12/17/2014 05:45 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2015

Teach the Power of 'No, Thank You'

Antonio Gravante via Getty Images

"Our entire family seems to gain weight during the holiday season," a parent said to me recently. "Especially the kids! Every year, it's the same thing. We can't seem to turn it around."

I can relate, because that used to be my reality, too.

When I moved from South Africa to America at age 17 -- where everything, including food, was bigger, richer and more abundant -- I was surrounded by tantalizing treats at every turn. During the holidays, the entire country seemed to transform into a food-extravaganza!

I struggled to make healthy choices and treat my body with kindness. It took quite some time before I learned how to eat sensibly, all year round.

But your kids don't have to struggle with the same woes that I did.

As a parent, you have a great deal of influence over your kids' eating habits and attitudes about food. It's never too late to teach your kids some important lessons about sensible eating.

It starts by making friends with the word: "No."

Teach your kids that:

  • "No" doesn't mean you're depriving yourself. "No" means you're taking care of yourself. ("I've had enough cake for today. I'm going to say 'no' to having another slice, because that wouldn't be kind to my body.")
  • "No" doesn't mean "never." It just means, "No... for right now." ("Just because I'm saying 'no' to an extra piece of cake right now, that doesn't mean that I can never have another piece of cake, ever.")
  • "No" doesn't mean "no fun allowed." ("Food is delicious, but we don't need food to entertain us! Let's go read a book, play a game, or watch a movie together.")
  • "No" to one food can sometimes mean "yes" to something else. ("I'm saying 'no' to that slice of cheesecake, because it will make me feel sleepy. I am choosing to have a delicious spinach-banana smoothie instead, because it will give me tons of energy!")
  • "No" can still be polite. ("When Grandma Sally offered me a second helping of potatoes, I said, 'No, thank you,' in a nice tone of voice. You can say 'no' and still be polite.")
  • Even if "no" is an unfamiliar word in your household -- especially around the dinner table -- it's never too late to put healthy policies in place.

Lead by example, as best you can. Remember that you are your kids' most influential teacher. Live, act and eat accordingly.

To a very merry holiday season, filled with delicious treats... in moderation!


PS. What do you need to say "No" to, today? (Maybe it's excess food... or something else on your metaphorical "plate"?)

As a clinical psychologist and professional life coach, Dr. Suzanne Gelb's insights have been featured on more than 200 radio shows, 150 TV interviews and in Forbes, Newsweek, Lifehacker and lots of other places.

Step into her virtual office and discover how to change your life by changing the way you handle your own emotions.

And while you're visiting, if you're wanting to learn how to manage your feelings (without food) and lose weight through kindness, not craziness, it's all inside her new Life Guide. Click here.