Mother of invention

As media sources began brimming with articles about the rising rates of obesity in children and the rising rates of behavioral problems in children, Nancy, a stay at home mom and former social worker, was convinced that there had to be a connection. Her own kids were 10 and 14, so she set out to study her suspicions from her kitchen.

In Morgan Spurlock’s film Super Size Me, a portion of the film documents a school for adolescents with behavioral problems.

“This school had to have police officers in the building because the behavior was so bad,” Nancy said. “Then the school changed the food system to a system that was all natural, organic, and whole grain foods. As a result there was a complete turnaround in the behavior of the children at the school. The kids were calmer. They were learning. And the police were no longer involved.”

According to his case study, Nancy’s inklings had been correct. Food impacts more than one dimension of health. The systems of the body are all part of one body. If the body is starved from nutrients, it will fight back.

Hungry to learn more about this correlation, Nancy went to back to school to study holistic health and started implementing changes at home.

“We’ve always eaten pretty well at home, but my kids were more than happy to have junk food, sugary snacks and all of that,” said Nancy.

But as she started learning more about how a growing, changing body handles bad food, she started cutting out things like partially hydrogenated fats. This wasn’t easy.

“Partially hydrogenated fats are found in so many different foods,” she said. “It’s the ingredient that makes the food more shelf-stable, so we would find it in places that made no sense to me at all. Almost every baked good, every cookie, every cracker, every cake and basically anything and everything that is pre-packaged and put on a supermarket shelf had hydrogenated fats. This was not a good sign.”

Changing the way her kids consumed food took patience, innovation and a few sneaky tricks. Here’s what worked for Nancy:

1. Sneak vegetables into meals.

Insider tip: If Macaroni and cheese is a big favorite in your house, try cooking it from scratch and hiding zucchini in the cheese sauce! You can even peel off the skin first if your kids are vegetable detectives.

2. Keep experimenting.

Nancy said it takes almost 15 tries to get a new food into her kids, but she made that work to her advantage. “If they didn’t like it the first time, I still had 14 tries to go,” she said. “Not everything works. There have been spectacular failures and that’s fine. That’s the only way to learn.”

Let your imagination run wild! Nancy made Kale chips and to her surprise, her kids devoured the first batch in minutes… anything goes (especially if it’s salty and crunchy).

3. Get the junk out of the house!

The best way to stop eating junk food is to stop buying it. If it’s not in the house, it can’t be eaten. Nancy switched to healthier versions of her kids favorite junk foods, like organic mozzarella cheese sticks.

“I do understand they are kids,” she said. “They are going to be getting plenty of junk food when they’re not with me, but I’m not worried because they’re making a transformation in their thinking.”

4. Explain to your kids (or your husband!) why you are torturing them.

Kids respond much better to changes if you are honest with them. One of Nancy’s favorite examples of this is when she took a 12 ounce can of soda and asked her kids how much sugar they thought was in a single can.

“Then I showed them. After I poured 12 teaspoons of sugar into a glass bowl, they were amazed,” Nancy said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re going to go off to a party and not have soda. It means they’re aware that they are consuming that amount of sugar. They know it’s not just mom being nuts; it’s mom being concerned.”

5. Teach your kids to pay attention to their bodies.

Nutritional knowledge isn’t everything. What also matters is that you know about yourself. Some people can eat a pound of sugar and feel fine. Most people can’t. Have your kids try new things and note how their body responds to them.

“I think the kids have more energy. I think they feel better,” Nancy said. “My son was always bothered by eczema and allergies. Now the eczema is gone and his allergies are much better.”

6. Pick your battles.

The reality is people eat every day, all day. It’s a form of communication in a way. You have to find the right system for your family.

“When it comes to my kids, I don’t want to have to fight with them three times a day, every day,” said Nancy. “Despite all the times I shudder when I think about what they might be eating out there, it’s not something I want to fight with them about. We’re going to do it together. I decided it would be pleasant and it would be easy and, surprisingly, it’s worked out that way.”

