How My Childhood Shaped My Outlook on Health

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I grew up in an active family whose lives somewhat revolved around sports. My dad was a sportscaster for 35+ years, my brother played soccer & baseball competitively year-round, and I played multiple sports myself, soccer being my main sport until middle school when I became a cheerleader. Most importantly, my mom was the best, most supportive soccer mom around. We were constantly going to and from games, practices, tournaments; you name it. Sometimes that meant that we drove through McDonald’s for dinner or ate quick and not-so-healthy meals at home, like Totino’s pizza or mac & cheese, but it didn’t cause us to gain weight back then. We were kids, we were growing, and we were constantly moving and burning calories. What we ate didn’t make a huge difference at the time. Not to mention, my brother and I were a couple of the pickiest kids around. I would hardly look at most vegetables, and I vividly remember crying at the dinner table while my parents tried to force feed me green beans. Who would’ve guessed that I’d eventually become a dietitian who practically lives on veggies!?
 
I will admit; I have never really struggled with my weight, but that is not to say that I haven’t had my fair share of body image issues. I’m still a girl who went through puberty and watched her body change and struggled with those changes. I don’t think you have to be overweight to feel uncomfortable in your skin, and it’s not fair to say that people who are “thin” or “fit” don’t have a right to feel insecure sometimes. We are all human.  
 
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For the most part, however, I grew up with a lot of self-confidence, and I give my parents all the credit for that. My mom has always been amazing at encouraging me and letting me know that I’m beautiful, strong, smart — no matter what. I never questioned my worth or my appearance over the years, because she did such a great job of lifting me up and inserting those positive thoughts into my mind, especially when I said not-so-nice things about my body or appearance.
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I truly can’t imagine what it will be like to raise children in today’s world. Ethan and I have only been married for almost seven months now, and we don’t have intentions of having kids anytime soon, but the thought of it scares me sometimes because of the pressures of today. I definitely want them eventually (preferably one boy and one girl 😉 ), but we want to enjoy each other and travel and be selfish for a few more years at least. 
 
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I know I’m still only 25-years-young, but times have changed SO much since I was a kid. Sure, we had PlayStation and TV shows we enjoyed, but more than anything, we spent our time outside playing sports or hide-and-go-seek with the neighbor kids. We didn’t have the pressures of social media telling us we needed to look a certain way, wear these clothes, or eat these foods to be “thin” and beautiful and accepted. I was completely unaware of calories or “bad” foods when I was young, and for that I am so thankful. Even though my mom dieted on and off while I was a kid, it was never something that I noticed or caught onto myself. She never called herself fat in front of me (because she’s most definitely not), or said any negative body-related comments that would then cause me to feel self-conscious about my shape. In case you were wondering, my mom and I are basically identical, both looks and personality-wise. 
 
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As I look back and reflect on my childhood, I was carefree. I ate what I wanted, and I stopped when I was full. I exercised and moved often because it was fun, and a normal part of my family’s life. I had a lot of friends and I enjoyed spending time with them. People didn’t compare themselves to each other so much back then; we just loved each other for who we were, regardless of our status or possessions.
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Once I became a teenager and my body started changing, I did have those typical feelings of self-doubt and insecurity. I remember when we would go on trips for my brother’s soccer tournaments, I would often feel “nauseous” whenever we went out to eat in big groups, and that would mean that I ate very little, if anything. I have always had a weak stomach, but looking back I wonder if this was actually because I felt uncomfortable or anxious eating in front of other people. It’s been too long to know, but I have a feeling that was the case.
 
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It has been a long journey to reach the point I am at now in my relationship with food and myself. I don’t want to repeat myself too much, so if you’re new to WFTW, click here to read my article about Why I Stopped Counting Calories. I am still on this new-ish journey of eating more intuitively and honoring the way my body looks and feels, and it is so refreshing. Don’t get me wrong; I still have days where I don’t love what I see in the mirror, or I feel “guilty” for eating something — even though I shouldn’t — but for the most part, I exercise daily because I love it, I eat what makes me feel good, but I also allow myself plenty of rest days and ice cream dates with my husband, because that’s an important part of life too. 
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I think being with Ethan over the past 5 years has really helped me chill out with my eating habits, and give myself a lot more grace with the way my body looks. Like a lot of guys, he eats what he wants, when he wants, and feels no guilt. That has finally rubbed off on me, and has helped me achieve that perfect balance I have always wanted. Obviously I still eat healthy the majority of the time, but I love experiencing new foods with him, whether they are healthy or not, because it makes our relationship even more fun. Food is social. It’s not always about whether it’s good vs. bad for you. We have to allow ourselves some wiggle room to fully enjoy everything the world has to offer.  
 
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I recognize that the journey to food freedom and self-acceptance looks incredibly different from one person to the next. Sometimes it takes failing a diet a few times before you decide that you owe yourself more. It’s kinda like telling a good friend that her boyfriend sucks. As an RD, it’s hard to tell people, “You shouldn’t follow that new fad diet, and this is why”. People usually want to figure those things out themselves, and that’s okay. Intuitive eating and simply following a “healthy, balanced diet”, cooking at home more often, drinking more water, moving more every day — these things may not seem as sexy or cool as the Keto diet or intermittent fasting, but if you stick to them, I can almost guarantee you will see the results you are looking for, and you’ll feel a lot less tied down due to food rules & restrictions. 
 
