Raising fit Kids: Healthy Nutrition, Exercise and Weight

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The FIT Connection for Parents

Eating, exercise, emotions, and energy link together in a healthy, fit lifestyle.

From the WebMD Archives

It's not easy to make sure you're tending to all four areas of the FIT Platform -- FOOD, MOVE, MOOD, and RECHARGE -- at all times. For some people, their emotions, habits, and even biology can lead to an imbalance in eating and exercise habits. And today's families struggle to manage over-filled daily schedules. With work, school, and extracurricular activities, good health habits -- such as eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep -- take a back seat.

"Families are overcommitted," says Linda Bartholomay, LRD, manager of outpatient nutrition with Sanford Health, WebMD's FIT educational partner. "We have tons of scheduled activities and commitments. People race right out to pick up their kids, then stop for fast food on the way to the next activity. They may not make it home to have a meal together."

The Domino Effect of a Weak FIT Area

Unfortunately, when even a single FIT area -- FOOD, MOVE, MOOD, or RECHARGE -- is weak because you don't practice healthy habits, it can cause a downward slide that affects all other areas. Consider the cascading impact of this story.

Kid-sized stress. Sarah is under a lot of stress at school and at home. She has trouble with math, her best friend has been talking to someone else more, and her mom's been working extra hours. Overall she is in a down MOOD. Plus, for several days in a row, she has a hard time falling to sleep, and getting enough sleep is an important part of recharging. Sarah's sleeping troubles continue, several times a month.

Less sleep from a sad MOOD leads to a host of unhealthy choices. Because Sarah is getting less sleep and not fully being able to RECHARGE, she doesn't have the energy to MOVE and join her friends in their daily kickball game after school. Lack of sleep -- as well as losing her active outlet for reducing stress -- compound her stress. So she starts the habit of eating junk FOOD after school to help soothe her anxiety. Every day after school, she has a handful of cookies with a soda. At breakfast on school days, she often gets an extra slice of buttered toast and adds chocolate to her milk, too.

Continued

The impact of unhealthy choices starts to show. Poor sleep, unhealthy food choices, and lack of physical activity all lead to weight gain. In fact, Sarah's dad is overweight -- so she is already at an increased risk for having a lifetime weight problem. Within four months, she's gained 10 pounds, and it shows in a little pot belly that her mom thinks is cute. But the kids at school are less charmed by Sarah's excess weight, so she starts getting teased, and she feels bad about herself because of it. Ongoing lack of sleep and lack of exercise also work to bring down her MOOD and overall outlook.

The unhealthy choices continue, and the effects multiply. Because she doesn't feel good about herself, she turns more and more often to unhealthy comfort foods and to time in front of the TV instead of being physically active with friends.

Do you identify with any piece of this story? A child has stress. Her response is a bad mood and choices that don't do anything to effectively ease her stress in a healthy way. Without her stress getting addressed, combined with ineffective and unhealthy choices, her stress builds.

If steps aren't taken right away, this downward spiral with Sarah's fitness will continue. The longer it goes on, the harder it is to undo -- for the child and the parent.

However, by setting realistic goals and making just a few small, consistent changes, a family can turn it around. And because the FOOD, MOVE, MOOD, and RECHARGE areas of life all influence each other, taking action in any one area will have a positive effect on each of the other FIT areas. And that can help turn the tide toward a healthier way of living.

The Positive Effect of a Strong FIT Area

There are many ways a family could respond to the above situation to get on a healthier course. For instance, Sarah and her parents could start getting her fitness back in check starting in any of the FIT areas. Here's how:

Continued

The family communicates about kid-sized stress. Sarah's parents notice that she seems anxious and in a bad MOOD before school. They offer her suggestions to help her MOVE to burn off some negative energy:

  • A morning walk with the dog
  • Walking to school
  • A quick, active video game
  • Stretching with mom

Or Sarah could talk with her parents about her school and home stress and how it puts her in a sad or bad MOOD.

Sarah's parents notice she seems to be eating too much FOOD. They ask her if anything's been troubling her and affecting her MOOD. Realizing that Sarah is winding down from her school day by using food, she and her parents explore together healthier ways for her to RECHARGE. They discuss after-school activities, from dance classes to piano practice, as possible ways to help her relax in a healthier way than eating.

Sarah's parents notice weight gain. Sarah's parents may not recognize the signs of stress and overlook Sarah's down MOOD, but they may take note of her extra weight gain. In response, they could start paying a bit more attention to her FOOD. For instance, they could put healthier after-school snacks within easier reach for Sarah. And they can stop bringing home sugar-sweetened beverages that tempt most kids.

Work Together as a Family

To help children lead fit lives, it's important to not just teach them how to make healthier food choices and encourage them to move more. Parents also need to participate fully by making the same healthy changes in their own lives.

When families work together as a unit, everyone benefits. The key is to start as young as possible. "As a parent, I would start in toddlerhood and early preschool years, thinking proactively about nutrition and activity and being able build that into your family's routine," says Chris Tiongson, MD, a pediatrician with Sanford Health.

If your kids are older and you missed that opportunity, it's not too late. Pick the area from FOOD, MOVE, MOOD, or RECHARGE that you feel the most able to make change in, and focus on making that area even stronger.

Continued

As you saw in Sarah's story above, making healthy choices in one area positively influences the other FIT areas. For example, if you are naturally active and like to MOVE, your goal could be to make sure that each family member fits in 30 minutes of moderate activity each day. Within a few days, you'll notice that moving more is helping you sleep better. That one change in MOVE helps you RECHARGE better, improving your problem solving skills so your stress is reduced and your MOOD is better. When you're making good progress on that MOVE goal, it's highly likely that you'll be more inclined to make healthier FOOD choices.

Next thing you know, you're living a fitter life.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on February 03, 2012

Sources

SOURCES:

Chris Tiongson, MD, pediatrician; managing physician partner, Sanford Children's Clinic Southwest, Fargo, N.D.

Jenna Johnson, MS, exercise physiologist; manager, diabetes assessment and cardiac rehab, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Ronda Rose-Kayser, CFLE, family life specialist supervisor, Mutch Women's Center for Health Enrichment, Sanford Health, Sioux Falls, S.D.

Linda Bartholomay, LRD, manager, outpatient nutrition therapy, Sanford Health, Fargo, N.D.

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