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Barbara Mendez, RPh, MS Headshot

Sex or Weight: Which Would You Rather Talk to Your Kids About?

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A 2011 study sponsored by WebMD and Sanford Health showed that parents would much rather talk to their kids about sex than their weight. When I read this I thought, boy, have times changed! My parents had absolutely no problem discussing my weight but any mention of sex sent them squirming for distractions. Their willingness to talk about my weight (likely as a distraction from talking about sex) meant I was aware of my food choices throughout my formative years. Yes, this made me somewhat self-conscious and disproportionately worried about the reality of my weight, but guess what? While not ideal, it worked. From the earliest age, I was aware that what I ate had an impact on how I looked. This might seem obvious, but I can assure you that many people out there think that their weight is a by-product of their genes and only partly because of the foods they choose to eat.

The study showed that parents were concerned that by bringing awareness to their child's weight, they were creating and imbedding feelings of insecurity and self-consciousness. This, coupled with the real concerns about eating disorders, particularly among young girls, can give any parent pause. No one likes to be told they are not looking their best. But what I also see, as often than I see that, are parents who won't talk to their kids about their eating habits, lest they look in the mirror and see themselves.

Often, when I work with an adult client and suggest to them that they should eliminate temptation by not keeping junk food in the house, I hear, "How can I deprive the kids of snacks when I am the one with the problem?" To me, that's exactly the reason to keep junk food out of the house, so that your kids won't develop the habit at a young age to rely on junk food, developing a taste preference for salty, fatty and sugary foods. While they may not realize it, these parents are often reluctant to take away the junk food from themselves and use their kids as a convenient excuse to keep this food around, not unlike insisting your child go to summer camp to experience self-reliance. While true that the experience will likely help them grow and learn about new things, isn't it also nice to have a summer to yourself?

Getting healthy is a family endeavor and should be taken on as a natural aspect of family life rather than a revolutionary weight loss plan. A family that cooks together, being mindful of eating healthy food, and also exercises together, stays healthy and fit together. Telling your kids to be mindful of their weight while sneaking Milano cookies behind their backs is like telling them not to smoke as you reach for the Marlboro Lights for a quick smoke outside. While they may not see you doing it, they know. This tactic simply doesn't work. Kids emulate your example, not necessarily what you say.

In order to develop healthy family habits that stick, you have to make it fun. Kids respond to fun and will more willingly participate if it means they will enjoy themselves. Below are some great and healthy ways to begin moving your family towards healthier food choices and lifestyle habits. Rather than making an announcement that henceforth, the family diet and lifestyle plan is changing, start instead by integrating some of these suggestions into the family dynamic. We are all, by nature, somewhat resistant to change, and kids are no different. If they sense that you are suddenly eliminating their favorite food from the kitchen cupboard, you will get pushback. If resistance happens too often, you might be tempted to abandon the endeavor all together. Instead, build in new family habits around food and slowly phase out the bad stuff in the kitchen. You are allowed to be a little covert with your kids sometimes, especially if it is going to help them to grow up healthy and strong and in charge of their health. So go ahead and start planning some fun outings that the entire family will benefit from.

Here are some suggestions to begin getting you and your kids on a healthy nutritional tract. You'll all be healthier and have fun in the process.

-Cook recipes together as a family. What might make that even more appealing is a trip to the Farmer's Market for the ingredients so that your children develop an appreciation for the effort involved in growing fresh healthy food. Making food a creative endeavor wrapped in adventure is a sure way to titillate your child's interest.

While at your local Farmer's Market, treasure hunt for the most exotic ingredients you can find.Look for wild mushrooms, heirloom greens, organic herbs and then once home, have your kids Google the unfamiliar foods and find recipes everyone will enjoy that include the exotic ingredients you learned about at the market. Purchase them on the next go-around, planning for the next healthy, adventurous family meal.

-Rather than keeping ice cream in the freezer at all times, making it hard to resist, ride your bikes or take a walk to the ice cream place on Saturday afternoons. This teaches your kids to view treats such as ice cream as special events rather than an everyday food. They will look forward to the treats and get a nice workout in before hand, which will help them burn the calories they are about to consume.

Make fun meals! Kids love pizza and tacos, so look into healthy versions of each and make them instead. Perhaps try spelt-grain pizza dough as an alternative to wheat, teaching your kids about alternative grains that might be better for their health. Use goat cheese rather than mozzarella and add some vegetables that the kids can enjoy. Fish tacos are a nice alternative to beef tacos and can help your kids appreciate healthier fare.

Grow vegetables! This is a wonderful way to help your kids appreciate the effort that goes into the abundance of nature, while teaching them the responsibility of caring for something. They'll have to tend to and water their crops and better appreciate the end result because they helped create it. Additionally, this will help them become more familiar with the variety of vegetables available. If your kids grow up not being able to identify cauliflower they are less likely to eat it. Find great recipes you can make as a family once harvest comes. If you live in a big city, consider getting a plot in a community garden for your vegetables.

Healthy eating habits start in childhood, where parents have the most control over food choices. It is important to take advantage of this opportunity so that your children don't grow up with a taste preference for salty, fatty and sugary foods. It is much harder for them to change their habits around these foods as adults, when the habits are more ingrained. Not only does this mean that they are likely to struggle with their weight in adulthood, but are also more likely to develop chronic diseases such as high cholesterol levels, hypertension and diabetes.

If you're uncomfortable talking to your kids about their weight, then start by changing things up and incorporating healthy habits into the family dynamic. But remember, talking is important too! You are their primary source of information in all ways and your words and example are what will help create the platform of what will become of their futures. Don't be afraid to talk to them about their weight if it is going to help them be healthier adults. While home should be a safe haven that kids feel loved and accepted no matter what they look like, a balance must be struck between sensitivity for the problem at hand, and guidance to prevent a problem in the future. But don't harp. Instead act! Get out there and change your family's habits around food. The whole family will benefit.