood is a certified Masters-level counselor in Kelowna with a heart for supporting and helping children, youth and young adults. He has also helped many parents to grasp a better understanding of why their children are choosing the behaviours they have, and how to move forward in a supportive, healthy manner. Creating authentic connection and clarity is essential in all he does, both as a counselor and in his life. Find more about him and his practice: