Jan. 29, 2016 – Vol. 2 | No. 3 – So This Happened: Healthy Mentorship

I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me … (and I’m probably right)

by Michelle Lindstrom


Being an example to your kids or little ones that are around you enough as an aunt/uncle, through work, as a coach etc., is a mentorship opportunity that many people don’t necessarily ask for.

You either walk your talk or you don’t. But either way, those kids are watching and taking mental notes.

It’s a tough time to be a parent with highly supported articles like the one on Jan. 7, 2016 in Maclean’s magazine “The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up.” It notes that today’s parents do not hold alpha status in their family. I won’t deny that hasn’t happened to the best of us. We have weak moments. It’s really hard to hear “I hate you,” from your own child; sometimes we just want to eat cereal and popcorn for supper, too; and many times, our parental strategy is simply to do the opposite of whatever our parents did while raising us. Our compass is a bit misguided.

To be honest though, it’s impossible for anyone to be a perfect mentor no matter if you’re a parent, relative, teacher or fill another role in a child’s life. The point is that even as an adult you’re still human. You’re allowed to have flaws and make mistakes right in front of those watchful eyes. The important steps come in the preparation of inevitable mini-failures by being realistic and honest with yourself and the kids in your life. And then it also matters how you recover from those failures. How do you pick yourself up again?

Do you pick yourself up again?

As a mother whose intentional work-out routine fluctuates often, I live in a world of guilt. There are times I choose to focus on me by missing my daughters’ swimming lessons and let my husband take care of them solo so I can go to a yoga class or go running. My excitement for this varies though because on one hand, it feels great knowing I deserve and need that time and I’m lucky to be able to carve it out of my life schedule but on the other hand, if one of my daughters hints she feels some Mom neglect, I tend to cancel near-future fitness plans that conflict with their events.

There is more guilt, which seems to be a common feeling I carry in my method of parenting (Yes Maclean’s, you know me so well), in dragging my daughters with us for short, family-fun charity races to either participate in or cheer me or my husband on. Sometimes, we need to literally drag them to these events. They complain about the weather, what snacks we’ve packed or how early in the day it is … . And then for longer races that I’ve run in, the stress of getting the girls out the door and me to the start line on time makes me wonder if it’s worth “dragging” them out to these things just to witness it all. Do they really want to cheer their Mom on? Are they benefiting from these experiences?

Parental guilt is common in the social circles of other moms and dads I know. My husband admits he’s better at shaking it off, shutting the front door and not hearing the haunting echoes follow him to the gym or his hockey game. I do hear the echoes, yet I force myself to ignore most of them because I know they do it just to see what I’ll do. (I promise that I leave them with competent family members whom they love.) I also know that it doesn’t necessarily make me a better mom to watch every single swim lesson, soccer practice, piano lesson and so on, especially if it means I am unable to fit in any real “me” time with some sweat therapy. I compromise in my choices and definitely on days I can fit both in, believe me, I do. I’m not suggesting scrap attending all kid stuff.

My friends and I recently agreed that with all the mayhem, complaints and occasional double-bookings of kids’ and Mom’s “stuff” – we’re okay with it. It’s worth it. Having our kids see us choose to improve our health, stay active and be proud of our inner and outer strength … well it has to be worth it, right?

One day, I hope my kids will be proud of their mom and want to follow in my footsteps of staying healthy, still with a few too many chocolate almond set-backs, and aim for their personal bests. Sometimes they’ll fail, but I hope they won’t give up because they’ve watched me, my husband and friends dust ourselves off in different ways and try again when we’re ready.

I also hope my daughters will learn to be proud of their strong, healthy bodies. Be amazed at what it can do for them first, and the looks part will be secondary. I understand body image and looks will play a big role in their future lives, I unfortunately cannot wash away self-criticism completely. That’s another topic, although strongly related.

For this post, I wanted to acknowledge that it’s the end of January: the time of year when most New Year’s resolutions have gone sideways, many of them health and fitness related.

I asked Dr. Steven Sayers, who helped out with the “Healthy You” section in December 2015, a few questions about how to set families up for success when body image and healthy choices come into play. Here is what he had to say.

Q. It’s January and many parents are trying to lose weight as a goal for their New Year’s resolutions. How much information do we tell our kids about these weight goals?

A. My issue with weight is there’s a lot in the media imagery about the ideal body size. I don’t think parents should over emphasize weight. I think you have to look at healthy eating rather than, “Oh My God, I need to lose five-pounds, or whatever.” As a doctor, I don’t generally give weight targets, or say “Yes, you’re six-foot-four-inches, you should be this weight.” The biggest risk factor with things like heart disease is the body mass index – height to weight ratio – because it isn’t very accurate for men because of their muscle mass. It’s a very loose guide that we use, but it’s not very accurate. So to give people weight targets is not very helpful because you set them up for failure.

What we generally do is aim for a waist line – your true waistline around the belly button – and we aim for a 38-inch waist as a first target. Which is a pretty good target especially for both overweight men and women because then you’re looking at diets [not the latest fad diets but doctor-directed diets] that reduce belly fat and you’re not just basing it on total weight.

