We’ve heard it so many times that “an apple a day…” that it could be that we overlook just how profound that statement is.
Apples are packed with loads of goodies that would go a long way at preventing disease in our children.
However instead of apples and other wholesome foods we’ve been duped into the culture of eating rubbish and feeding it to our kids too.
Kids love apples right? Well most of them do- so how come instead of apples and other delicious wholesome foods we’re also struggling with childhood obesity in this country?
Backstory: My battle with weight
I was a fat teenager.
I don’t want to sugar-coat it and say I was “over-weight”- because the political correctness we have around excess fat and how it’s ruining lives is an enormous part of the problem.
At 13 I was fat and not one bit aware of how unhealthy I was.
At that age I wore the same size clothes as my mom- I looked about her age- (seriously, no one believed I was her daughter)– it was horrible.
With all the horrors of adolescence: the bullying at school- hormone fluctuations, my struggle with academia, I had the added burden of navigating through all of that with more weight than my body should actually have been carrying.
What got me fat
I grew up eating only wholefoods.
Things like chips, sweets, biscuits and sodas were considered a luxury we either couldn’t afford (most of the time) or they just weren’t readily available.
If I had continued to eat that way I would never have gotten fat.
Then we moved to South Africa…
When we moved to South Africa never had I seen such an abundance of food!
In a bid to treat us my parents would take us to places like Sweets from Heaven– my goodness did I feel I was in Heaven.
Pizza Hut was our regular hang out-
Candy was super cheap and I could eat anything from cheap chocolates to peanut brittle and other junks I loved.
The easy access to all of these substances along with my heavy eating, every day after school, was a terrible combination.
When I think back to how I grew up until age 10, we only had three meals a day. Snacks were rare. And if we did have “in-between” foods they were whole foods like mangoes, corn or sweet potato and tea.
My terrible state hit home when…
My excess weight only begun to really bug me when people would ask if my younger brothers were my kids-
The bad shape I was in truly hit home when, after a long time of being in South Africa, we visited family in Zambia and no one recognised me.
My family didn’t intend to be mean; I knew I wasn’t being punked when home after home we visited, none of my relatives knew who I was.
One Aunt gasped, “Oh my! I thought she was the kids’ nanny!”
I was only 13!
That was my first battle with weight loss.
Realising how urgent my situation was I took action.
I couldn’t stand being thought to be so much older than I actually was.
I watched what I ate. I started swimming every day.
As much as I loved peanut brittle, huge fat Chelsea buns and loads of soda- I knew I would loathe the rest of my adolescence if I didn’t part ways with these substances.
The desire to enjoy my body as a teenager (and not a thirty year old mom of two) was far greater than any craving I had.
Support support support
Throughout that part of my weight loss journey, my parents watched me closely and helped me not get too carried away with my weight loss goals that I went overboard-
My dad kept reminding me how beautiful I was.
My mom praised my every effort.
They’d never made me feel any less loved when I was huge but them acknowledging better choices regarding my health was wonderful.
Eventually I managed to get myself to the right amount of weight for my height and age at the time.
I hear advice about not making kids “conscious” about their bodies- that’s stupid advice.
Kids should be made aware of what’s happening to their bodies when they over-indulge in bad foods like I did.
We are not doing them any favours by telling them they’re “OK” just as they are. Because under that excess weight is diabetes waiting to be triggered, an attack just waiting to stop their heart and other conditions they shouldn’t have to deal with at this stage of their lives.
Our children need our unconditional love and they need our support.
What they don’t need is us giving them the green card to remain unhealthy when there’s so much to this part of their lives they won’t be able to enjoy in an overweight body.
It’s far worse than we think
Today I’m a mom of three- my concern for all children are reports that tell us that if obesity in South African children continues to increase at the current rate, 3.91 million school children will be overweight or obese by 2025.
The issue isn’t just the excess weight; it’s the many health complications that come with that excess weight.
It’s madness that lifestyle conditions like Type II diabetes and even heart attacks are becoming more and more prevalent in children-
Some respiratory conditions, skin problems and various other health concerns have been proven to be successfully treated by changing what kids are eating.
Enough bad news- what can we do?
We can start by changing how we think about food.
Food is meant to be fuel for our body.
If food is anything but that therein begins an unhealthy connection to food.
Like many parents I used to use food to calm my kids, distract or reward them.
If my kids seemed unhappy I’d offer them food-
What was I essentially teaching them? When you feel rubbish, eat.
Most times the child isn’t hungry- they could be thirsty, bored, tired, irritated, wanting attention etc. To feed them every time they seem unhappy is a recipe for disaster.
It used to be that when I went shopping I’d buy my kids junk like chocolate and potato chips- because for me those foods were “treats” for my kids.
Those things aren’t treats- they damage our children’s bodies so they crave these substances.
For many children breaking away from the rubbish we taught them to eat is a battle they might struggle with for the rest of their lives. Yes, it’s that serious.
Now I “treat” my kids with delicious fruit they enjoy like mangoes, apples, papayas, watermelon- They also love pickled cucumbers, sliced carrots and tomatoes.
We make our own juices and smoothies often.
Because I’d constantly feed my kids they seemed hungry all the time.
Then I learned this was a bad habit I’d taught them and started to teach them that we ate three times a day.