The commitment to healthy eating that Nancy tries to instill on her kids has also brought them closer together, especially during the teen years. By starting the dialogue about nutrition, she opened up the lines of communication about other things, and her children came to respect that she is actually more knowledgeable than they are.

“I like to think that all of this knowledge has made me a better parent,” said Nancy. “Now I have the facts behind me, I have information I can use to show concrete examples. At the beginning of my schooling, they just were like, ‘Oh, great. What’s she going to try on us now?’ That’s gone away. Now we can talk. They may not like it if I bring some strange new food in, but they’re willing to talk about it, and that’s been great. We’re working together as a family and I feel closer to them.”

So, what’s Nancy’s best advice? Don’t start with taking things away from your kids.

You don’t have to make major changes. You don’t have to go and throw out every food. You start small and you just add things in. The easiest way to get kids to change their eating habits is to add new foods, offer them new choices. As you keep adding in the new foods eventually the old foods fall away, and you’re left with healthier, happier kids.

MORE TIPS & TOOLS

Supersize Me
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, rejected five times by the USC film school, won the best director award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival for this alarmingly personal investigation into the health hazards wreaked by our fast food nation. Under extensive medical supervision, Spurlock subjects himself to a steady diet of McDonald’s cuisine for 30 days just to see what happens.

Slow Food Nation
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The cool site for kids and their parents to learn more about health, fitness and nutrition through fun games, recipes and articles.

Tipping the scales: A midlife crisis

For most of her life Bonnie never had to struggle with her weight. In fact, a normal weight for her was less than 100 lbs. “In my growing up years, my teenage years, and my young adult years I was very, very thin. I am not even five feet tall. I am a very small person, so that was my normal weight.”

“When I had my first child I went to 130 lbs—that is 30lbs on a small body. I lost most of it quickly and got down to 115, but that was still 15 lbs more than I normally weighed. Then with the next child I went to 150 lbs, and it took me three years to get me down to 115. My last child was premature, she weighed 4 lbs and I gained maybe 40 lbs. I was almost 40 when I had that baby and that is when it began, my hormones changed. And it was a real struggle.”

Bonnie is a self proclaimed naturalist; of course she looked for the most natural way to help with weight loss. After some research, she found an herb called Hoodia that helped her lose the weight. “Hoodia worked for me, but I also learned that your body needs to eat. You can never lose weight by not eating. You have to eat and you have to eat smart. I drink soy protein drinks, and I eat very well, very naturally.”

Along with conscious eating, maintaining your health also means maintaining an active lifestyle. Getting creative with how you move your body does not have to be as specific as running on a treadmill everyday. “A dear friend of mine, her husband is a paraplegic. He is a fine artist and amazing, but he is also as big as my finger. One day I said, “Gee, he is so thin,” and she said, “Do you see what he is doing? He is sitting in the chair wiggling. His doctor says that he burns 4,200 calories a day just through his wiggles.” I thought to myself, if I sit there and read a book and shake my hand, can I lose weight? Yes! Any movement counts.”

As an acting teacher, Bonnie used one of her own exercises in accountability to give herself a reality check. “You shut the door and you don’t tell anyone what you are going to do. You strip naked and assess what you have. But instead of going “I hate my hips,” look at what is beautiful. There are more lovely things happening in a woman’s body than there are things that are horrible.”

Eating smart is half the battle, check out the 11 Best Foods You Are not Eating to give your body some love.

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23 Ways About It
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Breaking the Tape
A mom of three transforms herself into a triathlete. Read about her trials and tribulations at 21st Century Mom

Hip Chicks and Macrobiotics
Author Jessica Porter gives fresh insight on a tried-and-true dietary practice in her “Hip Chicks Guide to Macrobiotics.”

Whole Grain Nation
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The New Pyramid Plan
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How a trainer helped me get fit… FINALLY

“People around me said—you can’t audition looking like that.”

When Traci got cast in the role of the ‘best friend’ at her first NYC audition, she took an honest look at herself.

