That is roughly 13.7 million children and adolescents in this country that are obese. I believe many people today “know” obesity is a rising problem that can lead to more harmful conditions and diseases later in life. Also, I am confident many people are aware of solutions to help decrease the prevalence! However, the secret to success is not just in the knowledge, but in the action. It is not a complex formula, but it is not “easy” either. Living a healthy lifestyle and being at a healthy weight does not need to include a magic pill, fad diet, or widgets found on TV.

Instead of a short-term fix, it is important that we help instill long-term change as well as tools and habits that can set up children today, to be healthy adults in the future! So how can we instill healthy habits and behaviors in children?

Three keys to success

1. Move more, sit less. Be active.

2. Food is fuel, not the enemy. Eat nutritious foods.

3. Have accountability. Make it a family endeavor.

These three bullets are very beneficial for keeping your child healthy and at a healthy weight.

Isaac Bitter with his wife Emily and family. Submitted photo

Exercise daily! Move everyday and make it fun! I discourage parents, coaches, etc. from talking poorly about exercise. If you use it as punishment or as some grueling event, what do you think that young moldable mind will think about an active lifestyle? They will associate that as bad or as a punishment! Promote movement and exercise as a good thing and make it fun.

Food is fuel to our bodies and gives us energy throughout the day. Avoid using food to punish or reward your child. Instead, practice mindful eating. Mindful eating is the philosophy that you eat when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied. It focuses on being attentive and present when you are eating. Leave the distractions of watching TV, playing on the phone, or reading a magazine. Also, incorporate your child in grocery shopping and preparing meals. When children get to enjoy what they prepared, they will be more apt to eat it and not waste it. When preparing the meal, try to add more color to the plate by adding a serving of fruit and a vegetable.

Lastly, be an accountability partner and help your children keep you accountable also. When you can have an accountability partner, successful results exponentially increase. Do not discourage, poke fun, or insult their efforts. When one slips for a day, understand we are human and are prone to make mistakes. Rather than giving up, encourage them to get back on the wagon and work to accomplish their goal.

These strategies listed above are not groundbreaking, so why is obesity a perpetual (growing problem) in the United States?

My wife is a dietitian and I am a physical therapist. Over time we have noticed that clients that develop a support system, take in quality food (in proper quantities) and consistently exercise get better, faster! In short they take responsibility for their current state and take action.

How exactly does one help his or her child apply these practices? I believe there are a few fundamental principles that go beyond the three keys to success listed above that not only will help your child’s health, but also his/her confidence and overall well-being.

1. Having a “why” that is bigger than that mammoth muffin in front of them. To have you and your children be successful for the long run, your “why” needs to be visible and on the forefront of your mind. It might be to make it on a sports team or fit into a certain dress. It might be to no longer be made fun of, or to simply be more healthy — I can’t pick your “why,” that is up to you!

For me, the decision to get healthy was multifactorial. Yes, I am saying this from experience. I was an overweight, insecure, freshman in high school. I was tired of getting picked on because of my weight. I wanted to prove mean people wrong and had a burning desire to start on the varsity hockey team as a sophomore.

My aspirations, goals, priorities in life have changed, but habits gained during that season stuck with me. I have learned to love exercise and crave many healthy foods that fuel my body. It has not always been easy, but it has been totally worth it.

Motivation will get you started, discipline will carry you through. My why was bigger than some of the initial pains of consistent exercise and saying no to sugary food.

2. I believe another important factor to overall health is a mindset shift and an attitude adjustment! I believe this develops gradually as one begins working toward their goal. It is important to develop the attitude that exercise and nutritious food is your friend and not the enemy and that your body should be respected and cared for.

In order to create a healthy mindset around physical activity and quality food choices, parents should promote a mindset for your child that says, “I am a healthy person, and do the things a healthy person would do.”

James Clear speaks on this in his book, “Atomic Habits.” If you don’t know how to get healthier, ask yourself, “What would a healthy person do?” A healthy person would exercise today, even if it is for only a couple of minutes. A healthy person would have some fruit and vegetables with most meals and probably would say no to second helpings. Dessert would be eaten with discretion! So saying “no” to dessert more often than not, may be a good idea. As a parent, by incorporating these strategies into your own life, you are setting an example for your children. Create a family environment that says, “We are a family that is healthy.” If you are not that family currently, start today.

The beautiful thing about a mindset is that you can start thinking like a victor rather than a victim immediately! Set the example for the adolescents in your own life. Move with them, try tasty and nutritious dishes with them, make it a team effort and create an environment of accountability.

3. Help your kids see themselves as a valuable creation. I don’t want to get preachy, but understand that mind, body and spirit are all huge factors in how one treats and views him or herself. A positive attitude and mindset early in life will help build confidence in that child throughout his or her lifetime. Creating a mentality from an early age that stewards one’s body by intentional eating and consistent exercise is important.

In fact, eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising have all been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. It also has been linked to improved performance and concentration in the classroom and in life. Helping your kids understand they have worth is paramount!

How you do that is beyond the scope of this article.

To recap, here are all the principles discussed in this article that are important for creating a healthy lifestyle and environment for your child(ren) and family.

Photo illustration by Metro Newspaper Service

Keys to success:

  • Exercise daily: Make it fun, be consistent, incorporate this into your recreation such as hiking, biking, kayaking, shooting hoops, etc. Mindful eating: Eating nutritious foods, in proper quantities, eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are satisfied!
  • Have accountability and be consistent. Keep going even if you don’t feel like it! Your future self will thank you.
  • A “why” big enough to keep going when you don’t feel like it.
  • Proper mindset and developing an understanding that our bodies are valuable and have meaning, regardless of what social media tells us!
  • Remember that you have self-worth and have been created for a purpose.

Developing a healthy lifestyle and weight is not a sprint. The tips and suggestions provided in this article don’t include a crash diet or how to lose weight fast. The microwave approach isn’t sustainable for long-term success. What I am talking about is real, long-term victory. It is throwing the ingredients in a crockpot and seeing the plan come to fruition overtime. This way of doing and thinking requires discipline. If you commit to it, it will work! Unfortunately, because it is work, some will not take action over their situation.

I hope you begin to reshape your family tree today by building a mindset of mental toughness, hard work, and positive relationships today!

My wife, Emily and I are passionate about people reaching their full potential. If you have questions or would like to chat about any of the above content, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at ibitter4@gmail.com or emilylouise724@gmail.com.

Habits matter!

Charles Duhigg is an expert on habit formation. He notes that every habit includes three things: 1. Cue. 2. Habit. 3. Reward.

Whether you are working to quit smoking, biting your nails, hitting the snooze alarm, to quit drinking pop, etc. — the solution is the same. One needs to use the cue that triggered the old habit and reward the new habit the same way!

For example, a family has a big dessert every night. The cue is we just got done with dinner. The reward is that “we are spending time as a family.” If one is working to build a better habit to maintain a healthy weight, one could use the cue of being done with dinner and implement a different family activity like playing a board game or (better yet) go outside for a walk, shoot hoops, etc. The reward for the child remains the same: spending time with his/her family, and doing something they enjoy with people they care about.