The constant eating came to an end.
If it so happened that they were truly peckish between meals I’d have fruit and fresh veggies they enjoyed readily available.
GMO free (homemade) popcorn and brown rice cakes are also a fun healthy snack.
When we go to the store my kids still ask for chips, soda, shelf juices, chocolate etc- I just say no.
Having heard no as many times as they have my children are asking for these things less and less.
It hasn’t been easy but I had to learn to say no to myself first when it came to those things so I could have the resolve to say no to them.
P.S. 100% store bought juices are not as healthy as they’re marketed to be. Rather make your own juices at home.
Three wholesome meals a day is where our children should get most of their nutrition from.
The process of getting my kids a lot healthier has been a process.
There are times when I’ve been amazed at how they’d gobble up wholesome meals I didn’t think they’d like- and there’ve been times they’ve taken one bite of a meal and pleaded to not have any more.
I’m learning what works and what doesn’t.
When it works it’s great and I’m super stoked!
When it doesn’t I apologise for a meal my kids didn’t like but remind them that we’re going to be a lot happier eating this way.
When my kids ask for more of a gorgeous gluten-free pasta I made– or devour mangoes and watermelon instead of junk food- I know we’re already a lot happier with this kind of food.
Wholefoods are what our bodies were designed to eat.
Our bodies were not designed to eat processed foods.
The processing of food is our body’s job- it is not the job of junk food manufacturers.
Things like sweets, packet potato chips, sodas etc have very little actual food in them if at all. Most of what is in those things are wonderful tasting chemicals our bodies cannot use for anything except store as a disease waiting to happen.
Our bodies were designed to eat foods they needs to break down and process themselves; Essentially foods that come directly from nature to us.
These are the foods our children should be eating most of.
How often we eat is also important.
Food is fuel. The fuel we need to operate. Anything outside of that boundary is an abuse of food. Even if the food is good and wholesome.
Most people don’t really know what true hunger feels like.
Many folks eat throughout the day- hungry or not.
And between those “regular eating times” we eat whatever we can get our hands on.
Some people were taught this way of eating- they pass it on to the kids… a perfect recipe for a family legacy of dire health.
The notion of eating all the time is not only unhealthy it’s not normal.
Children and grown-ups do not need to eat all the time.
Food is for fuel
If I’m honest my parents, especially my mom, tried to help me not stuff my face as much as I did as a teenager but I’d learned to eat for comfort- something I think a lot of people struggling with weight can relate to.
We’re now teaching our kids that food is for fuel.
If they say they’re hungry between meals, I ask them: “Are you really hungry or bored? Or tired? Or thirsty? Or…”
Most times it’s not food they want- it’s something else.
I think just teaching them to ask this of themselves helps them to learn the true essence of what food is for- and what it’s not.
We’re hoping to teach them how to handle their other needs appropriately instead of artificially filling those spaces with food.
I was horrified to learn from a school tuck-shop owner that kids would rather go hungry than eat healthy foods.
She told me how they’d tried to make brown bread sandwiches for the kids and the learners chose to go hungry rather than buy those healthier options.
School lunches are a challenge- I get it.
But just like we teach our kids the alphabet, math and various other life skills- there needs to be uncompromising diligence when it comes to their health at school too.
Some healthy foods for school lunches include:
Brown rice cakes, sandwiches made of wholesome breads, fresh fruit, chopped veggies they enjoy- or even last night’s leftovers (some kids don’t mind cold food if it’s yummy).
When it comes to what to drink for school the options should be: Water and Water.
No child “needs” juice or soda for school.
At home we can teach kids about making their own juices and smoothies with fresh fruit and veg. These are not ideal to take to school though as the live enzymes are lost over time and children end up with a sugary substance that’s not much better than a store-bought juice.
Kids won’t starve
There’s a weird, unfounded panic we parents have when our kids refuse to eat.
The thing to remember is our kids do not hold us hostage when it comes to what they eat- if they decide they’d rather not eat the healthy food we pack- don’t worry too much; eventually they’ll realise there are no other options. It’s this or nothing. Survival instinct kicks in and eventually kids will eat.
Remember, eating disorders are not about food.
A child will not develop an eating disorder because their diet changes from junk to healthy.
As that shift happens kids’ taste buds go back to what is normal and they begin to desire healthy foods.
Also some parents worry that if their kids don’t eat they’ll be malnourished.
Most kids are severely malnourished with the junk they’re eating now.
A person does not have to be underweight to have malnutrition. Obesity is also a form of malnutrition.
Will there ever come a time when our kids won’t want sugary foods and other junk? Very sadly perhaps not. Wouldn’t it be awesome if it were that easy?
But the transition is possible. And so necessary.
The changes may be uncomfortable, a little more time consuming- we may even have to deal with tantrums- but our kids are worth us going through all that because they will be healthier and a lot more happier eating this way.
P.S. Please remember always to be gracious with yourself. Transition is often hard- especially in the area of food. I often remind myself that if I focus on the “law” whatever the law may be, I’m bound to struggle and even fail. But if I keep focused on grace, God’s grace for me and my family then I don’t have to do this alone- Never beat yourself up or feel guilt over meals. Go easy on yourself, go easy on your family and be gracious always.