Our new year resolutions are invariably about becoming our best selves, and this may be the perfect time to prioritize your family’s health.
But before you sign the family up for a 4k run, take a moment and look back at what we’ve been through. I’m not talking economic or political stress, I’m talking COVID.
The pandemic really pushed us. We were homebound and anxious till the vaccines arrived, worrying about every social interaction. We cared for the elderly as well as our children. For kids, who learn so much through school interaction, remote learning was a poor substitute. And we binge watched TV like never before, cooking and baking up a storm. We exercised less. Shopping was mostly online, and we bought in bulk to minimize trips to stores.
And now we are back to socializing, children are going to school and most of us have been travelling. There is a sense of urgency to enjoy and soak up family, travel and play.
We should recognize how fortunate we are to have our health and each other. It’s important to acknowledge our loss during this pandemic but now we need to make plans, so we do not dwell on it. Instead, let’s keep the wellness goals of our family at the forefront.
In my office, I see children who have gained weight due to increased eating and lack of activity. They think they have poor self-control. This is misguided because society was already in transition before COVID arrived. Technology had crept into our lives; our habits had changed. The food industry changed our relationship to food. Never in human history were so many calories so easily available. Fat free and sugar free became watchwords rather than nutritious and sustaining.
So, if we want to change our diet and lifestyle, it must be simple, fun, and easy to put into action. I suggest:
- Three balanced meals with 1-2 snacks in between.
- Start with a lean protein, add vegetables and then an unprocessed grain.
- Good fat is good for you, such as avocado, nuts, unsaturated oils; but watch the portions, they are calorie dense.
- Try organic, when possible. For vegetables, don’t forget to check out the freezer section of your store.
- During winter, soups are a good way to provide adequate nutrition without laboring over the stove for hours.
- Snacks are mini meals. Try fruit and nuts and if possible, add plant-based protein like hummus.
- Watch portions and in some cases, limit variety. For example, if you have 3 desserts, folks want to sample them all. Make one and pair it with fruit. Apple pie and ice cream are two desserts, sorry!
- Be creative: With the help of kids, lay the table in a pretty way and serve food restaurant style.
- All physical activity is exercise. Keep it fun. Exercise to music if you have a home gym. Better yet, dance! Turn up the volume and ask your teenager to select the music and let them join you for as long as they want. Try ten minutes. Hopefully, with the music of their choice, the ten minutes will become fifteen or longer. You’re looking for participation. Be patient, teenagers and young children want to make you happy but fear failure.
- Watch family movies once a week and let children pick something they think all of you will like. Be appreciative, do not criticize, they brought you a gift from their world, enjoy it!
- Play a board game once a week.
We want our children to be the best version of themselves through proper nutrition and physical activity. Let them achieve their genetic potential and eliminate the foods that slow down this process.
It’s a new year, a natural time for a new beginning. What story will you write this year?
Madhu Mathur, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician and an obesity medicine physician. She has been working on obesity related issues since 2004. Dr. Mathur has been a strong advocate for public health, and she has been honored for her work. Since 2014 she has been working with individual families addressing obesity in children, focusing mainly on lifestyle intervention. Her work focuses on changing behavior using the latest research and scientific methods to address lipid disorders, prediabetes, and other conditions while improving body composition with weight loss.