Q. Should you express to your children how you personally went off track with your plans of healthy eating?

A. I think you have to be honest. If I ask someone to keep a food diary, they’ll generally come back and it will be wrong. It’s not all conscious. They’ll either not have everything they’ve eaten written down or won’t have the right quantity. They generally underplay what they put into their bodies and that’s not all a conscious ploy to fool us, it’s a subconscious thing because we’re very emotionally linked to food. If you’re having a rough time and you’ve gone off the rails and just binged on a huge Booster Juice and six Big Macs, you won’t tell anybody about that – your kids or even yourself. A lot of people will hide the wrappers or put it all in the garbage. I think you have to be honest and tell your kids. As humans, we have our foods that we indulge in that we know that we shouldn’t. If you’re given dietary advice not to have those things, it’ll happen anyway, so you [physicians and/or parents to kids] just give advice how to do it more cleverly so you don’t suffer from a weight point of view as much.

Q. When do you start having conversations about healthy eating with kids?

A. From school age. Basically you have to have the healthy chat from as early as you can. They’ll learn it in school, but you want to try and avoid bad habits. In North America, the biggest bad habit is sugary drinks and junk food and we need to get away from rewarding kids with McDonald’s.

Q. If a child is overweight, how can a parent help the child get back on track and change the habits as it’s probably the parents’ doing of over-feeding, rewarding with McDonald’s or just allowing frequent bad food choices.

A. The best solution is looking at it as a family problem because it’s not just a child’s issue. The kids are copying what their parents are demonstrating or teaching them, so from very early on they get into bad habits. Generally, if they have a chubby young child, then the parents are generally overweight.

It would be good to do a cooking class as a family. That way you’re not putting all the onus on the parents as they may not know any way to change what they’re doing. It’s good to give everyone advice on what they should eat and shouldn’t but unless you give them ways of implementing that then the advice doesn’t help much. That’s where I think cooking classes are the best way to do that for a family and then it becomes a treat as the family is going to do this together. But obviously, that’s for people who can afford cooking classes.

It’s not just about, “You shouldn’t eat this or that,” because most people don’t pay any attention to that. It’s about finding out how people live and what they’re doing. You need to change the behaviours rather than just lecturing to people what is right and what is wrong. You just set people up for failure if you say you should be eating this and shouldn’t be eating that and then they go eat the “wrong” things, feel like a failure and never come back to see you [i.e. the medical professional, trainer, dietitian etc.]. You have to look at it as a behavioural thing, rather than strict guidelines. Dietitians are there to give advice.

Q. What are your thoughts about New Year’s resolutions?

A. I don’t agree with New Year’s resolutions. It’s a bad time of year to do it. We’re all socializing, over-eating, over-drinking. I’m not saying people shouldn’t do it – if they want to make a target and make positive changes, they should be encouraged to do that any time. The big problem with New Year’s resolutions is they generally get broken, which isn’t good for morale.

If you like setting New Year’s resolutions and for example you’re 265-pounds, don’t say “Okay by March, I have to get down to 200-pounds,” because that is likely to fail. Just set smaller goals like, ”By March, I’ll be off my addiction of pop or off my Big Macs once a week.” And instead, get it down to once a month. Make achievable goals.

If you make a resolution, make it specific, make it very achievable. Don’t turn a desire into a goal.

Q. Do you have tips to encourage a healthy body image for the children in our lives?

A. I think the parents play a big part in it. With things like Botox and constantly trying to perfect ourselves, kids see this. You’ve got to teach kids to be happy in what they’re doing rather than how they’re looking.

There are different versions of body image issues – acne, overweight or if you think you’re overweight like anorexia. It means different things for different people. So body image is a tough topic to address.

Q. Any other thoughts on creating healthier lifestyles in this new year?

A. For the last several years, the food industry have been big on trying to sell us wheat and fruit and vegetables and all that sort of thing, which is fine, but then they’re saying fat is bad. The food industry is quite clever and governments have never been able to label sugar on food labels for it to be easy for consumers to understand.

If you buy something that’s low-fat, it has generally been replaced with lots of sugar. It’s actually sugar and carbohydrates that are damaging us as a human race rather than excess fat.

Carbs and sugar excess are causing heart disease, obesity and diabetes because they’re making us all insulin resistant. We need to change our thinking to not to see fat as a bad thing because in a balanced diet, it is a good thing. We should be wary of low-fat products on the shelves [because of what is replacing the fat]. See a dietician if you’re not sure how to read labels and they’ll give you some good tips.

Dr. Steven Sayers is a general practitioner who moved from Scotland to Edmonton, Alberta close to two years ago. He’s a private contractor but most of his work is done for Alberta Health Services in a clinic run by a colleague.

His training includes many different hospital specialties before becoming a GP, including psychiatry, pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology and more. His current and main interest is based around mental health and he does some hypnosis.


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