how I talk to my kids about diet and exercise

This past Sunday, I went for a run while Chris stayed the girls. The half-marathon is in 6 weeks (yikes!), and I try to do my long training runs on the weekends when I have more free time. The kids are with Dave on alternate weekends, but when it’s my weekend, I usually leave them with either Chris or my parents while I go for a run.

I’m very careful with how I talk about diet and exercise with my girls. And a lot of that is because of my own baggage: I picked up a lot of negative body image feedback from hearing my mom complain about how fat she was when I was a kid. Back then, she was maybe a size 8 or 10 at the most, so she was most definitely not fat, but I know I internalized a lot of what she said. I don’t want Catie and Lucy to pick up any negative self-image issues from me, so it’s something I approach with extreme caution.

Since Catie is older, I can talk to her a bit more. We’ve talked about how Mimi has back problems, and how I want to make sure I don’t end up in pain like she is when I get older. My emphasis is more on health/strength, not the number in the back of my jeans. We’ve talked about how she gets enough exercise because she gets recess every day, but grown-ups don’t, and my job means that I sit at a computer all day, so I have to make my own recess time.

With food, we talk about how it’s important to eat healthy foods that are good for our bodies, and how some foods are treats that are only “sometimes foods” – all the normal stuff, I guess – but I don’t really talk to them about my food habits. They eat their food, I eat mine. Unless I point it out, they aren’t going to notice that they’re eating mashed potatoes and I’m not. So I don’t make an issue of it.

But even still, they pick up on stuff. Catie once made a comment (and I cannot remember the context of how it came up) that she was “glad everyone in our family is skinny.” I kind of did a mental record-scratch, and said that “skinny” isn’t necessarily a good thing, because if you’re too skinny, you won’t be strong enough to do the things you want to do. The point is whether or not we’re healthy, not whether we’re skinny or fat.

(And we’ve talked about how we don’t talk about other people’s bodies because it might hurt their feelings. She’s friends with a little girl at school who gets teased by other kids for being overweight, and it upsets Catie a lot, so it seems like she gets it.)

And then there are stupid things that come up, like when “All About That Bass” came on the radio for the 37,000th time, and Catie asked me what it meant when she said “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” In that case, I just said that it was kind of a grown-up joke that was inappropriate for kids, and she didn’t press it.

So, I get that they’re going to pick up on body image expectations from society no matter what I say, and that the best I can do is basically damage control.

Lately, Lucy has been fascinated with my exercise habits. If I’m doing a strength training workout at home, she tries to join in with me. She’ll say, “Lookit me! I do my essacise too!” Then she’ll do a dramatic pratfall and land on her face, and I basically die because you really shouldn’t laugh when you’re doing push-ups.

This past Sunday, when I was getting ready to go for my run, as soon as I put on my workout clothes, the questions started:

Lucy: You all sweaty now?
Me: No, baby, not yet. [I hadn’t even left the house yet.]
Lucy: Why you wear that headband?
Me: It keeps my ears warm when it’s cold outside.
Lucy: Why you wear headphones?
Me: Because I like to listen to music when I run.

And the one she asks the most often:
Lucy: Why you go running?
Me: Because you keep growing and getting bigger and stronger, so I have to be strong too, so I can keep up with you.

A couple of hours later, after I’d run over 9 miles, I walked in the house sweaty and exhausted. The girls were on the couch with Chris watching a movie. Lucy saw me, and hopped up and ran to me.

She said, “You do your essacise, so you strong now? You can carry me now?”

And all I could think was, oh, my sweet girl. I’ll carry you as long as you’ll let me.

Me & my Lucy.

7 thoughts on “how I talk to my kids about diet and exercise

  1. My step-daughter, who was 8 at the time, said she was getting fat. I about blew a gasket, because I myself don’t want them (especially her) getting their body ideas from Hollywood. I gave her the talk you gave your two girls, that you have to be healthy etc.

    About the running: HUGE kudos to you! I do good to walk a block. How do you keep your stamina up? 🙂
    Rachel´s last blog post ..brain waves and crazinessMy Profile

    • The stamina thing – I did the DoctorMama approach to running.

      The gist is that you start off slllllooooow (the thing she says about running so slowly you’d be embarrassed if anyone you know saw you? Exactly that), and then gradually build from there. And I mean, I’m still pretty slow – I have friends who can run 1 mile in 8 or 9 minutes, and it takes me around 12 minutes. But for me, it has less to do with speed, and more to do with the endurance and how long I can go.

      Once I could run 30 minutes without stopping (or only taking a couple of walk breaks on the really steep uphills in my neighborhood), I started adding a tiny bit of time/distance. Like maybe .1 or .2 miles a week. So, it takes a long time to build up to that point, but if I can do it, anyone can. 😉

      • Needless to say, most of the excuses provided on her site are ones I use frequently to get out of exercise, especially running. I need to get in shape, and I thank you for providing me with the link to the blog!

        And really, 30 minutes running? Geez oh pete, that’s hard for me to even think about doing. But I can and I will, and once again, thank you. 🙂

        • Like I said, you start SLOW. Like, you’re “running” slower than your normal walking pace. I started off on the treadmill, and my first “runs” were like 3.5 mph. It’s just to get you used to the bouncy motion. Then once you’re used to it, you can gradually increase your speed. A good rule to remember is that when it’s too hard, SLOW DOWN.

  2. Unfortunately, my step-daughter’s mother is OBSESSED with fitness and “clean eating” and being “paleo” and all that, and she fancies herself an Instagram role model, and she’s transferred that onto her kid, asking her on the phone if she made sure to exercise that day so she doesn’t “get fat.”

    It’s gross and disheartening, and I’m really glad there are SOME parents out there that are aware of the repercussions of things like that.

    • Oh god, how awful. It must be so distressing to witness someone doing that to their child. My mom never picked on me about my weight, she just griped about her own. And even just that had a huge impact on me, so I can’t imagine the number it does on a girl’s self-esteem when their mom is directly harping on them about it.

      I mean, I get it – we have a problem with childhood obesity in this country, and parents want to be pro-active about making sure their kids are healthy. But letting the pendulum swing too far in the other direction can be equally destructive.

    • That makes me so sad to read that about their mom 🙁 Gladly, my step-children’s mother isn’t like that, she’s a good influence on them as far as “recess-ing” instead of exercising, and she herself doesn’t put herself down in front of the children.

      Nonetheless, when it’s our weekend to have the children, I always make sure to tell them how handsome/beautiful they are, just the way they are 🙂
      Rachel´s last blog post ..brain waves and crazinessMy Profile

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