eating healthy

Childhood Obesity

freakonomics

I was listening to the podcast Freakonomics Radio (it’s really fascinating and worth a listen!) that was discussing the epidemic of childhood obesity. The topic was “Why You Should Bribe Your Kids“. They did experiments with kids and trying to get them to eat healthier. What was the most effective method?

The conclusion was that kids responded best to being “talked at” (i.e. instructed how to eat healthy and make healthy choices) but only if there were incentives attached. In one experiment they bribed kids with toys if they chose the healthier dessert over the sugary-fattening one. The toys weren’t anything special, it was like rubber bracelets and a ball or something. But the researchers found that the incentive worked and something like 80% of the kids chose the healthier dessert option if it meant they got the toy afterward.

This got me thinking about my own upbringing and struggle with weight. I didn’t really struggle with childhood obesity. I didn’t gain my weight until I was 17. Sure I was a little on the chubby side in my teen years, but I wasn’t heavy. I don’t know that I was making great choices as a kid and teen, but apparently I was doing okay.

Things are different now. The podcast said 1 in 5 kids is struggling with obesity now. That made me really sad and I could empathize with the kids and parents dealing with this. It’s so hard not to make food the enemy and a BAD thing. But that doesn’t really teach the kids to make better choices…it leads to binge eating and sneaking food, or restrictive habits that lead to anorexia and bulimia. (If you missed it, read my review of The Heavy— a book about a mother trying to help her young daughter lose weight.)

“They tried several methods to see what would make kids choose fruit over a cookie. The conversation then broadens, addressing the fact that so many people — kids and adults — have a hard time making good short-term decisions that will have a long-term benefit. As List puts it:

LIST: The general point here about all of this is that you have many problems where what you do now affects what happens later, and usually we choose the easier decision or the easier action now. You think about savings for retirement, you think about getting doctor check-ups, you think about going to school, you think about engaging in risky behaviors, you think about adopting green technologies for our houses. In all of these cases we usually choose the bad action. And that action is to do what’s best for us now to the detriment of the future, to the detriment of our future self. And nutritional choices right now are just one of these elements that we face in society where we need kids to recognize the choice that you make now will critically affect your outcome in the future.”

When it comes to food it’s easy to think IN THE MOMENT and not the future. If I eat this piece of cake, I will have instant gratification. I don’t think about how that piece of cake is 500 calories and about the same calories as my lunch should be. So do I skip lunch and just eat cake for those 500 calories? Of course not, we eat both. That leads to weight gain. For me, I try and think about my meals in advance and plan for them so that I am not AS tempted by other things throughout the day. Am I successful? Most of the time. There are definitely days where I am not as successful as I should be!

I do try to use some kind of incentive for myself, even if I’m not naming it. It might be something small, like: “I will skip this candy at work because I’m going out to dinner tonight and want to be able to splurge a little.” That’s an incentive, whether I recognize it or not. You can also use an incentive like: “I want to reach my weight loss goal for this month so I will do my best to resist the temptations to binge.” Thinking of a long term AND a short term goal work much better for me. What about you?

So what kind of incentives work with kids? I’ve written before about how you can’t reward YOURSELF, Rewarding Yourself,  for weight loss with food. It sabotages your efforts. So rewarding yourself with a bunch of cookies after you reach your weekly goal at Weight Watchers just isn’t smart. I think the same thing goes for kids. Rewarding kids for eating healthy foods with treats later, kind of defeats the whole purpose.

I think incentives that would work with kids and still keep with the positive message, is to use ACTIVITIES as rewards and incentives. Perhaps an outing or going to a park, or getting to go to a toy store and pick something. This probably works for really young kids. I imagine it would be harder with teenagers. I found this article, which was really interesting and had a few good tips: 10 Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthier. Some other articles I found on the topic encouraged parents to have their kids help them cook the meals. I LOVE this idea. I think it would be beneficial in so many ways. Not only does it get kids involved in making choices, they can take pride in what they created and perhaps they would be more apt to eat it?

