I've struggled with health for most of my life. In high school, I played sports but ate crappy food. In college, I was physically lazy but tried to maintain a healthy diet. I've never been able to quite get it right . . . that is, until I had a child of my own.
I always thought being pregnant and growing a life inside of me would be what flipped the switch to make me eat better and exercise regularly, but cravings got the best of me (I ate a whole sleeve of Oreo cookies for a snack once and mint chocolate chip ice cream for dinner another time). I also tried to work out during my pregnancy, but exhaustion set in, and I had plenty of excuses. So when did things finally change? The moment I laid eyes on my first child. And now that I have two children, my husband and I are more health-conscious than either of us has ever been before.
Health means something different to me now as a parent. It's less about how my body looks and more about how my body feels.
When our first baby was born, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. After some trial and error, we got into a groove. I went from just trying to make it through one day of nursing to doing it for a few weeks and then months. I started heavily researching the benefits of extended breastfeeding and came across baby-led weaning, which is a way to introduce solid foods without spoon or force-feeding. It also helps the baby self-regulate fullness, leading to creating healthy habits from early on.
I'll admit that I was terrified of feeding my baby the wrong things, so I began looking into healthier ways to feed myself and my family. I learned about the importance of taking processed foods out of our diet. We also both began walking daily and making it a point to be outside. We had a lot of conversations about how good we were beginning to feel and how we needed to keep it up to not only remain healthy for our baby but to teach her and any future children good habits.
But I was afraid that like all the other times I found something that worked for me, this wouldn't last. And while I can't say we haven't had dessert or eaten a bag of chips, we do remain on a healthy path. I know if I have those things in my house, I'll eat them in abundance, paying zero attention to serving size, so I just don't buy them. I fill our fruit basket regularly, we always have healthy snacks like nuts, raw vegetables, hummus, and avocados available, and we eat food that fuels our bodies.
One thing I had to really come to grips with was the fact that having a healthy body doesn't necessarily mean I have to have a supersweaty gym session. Daily walking and light stretching with small exercise movements are easy to fit into my routine and have really made a difference. And for me, being healthy doesn't mean I'm at my ideal weight (although I still strive to get there). It means I'm able to balance what I put in my body and that I take proper care of it by moving every day, however small it may seem. I don't beat myself up anymore when I don't spend an hour on the elliptical. Health means something different to me now as a parent. It's less about how my body looks and more about how my body feels.
Before, I would have only been able to preach about being healthy to my kids, but now I can actually show them and lead by example, which makes me proud. I had a lot of bad examples of watching my parents try fad diets while I was growing up, and we rarely did any type of exercise together as a family. So I'm being the change that I wanted to see back then. My family hikes, swims, bikes, and walks together, and we bond while cooking fresh and healthy meals. So, thank you, kids, for giving me the kick in the ass I needed to get (and stay) healthy.