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You’re probably thinking I’ve done a lot of rambling at this point, but I promise I’m going somewhere with all of this. I recently teamed up with my friend Amy of Beautifully Broken Journey to write a blog post about how to raise healthy kids in today’s world. 
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Amy has struggled with poor body image for most of her life, suffered from binge eating disorder for years, and started going to Weight Watchers when she was just a young girl who hated her body. Years of yo-yo dieting had ruined her relationship with food and with herself, but she has finally achieved a healthy outlook on food and life, and follows more of an intuitive eating pattern while still representing Weight Watchers. She now has two young boys, and is extremely passionate about instilling healthy habits in them and helping other parents do the same with their children, so the next generation doesn’t have to go through the vicious cycle of dieting and disordered eating like she did. 
 
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Weight Watchers recently announced that they are offering free memberships to teens as of this year, and a lot of people, especially Registered Dietitians and intuitive eating advocates, were extremely upset about this, and I can definitely understand why. Adolescents and teens’ bodies are still growing and going through a lot of changes, and it is unfair to make them feel that they need to start dieting and/or tracking their food intake during that time, as we know this can lead to disordered eating behaviors and long-term body image issues. However, after speaking in-depth with Amy on this, I understand that WW has a much healthier system in place than they used to, and they are using more of an “intuitive eating” approach and simply encouraging people to eat more healthy, whole foods. In addition, the group meetings can be extremely beneficial for people who truly need that accountability piece in order to stick to their goals. 
 
With that being said, there is a fine line between focusing on health, and becoming obsessed with numbers, macros, calories, SmartPoints, or whatever it may be. Based on our many conversations, I would say Amy is doing it right. She tries to eat healthy most of the time and move her body in ways that she enjoys, but she’s also not afraid to let loose and bake cookies with her sons and fully enjoy a few for herself, too. It’s so important to show children that food is just that. Food. It can be a fun and enjoyable part of our lives, but it doesn’t have to control our lives. 
 
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While I do not exactly endorse teens starting this program, I am most definitely not going to judge or speak negatively about anyone who does choose to follow Weight Watchers. That won’t make things any better, and I’m fairly certain the program is not going anywhere anytime soon. Instead, let’s try to meet people where they’re at, and help them in any way that we can. 
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Like I said, everyone’s journey looks different, and we have to respect the path they choose in order to achieve better health. If someone is finally vowing to pay more attention to their health after years of ignoring it and put better foods in their body, I am all for it. However, I would highly recommend that anyone who needs help with their health journey visit with a Registered Dietitian for guidance, no matter what program you choose to do. These days, most of us (dietitians) will encourage you not to diet or track calories, but instead, to adopt healthy lifestyle habits that you can maintain for years to come. Let’s try to shift the focus to health and quality of life, rather than the numbers on the scale. It has taken me many years to reach the healthy mindset I have today, so please be patient with yourself, and know that you don’t have to do it alone. There are so many RDs who would be more than happy to help you, one baby step at a time. Head here to find one near you. 
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Small changes eventually lead to big results. 
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I am incredibly thankful that I grew up in a household that allowed me to see the value in being active, and that taught me to love myself, no matter what. Both of those things were so much more important than making sure I was eating vegetables at every meal as a kid. I had a healthy relationship with food, and I appreciated my body for allowing me to play soccer and do other things I loved. The rest eventually falls into place. Like I said, I basically live on vegetables now, so if your kiddo is resisting these foods, be patient, and try, try again. There is hope for all of us. ; ) 
Please head to Amy’s blog to read the article we worked on together, “Healthy Habits For Healthy Kids“. Amy talks about her personal struggle with dieting and body image, and she sought out my help on how to instill healthy habits in her own children. I answered her questions on how to raise healthy kids today, despite all the diet culture and social media pressure out there, based on everything I have learned and read over the years as a Dietitian. I hope it is helpful for those of you with kids, or those who are thinking about having kids in the future!
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Here’s a sneak peek of the Q&A section that I contributed to: 

Q. WHAT ARE SOME HEALTHY HABITS THAT ENCOURAGE KIDS TOWARDS HEALTHY LIVING IN A NATURAL & AUTHENTIC WAY?

My responses:

  • Encourage your kids to be active every day, as this can help with both their physical and mental health, and they will be more likely to continue this habit into adulthood. Try to take advantage of good weather as a family.
  • Limit use of electronics so they are spending less time viewing pictures or messages that may create stress or negative body image, and more time with family and/or friends who make them feel good about themselves.
  • Eating as a family has been shown to improve nutrition and healthy eating behaviors. Make family dinners a priority whenever you can.
  • Eat the rainbow! Try to encourage them to include a variety of colorful foods (fruits & veggies) throughout their day.
  • Get them in the habit of having a water bottle with them, so they are more likely to choose water over other sugary beverages.
  • Encourage your kids to do things that truly make THEM feel happy and fulfilled (i.e.: encourage your son to play baseball if he really loves it, not just because Mom or Dad want him to and he feels pressured and is actually stressed out by it) 
  • Promote body kindness as much as possible. If you hear your daughter or son say something negative about their bodies, address it – do NOT ignore it. Tell them that they are beautiful and strong just the way they are, and that their weight does not define their worth. Have conversations around this as much as you need to.
  • Encourage them to be social and hang out with friends who have similar values and make your kids feel good while they are together. Socializing rather than being isolated is important in adolescence for mental health.

Your health is about so much more than what you eat, how much you weigh, or the size of your jeans. It’s about surrounding yourself with people who support your goals and let you know that you are enough, just as you are, and those same people will help you better yourself in positive, not harmful, ways. 

I would love to hear your feedback around this topic! How has your upbringing impacted the way you view health or your body image today? Please drop a comment below, DM me on Instagram or email me wellnessforthewin@gmail.com if you ever have questions or comments. 
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Thank you so much for reading,
 
Shanna 

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