Obesity rates among adults have doubled (from 15 percent of the population to 30 percent).
Childhood obesity rates have tripled.
Maybe your family is part of this trend. Maybe it isn’t. But if your body mass index (BMI) is above average for your age, gender, and height, you could be putting your health at serious risk.
However, none of this information is new. You already know the importance of exercise and a well-balanced diet. There are even online eating guides and expert-recommended workouts all over the Web.
But even with this knowledge, many families still find it hard to control their weight. Bad habits are contagious, especially when everyone lives under the same roof.
1. Set Specific and Measurable Family Goals
One of the reasons why diets fail so often is because people don’t set specific, time-oriented goals. Ambiguous statements like, “I want to lose weight,” are very difficult to measure. How do you know when you’ve succeeded?
But when you tie that statement to a measurable goal within a specific time frame, the ultimate destination becomes much clearer.
So before you make any lifestyle changes, have every family member write down a positive, future-oriented goal that includes both a date and target weight. The more specific, the better:
I want to lose weight (achievable, but not very good)
I want to lose 10 pounds (getting warmer)
I want to lose 10 pounds in the next 3 months (a perfect goal)
This one simple change can have profound effects. Having a target in mind makes it easier to map out the steps necessary to reach that goal.
2. Dream Big but Start Small
Another reason why weight loss is so challenging is because we often take on too much at once. If you purge your entire kitchen of all sweets in one go, your family will approach the experience feeling deprived.
A better strategy is to phase out bad habits over time, and phase in positive ones slowly. For example:
For the next 30 days, every dinner will include at least one green vegetable no matter what. When you feel comfortable with this new routine, you can weave in other healthy alternatives.
Commit to one 30-minute family walk per week. And then scale up the frequency or length accordingly.
If you start too big, failure is both inevitable and demoralizing smaller goals are easier to achieve.
3. An Active Family is a Healthy Family
Instead of family time around the TV, get everyone out of the house as often as possible:
Hiking, camping, and family walks are all physically intensive activities that don’t require a lot of money.
Schedule weekly bowling nights or Saturdays at the skating rink. It’s affordable, fun, and a great bonding experience.
Considering some home improvement projects? Now’s a great time to start, especially if it’s a family activity that involves everyone.
Whatever you do, don’t present these activities as exercise. You’ll face a lot less resistance if you present them as family outings. Resistance decreases even more if you solicit recommendations from the group. You can make it a challenge: every week, the family votes on who made the best activity suggestions. According to the International Journal of Obesity, motivation is a powerful tool for goal completion.
4. Plan Your Meals in Advance
Planning all family meals in advance is the culinary equivalent of making a budget. With a clear action plan, there’s less chance of defaulting to traditional standbys (such as fast food or microwave dinners).
Not sure where to start?
A simple Google search of “healthy recipes” returns more than 600 million different results. Even the pickiest of eaters can find gold in this pool of options.
For optimal results, consider turning shopping, cooking, and eating into family activities. One of the best ways to make a kid eat broccoli is to have her chop and add the broccoli to the cooking process. The more you involve other family members, the more ownership they’ll take of the healthy food.
Family meals represent another opportunity to weave in a little friendly competition. Who was able to find the best recipe online Dad? Mom? The kids?
5. Make Healthy Eating Automatic
Snacking: we all do it. Reaching for nearby food is an automatic response that’s practically hard-coded into our DNA. But by making simple environmental improvements, you can change what you and your family members reach for.
Make “convenient” processed food less convenient by:
Phasing them out of the kitchen.
Stop buying them altogether.
Keeping them out of sight and hard to reach.
Anyone who wants an unhealthy snack badly enough will find a way to eat it. But by creating mini-hurdles, you make this bad habit less automatic.
On the flip side, you should make healthy choices more convenient by keeping fruits and veggies around the house, already cut, washed, and peeled. This way, the most nutritious options are also the easiest to get to. As a bonus, any fruits or vegetables that are about to go bad can be frozen for smoothies or soup stock.
Healthy Living Is a Lifelong Journey
Diets go in and out of fashion. But truly healthy living doesn’t come from radical, overnight changes. It’s a lifestyle that’s built on a series of mini successes.
Treat your family’s weight goals as a journey. There will be starts and stops along the way, but if you follow the steps outlined above, you and your loved ones will continue to reap the benefits from each successive improvement.
Bonnie Coberly is a Certified Health Counselor at Natural Horizons Wellness Centers. Bonnie works to educate and inspire clients to make healthy choices in order to reach their wellness goals.
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