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    Posted January 7, 2014 by
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Talking to teens: Healthy bodies

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    Food for performance - Jennifer Hunt

    Jennifer Hunt
    Little Rock, Arkansas

    My 13-year old teen daughter and I discuss food and exercise almost every day. The struggle is to instill good, positive, healthy attitudes without letting her get fixated on body image, or extremes in behavior. My focus is a single message to encourage her to eat minimally processed foods. She can understand the concept of fresh, wholesome, real foods. And I believe that choosing foods (lunch, snacks, breakfast) that with that in mind is probably enough to control obesity and unhealthy eating in kids. It also limits potentially destructive habits of obsessive calorie counting or demonizing foods as "bad".

    We also talk about eating the right anoint of food to sustain performance. Whether that is daily living or her competitive swim practice, our focus in discussions is on eating enough to let her body do its best physically.
    In terms if exercise, she and I talk about performance more than exercising as a workout. In other words, what does she wish she could do physically? And how will she get from here to there? I share with all of my kids what I do at the gym and let them get into my goals with me. I tell them when I fail at something I wish I could do and then tell them how I'm going to work harder at it. They also like to hear about my successes. This is how they are learning the art of setting goals, the concept of physical activity to make myself perform better (instead of trying to get to a size or weight goal) and how to balance nutrition and physical exertion.

    These may be more important conversations than those about alcohol or drugs. Why? Because they hear from all kinds of sources why drugs and alcohol are dangerous for kids. But messages about food, nutrition and exercise are not nearly so clear and concise or straight forward.

    I have 3 kids: a 13 (almost 14) year old girl, a 10 year old boy, and a 4 (almost 5) year old girl. My own
    healthier lifestyle started 2 years ago on December 29, when I had enough of being overweight and unfit. I walked 2 miles...and it was hard! I slowly changed my diet and started to work out. Over the 2 years, I found Crossfit and have transformed my nutrition. The kids have been a huge part of my own journey. They love hearing about what I do and my my goals. In the car on the way to school each morning I tell them what workout we did in the gym. My son quizzes me on my personal records..."what's your max deadlift, how many handstand push-ups can you do, can you do strict pull-ups?" To him it's a competition because he'd like to think he can beat me! One day, he just might!

    In my kids, I see these lean, active, energetic young bodies. But I know that without instilling good habits into them...the habits I had to recreate the hard way as an adult...they would have little chance to stay fit and healthy over their lives. And at the same time, I hear about friends who suffered with severe eating disorders. I think it is critical to teach our kids to have healthy attitudes towards food and exercise. I have found that striking a balance of teaching positive, healthy nutritional habits with a focus on fitness and performance and not on calories or physical size is very effective. What do you want to be able to physically "do"? For my teen, it is improve her race times in the pool. For my son, it is be strong and fast to play football (ok, I've tried to fight that one...but we live in the south!). So, we talk about what kind of food will help you build lean fast muscles so they can perform like they want. My 4 year old is also in on it and loves showing off her yoga poses! "Can you do this, mommy?" One day, I told her to finish her broccoli because it will make her strong. "Mommy, I do Crossfit...that makes you strong. Vegetables make you healthy!" Wow! Success! The messages are sinking in (even though they come back out at me with attitude!)

    The kids know that I try to ensure our meals are full of delicious, real, minimally processed foods with great nutritional value. We talk about the important value of each food. They are actually becoming food snobs. My oldest daughter: "Is that homemade?" My son: "Is this grassed beef?" (Really?? You are 10 years old! Grassed beef??). My youngest daughter: "is there sugar in that?" They poke fun at me when I join them in devouring a pizza on occasion. "Mommy's eating pizza?" Sure, I do...on occasion...just like them. I like that balance too: we do sometimes eat pizza or ice cream or chips. But they know the difference between those things and real, wholesome food and they notice when we don't eat our regular menu.

    My teen is now very interested in the concept of eating for her performance. She asks me what kind of breakfast she should eat on exam days, or what kind of snack she should eat before swim practice. I love that she asks and for now she still thinks I have the answers...I'll probably become stupid soon, as all parents of teens do. We have decided to train for a 5K to run together in the spring. She said, "I'm not going to stick with you...I'm faster than you!" We shall see about that...

    Kids see and hear everything! So, how true it is that we need to be a good example to them. But we also need to make it nearly impossible for them to do the wrong thing. We need to put the food on the table and into their lunches that makes them healthy. We need to make physical activity the norm. And importantly, we need to teach, constantly reinforce, and educate them.

    I absolutely love that my kids are close on my tail! To my children: May you always strive to beat your mother, because I'm going to set the bar as high as I possibly can. And then I will secretly gloat as you stumble into your own healthy, physically fit lifestyles as part of that friendly competition! I want moving your bodies and eating well to be habits that are as natural to you as daylight.
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