Since I don’t have kids, I am just musing here. I would love to hear from other parents who have struggled with this issue, or are using other methods of encouraging their kids to eat healthy. Please share! And check out this post for ideas on how to get kids more active: Should You Lose Weight With Your Kids? And this post about sugar in kid’s foods: 2 Pounds of Sugar?

How to Eat on the Go

How do you eat on the go?

Our lives are so busy. I don’t know about you guys, but my days are busier than ever. I tend to over-schedule myself, too. I make plans weeks in advance, I work out 5 days a week, and I try to find down time for myself here and there. When things get really crazy busy, it’s hard to spend a ton of time on cooking complicated meals–or even healthy meals some days!

Recently I had to take Michael to urgent care. He was really sick (he’s okay now) and I knew there was a possibility that we’d be in the waiting room for several hours. It was right after work, I’d been hungry for several hours and dinner was going to be late. I grabbed a few things to take along just in case. I took some beef jerky, a string cheese and half a bottle of orange juice. Thankfully our visit was very short but the snacks helped curb the hunger I was feeling in a stressful situation.

So what kind of things are good “grab and go” meals and snacks? These are just a few that come to my mind. I’d love it if you guys would share your ideas, too!

Breakfast burritos. These are fast to make and you can throw anything you want in them. Scrambled eggs with spinach, black beans and corn, or sausage and eggs. Then wrap it in foil to keep it warm and mess-free while you eat it.

Breakfast quesadillas are the same concept as the burritos, maybe a little messier to eat on the go.

String cheese is a favorite of mine. We buy them at Costco so we always have them on hand and they’re only 80 calories. If that doesn’t satisfy my hunger, I can add some nuts to it.

Cottage cheese is a another favorite of mine because it’s so healthy, packed with protein, fills me up and is usually low in calories. I often measure out a serving in a small tupperware container and store them in the fridge for lunches and snacks. It’s quick and easy. There are also small packages at the store that are a serving size.

Greek yogurt is also a good one. Like the cottage cheese, I measure it out in small containers to make it simple on myself. I’ve been buying the plain Greek yogurt at Costco because it’s a better deal than the regular grocery store. I’ll add some honey or agave syrup or fresh fruit to it.

Carrots and hummus are another snack you can assemble ahead of time. Maybe on a weekend? Cut up a bunch of carrots, put them in ziplocks and get the single serving hummus to go.

Cut up some fresh fruit and store it for fast snacks. I eat an apple almost every day and I cut it up into slices because it’s easier to eat and it takes longer to eat! In the summer time I get fresh fruit and eat tons of that, or I’ll get watermelon and cut it up into easy serving sizes.

Protein shakes are also great for “grab and go.” You can throw together whatever you have on hand and get great benefits from the smoothie! Need some recipe ideas? Check out this site and this site. Chocolate milk is also an option if you don’t have time to make a shake.

I’ve been wanting to make these mini quiches forever now. I just need to do it! They look so good! It’s something that could be made on the weekend and would be a great breakfast for the week.

Protein bars are good in a pinch. Be careful though, some of them are really high in calories and sugar. I like the Luna bars, they are usually the only brand I buy. They run between 160-180 calories per bar and they taste great!

Laughing cow cheese with some crackers are great because it’s portion controlled, easy to bring along as a snack in the car and taste great.  In the same realm, a serving size package of tuna and crackers are good, too.

Making it Work

Most of these ideas take just a few minutes to prepare and assemble and then you’re set (and don’t forget your crockpot!). Having things like this on hand in the fridge make it so much simpler to eat something healthy instead of falling into the fast food trap. If you do have to go to a fast food place, try getting a salad or their soup.

Something else I do is: I make ziplock bags with measured out serving sizes of trail mix, nuts, dried fruit and keep it stocked for easy snacking. Then I can just snag a ziplock on the way out the door. This trick also keeps me from eating more than one serving!

Just remember: protein and fiber fills you up more than carbs. It’s also a good idea to avoid things with a lot of sugar in it because if you’re like me, you’ll just crash from it!

QUESTION: So what are your “eat and go” ideas?