Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series about how parents can learn some important life lessons from their kids.
Forget Jillian Michaels. Kids will teach you all you need to know about health and fitness.
I already know what you’re thinking.
Learn health tips from a tiny person who, if left to their druthers, would live on a diet of fishy crackers and fruit punch?
OK, fine. I’ll concede that kids aren’t necessarily health food connoisseurs. They want their food to taste good; they aren’t idiots. Just yesterday I was blending a bushel of kale and celery with a cucumber base and Lucy looked at me with sympathetic eyes that asked, “When did it all start going wrong for you?”
But despite the fact that my grilled cheese was once flatly rejected for being a half-shade too brown, kids do get a few things right. And the things they usually get right often inconvenience me as their mother, which is why I don’t like it very much.
Like becoming a dainty little bird at dinnertime only to become the hungriest child who ever lived mere moments before bedtime. More on that later.
I’m deeply grateful that my children are in a home where they don’t experience food scarcity, because this gives them the freedom to put their mind on other things. Like whether or not their sister is playing with their cheap gas station unicorn keychain and debating if they should go nuclear about it.
Children so often have this aloofness around food. They enjoy it, but they can also take it or leave it — a characteristic I admire except when I’ve forked over cash at a restaurant.
I’ve conditioned myself to have anxiety around food. It’s my best friend who ghosts me at the party, or returns my heartfelt and gushy text messages with “k.” I love her so, but she hurts my feelings, particularly when I struggle to zip up my boots after the holidays.
I’ve realized that for most of my teenage and adult life, I’ve either been consciously or subconsciously on a diet. The anxiety to lose weight — or properly maintain the weight once I’ve lost it — sits with me like a dear old friend who, every once in a while, leans over and whispers insults into my ear.
It’s been only recently that I’ve had a mental shift to wanting to be healthy at any size rather than wanting to be a skinny size at any cost. It took realizing how old I’ll be when my girls are my age to give me the perspective I needed. I want to make it to the finish line, and I wanna be standing upright when I get there.
When I watch my girls, it’s so refreshing to see them free from weight anxiety. There’s no counting, weighing or concerns about carbs. They enjoy their food until they aren’t hungry anymore, and then they’re done. Watching them stop eating cake halfway through so they can go play still captivates my imagination. If they can do that, anything is truly possible, my friends!
In fact, if you’ve put on an uncomfortable amount of weight and want to get your act together, just sit with a kid at dinner. Fill your plate exactly the same and mimic them. In other words, take a small bite, then accidentally fall out of your chair. Eventually, after rolling on the floor for a bit, get back in the saddle and take another bite.
Then tell an incredibly long story that no one quite understands while your food gets cold. Call someone a “goo-goo butt.” Laugh. Get up and run around the table. When your spouse tells you to get back in your seat, do so with a bad attitude. When they tell you to eat your broccoli, eat some, but chew with hostility. Announce to the family you’re stuffed. Fall out of your chair one last time for good measure.
Then, right before sliding into bed at night, ask your spouse for animal crackers. When they tell you there are no animal crackers — in fact, there never were animal crackers — whine and negotiate them down to an apple.
The pounds will melt off, and you’ll have fun while doing it!
I believe we’re naturally happier when we take great care to ensure we are mentally and physically fit. We’re more free when we’re disciplined. But we’re also miserable when discipline is masked with obsession and self-loathing. That’s a prison we don’t even realize we’re in.
Kids can push their plate of cake away because they are full of faith and joy — and know that there is no shortage of cake in the world. It’ll come around again. Surely someone else will have another birthday sometime soon.
And besides, cake isn’t the most fun thing to happen to them that day. They have delights all around them — even cheap gas station key chains.
So I guess my point is, if you want to be fit and healthy, start with making sure you have plenty of delights all around you. Things you enjoy and work that gives you a sense of satisfaction and purpose. Laugh. Call your spouse a goo-goo butt.
Then push the plate away when you’re full. Even cake. Don’t worry, it’ll come around again. After all, someone’s birthday is always right around the corner.
Anna Lind Thomas is a humor writer and mom to daughters Lucy and Poppy and English bulldog Bruno, wife to Rob Thomas and founder of HaHas for HooHas. She writes for momaha.com.