“Regardless of my talent, regardless of whether I was the best fit for the role, I knew that it had something to do with, or I felt, that it had something to do with my weight,” Traci said.

“And that sort of propelled me into thinking about my weight and looking at myself realistically saying, what am I doing? Why am I here?”

Traci began working out with a trainer, who gave her the tools, taught her how to eat for weight loss and exercise properly. More than anything, Donna taught Traci to believe that what she wanted for herself was possible.

“My two-day-a-week workout turned into three, then four, then turned into me cutting back on certain foods like bread, rice and sugar,” she said. “I started eating tons of fruit and vegetables, and I noticed that I felt better. I came out of that depression-like state I had when I first went to New York. Within five months, my body was completely transformed.”

Traci had been overweight her whole life. She wasn’t used to being thin, and her body resisted every pound she lost. It took her about 7 months of commitment and discipline to shed 20 pounds.

Finally being able to experience what losing weight felt like, understand how to do it was a huge learning experience for Traci.

“I learned how to eat and how to keep challenging myself in new ways,” she said. “I learned how to express myself in new ways, both physically and emotionally.

“Working with Donna allowed me to stand in a different way, walk into a bar in a different way and order from a menu in a different way. I finally feel comfortable and confident with myself.”

Fitness trainers are popular and they get results, but making a good match takes effort. Check out this article for some tips on not just why you need one, but how to find the right one.

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Get Physical
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Hand It Over
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Laugh It Off
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Fitness Tips
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How I cured myself with food

Every food that we eat impacts our bodies. Think about how different you feel after eating a huge piece of cold watermelon versus eating a doughnut… it effects your energy level, your digestion, even your creativity.

Understanding how food functions within your body can completely change your life. For Shira it started with an allergic reaction to medication… Her digestion was a mess, and no matter what she did, she couldn’t get back to normal again. Something wasn’t right.

“Doctors didn’t know what to do. They said they could put me on medication, but it was just going to remedy the symptoms, not fix the problem.”

Unsatisfied with her doctors’ suggestions, she decided to correct the health problem herself. A friend suggested seeing a naturopath, and pretty soon the answer to her problems was served up on a silver platter. Our bodies respond to what they are given. If they don’t get what they need to properly function, at some point they will protest.

Shira began to diversify her diet, hanging out at her favorite farmer’s markets and experimenting with new foods.

“A diverse diet is very important,” she said. “The more different types of fruits and vegetables you put in your diet, the healthier you are going to be. When you are eating the same things over and over, you are probably missing some important vitamins and nutrients.” Likewise, it is important to eat what is in season and local to your environment. What grows around you is there for a reason, most likely it can provide your body with nutrients that are specific to the climate and other environmental factors.

Shira loves shopping at the farmer’s market for this very reason, when you are “Eating what is growing that season, nature works inline with the body so what grows in the summer is best for you body to eat, and same in the winter.”

Today, Shira has successfully adapted to her new diet, but knows she cannot live without an occasional indulgence.

“Even when I cheat and go out and have French fries or ice cream, I know my body has gotten to a certain level of health and it doesn’t bother me like it would have before,” she said. “It takes consciousness and time to get well from food, but it also takes time to get sick from it. You just have to learn to make choices.”

As Shira learned the hard way, it’s important to make everyday colorful and incorporate your environment. Eating to nourish your body and soul is not just for special occasions or “being good.” Find a farmer’s market near you to put your money and your mind where your mouth is… there is no better time to start than today!

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Whole Grain Nation
Test your whole grain IQ and figure out how much more you should be eating at Whole Grain Nation.

The New Pyramid Plan
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What’s Quinoa?
Learn all about this delicious, nutty superfood and all the creative ways to bring it into your diet.

Challenging the Diet Dictocrats
Sally Fallon and Mary Enig decided to take on traditional notions of food and dispel the myths of low-fat fads in their book, Nourishing Traditions. At the very least, it’s a tasty read.

Join the Slow Food Movement!
The Slow Food Movement was established to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.