Eating a healthy diet in a household full of varying preferences and needs can feel like extra work. At times, it can even feel like a battle, where I can seem like a tyrant taking the fun out of everyone’s meals because it’s good for them. Simply saying no over and over again is tiresome for everyone. And, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the “bad cop” when it comes to food. I don’t want my family to feel guilt, shame, or restriction when it comes to how they eat. I want them to feel inspired to make healthy choices and take care of themselves within a balance that is right for them.
Today, I’d like to share some proactive tools to help us go beyond just feeding our families well and to actually inspire them to make their own healthy choices now and in the future.
My “Live it. Model it. Teach it.” philosophy is designed to help us navigate that often tricky role of influencing and inspiring healthy habits in our homes. As we learn new ways to take care of ourselves, we are often excited to share our new knowledge with those we love. It is easy to “force-feed” information about how to nourish our bodies to those around us. However, force-feeding has the potential of pushing people further away or creating unhealthy consequences of guilt and shame around food. Foundational to my model are the concepts of inspiring and letting go, versus pushing and convincing. After all, busy schedules make it hard enough to get to the table to enjoy a meal with our household in the first place! We should do our best to make connecting over food as fun and easy as possible.
Live it. We all deserve a high quality of life. When I am healthy and happy it benefits me, obviously, but my family, clients, and friends are impacted positively as well. I have been guilty of feeding my family healthy foods while abusing my own body with harmful foods for periods of time. I notice this double standard often in my practice as a health coach. The truth is, we deserve to be healthy and thriving just like our loved ones do and it is important that we walk our talk and take care of ourselves. We need to put attention on our own health for three important reasons:
- To be more engaged and responsive in life, and less moody and reactive. When I don’t take good care of myself, I’m tired, short-tempered, and quickly frustrated. I can more easily weather life’s storms when I put an emphasis on self-care.
- To go through life with as little physical pain and illness as possible. Unhealthy lifestyle habits are scientifically shown to be the biggest contributor to chronic disease, poor quality of life, and premature death.
- To set our bodies up for a long life full of enjoyable experiences, including watching our loved ones evolve and grow as long as we are able.
Model it. We are best able to model to the rest of our family what a healthy lifestyle looks like when we live it. We have the opportunity to model many aspects of a healthy lifestyle, like healthy relationships, career satisfaction, connecting to our spirit, being active and prioritizing sleep, and feeding our bodies nourishing food. The key here is not to second-guess yourself, particularly if you’re a parent. Have confidence that you’re role modeling effectively and your kids are picking up on it. I love what a great role model my husband is with eating and taking care of himself physically. He makes decisions that are good for his health, and I know the kids are watching him.
Teach it. Take your role modeling a step further by adding in nuggets of information. Again, this is particularly effective if you have young children, but teens, spouses, and parents benefit from this approach as well. Present your tidbits of information in a positive, proactive manner. We often talk about the food on our plate during dinner with the kids. We share how chlorophyll and antioxidants in our green and vibrant vegetables heal our bodies. We chat about health consequences of sugar and brainstorm ways to find balance with these foods.
When we go to the grocery store I let my boys pick out certain foods, like nut butter for example. Together we read the ingredients list. They draw on information I’ve already shared (like the negative impacts of high fructose corn syrup) and I’m there to answer any questions they might have. They help decide if the food goes in our cart or back on the shelf. Through this process, I’m empowering them to take an active role in our family’s food choices and teaching them how to read food labels. Obviously, we don’t do this with every item on the grocery list — I’m a health coach, not a glutton for punishment! — but there is an opportunity to teach during every shopping trip.
Helping them develop judgment about food gives them agency in their own nutrition. There are pitfalls, of course — I don’t want my boys to spout off their new-found knowledge in a harmful way at school lunch, making other kiddos feel guilt or shame for enjoying a treat. And really, this applies to adults too. If you are trying to get a spouse or your parents on board with more positive health choices, the biggest mistake you can make is to act as if you have it all figured out. When we “should” all over people, they are more likely to become even further solidified in their prior beliefs and habits. It’s far more effective to simply model healthy habits and share why you make certain choices than to tell someone why they should make those same choices.
…and then let go. At some point, once you’ve done your very best to take good care of yourself, role model healthy habits, and educate your loved ones about the benefits of nourishing themselves as best they can, it’s important to step back and let go, and to trust their unique journey. Be confident that you’ve been an ally in their health and that they see you as a resource, even if they’re not ready to make any changes right now.
What are ways that you inspire health in your household?