Until losing my dad to cancer in 2001, and then, a few years later having children of my own, the subject of "health and fitness," to me, was always about losing weight and being skinny. Throughout my life, I had gone through cycles of working out and dieting so I could look like the magazine models and red-carpet celebrities (which I never did), and quite frankly, a lot of my self-worth was tied up with how my jeans fit. I thought dieting equated being healthy but really wasn't paying attention to the nutritional value of what I put in my body.
Over the past few years, the combination of losing a parent, becoming a mom, and growing older, have helped me begin to value health and fitness for so much more than just a number on a scale. I have realized that living a happy, productive and long life by means of eating right and staying active is really what's important. As soon as I had that epiphany, and then realized that I was responsible for how my kids view health and fitness, I immediately made changes in my life.
Some of my biggest challenges in making those changes were:
1) I didn't have very healthy eating habits.
2) I was not very adept in the kitchen.
3) I was not very knowledgeable about nutrition.
As a result of these challenges, while in the throes of being a new mom , I had to teach myself how to make home-cooked healthy meals, rather than serve the frozen, pre-packaged meals that I had been living on since college. I began educating myself on what foods to buy and what to look out for on labels. Hallelujah for good friends, Google and celebrity fitness gurus like Jillian Michaels, who provided me with a lot of my information. I began buying organic when possible, cutting down on processed carbs (except pizza), and offering healthier snack options like cut veggies instead of chips.
Along with learning how to make home-cooked meals, I also learned a lot about nutrition, like the fact that "reduced-fat" versions of some foods are actually worse for your health than just a smaller amount of the full-fat product because of the processes the food goes through to become low-fat. Who knew?
In an attempt to make health and fitness a priority in my daughters' minds, I have needed to make it a priority within myself. So in addition to changing the way I eat and the food I make for them, I have also become more active and physically fit. They have seen me run two half-marathons and also participate in a weekly adult dance class. They watch me wake up early so I can sneak in a run, and in turn they now show interest in dancing, playing soccer and running races.
I make a conscious effort to avoid the words "fat" and "skinny," the words that are practically tattooed on most women's psyche starting at the age of ten. Instead I focus more on words like healthy, strong and athletic. I talk to them about being in good shape so that they can run, dance, and do whatever they want to do in life because they will have more energy and stamina.
By no means do we eat well and work out seven days a week. I still serve processed foods and take them to McDonald's on occasion, but I have definitely become better at taking care of myself, while learning how to take care of my kids, both physically and mentally. I certainly am not able to stick to a perfectly healthy diet for them all the time, especially when we are on vacation or at a party, but as long as the foundation is laid for them to make better choices about what they put in their mouth, I am feel like I am on the right track.
Recently I heard the phrase, "Strong is the new skinny," and it really resonated with me. Though the pressure of looking like the women on magazines and red carpets will probably always exist in our culture, it's my hope that the collective focus can shift from dieting with the intent of being unrealistically skinny towards eating right with the intent of being healthy and strong. As a woman, and a mother of two young girls, that is certainly my hope for them.
Children's health is at the top of every mother's mind. What's your favorite tip for raising a healthy child? By replying, you will be entered to win an exclusive Million Moms Challenge Gift Pack, which includes an iPad2, a custom-made Million Moms Challenge pendant and a $50 donation in your name to Global Giving.
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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Million Moms Challenge. The opinions and text are all mine. Contest runs November 14 to December 18, 2011. A random winner will be announced by December 20, 2011.