Parenting Dilemma: Kids and Weight

from Mark’s Daily Apple by Mark Sisson

boybroccoli Parenting Dilemma: Kids and Weight

Some of us have kids who seem to naturally flock to sports and physical activity. And while they might not resist every food temptation typical for their age group, they somehow pull together a pretty solid diet. Still others of us have children who aren’t necessarily the best eaters or exercisers but who seem (for now) more or less immune to the weight gain that might inspire better habits. Finally, some of us parent kids who truly struggle with weight. And even while poor food choices and low activity levels clearly contribute to most children’s problems, occasionally there are kids who, despite good habits, continue the battle into adulthood.

For our part, as parents, we see both sides. We worry for our kids’ health. We hope for their social acceptance even as we encourage them not to depend on it. We want them to take good care of their bodies, enjoy the physical energy and potential of youth. We want them to be and feel their best. Meanwhile, we want them to know they’re amazing, beautiful and beloved just the way they are. We know what we want to do, how we want them to feel, but then there’s the sticky reality of it. What’s the right message exactly? How do we figure the perfect balance in communicating and cultivating all our good intentions for our kids’ health?

A New York Times article, “Parenting and Food: Eat Your Peas. Or Don’t. Whatever.”, picks up this dicey parenting issue. It’s a discussion of the blurry lines between how to foster healthy habits without inhibiting a healthy self-concept. As any parent (or person who has any recollection of the awkward adolescent years) knows, taking on this issue can involve navigating an emotional mine field. One wrong move, and you face an explosion of tempers, guilt, and other psychological shrapnel. The long-term stakes, we learn, are high. Research has shown that fathers’ communication about and even “attention to” their daughters’ weight can raise their “risk of eating disorders.” Children of parents who promoted dieting “were significantly more likely to remain overweight than those whose parents didn’t.”

Frank Bruni, the author of both the Times article and recent memoir Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater, illustrates the precarious landscape with stories of hesitant parents attempting their best acrobatic acts. He gives us stories of parents who’ve diligently striven for “balanced meals and restrained portions.” On the other hand, Bruni gives us another angle of parental concern, a resistance to what some parents see as a tendency toward broader deprivation – a missing the forest through the trees if you will. As one mother put it, she wants to instill healthy habits but not deny her daughter the basic “psychological pleasures that come from sitting at a table and enjoying a meal.”

Bruni’s article ends by rounding up several points of expert consensus. Most are basic and commonsensical. First, of course, he says parents should model healthy eating and exercise habits. It’s the old “Do what I do, not what I say” principle. Other effectual strategies include stocking the house with healthy options and planning dinners with homemade fare. Finally, he says with a personal note, it’s important to find a substitute “activity” that can provide a “similar emotional gratification” children may have previously associated with food.

I found Bruni’s article engaging, relevant and thought-provoking. It got the Worker Bees and I talking. We had a slew of questions but few clear answers. (Isn’t that always the case in parenting though?) What do kids need and want to hear? How do parents inspire the best balance between emotional self-acceptance and physical self-investment? How much should we as parents demonstrate and divulge of our own struggles exactly?

I thought I’d take up the conversation here with you all. I’ll throw out a few thoughts, and I hope you’ll add yours to the discussion.

Clean up the family diet and environment.

A physiological point first… Parents want to help their kids make good food choices and get plenty of physical activity. However, there’s another often missed piece to the puzzle. The increasing presence of toxins in our everyday environment and food supply can contribute to a myriad of health problems, including weight issues. Toxins, particularly in children, can disrupt basic hormonal balance. This disturbance can throw off the metabolic processes responsible for energy conversion and, particularly in tandem with a poor diet, boost fat storage. It’s a good excuse for explaining why a “good diet” entails more than a menu: it means fostering an educated and thoughtful mindset toward eating and health.

Be honest (first with yourself) about your relationship with food and/or your physical self-image.

Perhaps having lived a similar experience, we can identify on some level with our kids. If we were overweight once upon a time, we can understand what it’s like to struggle with weight as a child/teenager. Yet, once in a while we have to step back and ask ourselves if our level of concern has more to do with our child or our own past? In short, are we helping or projecting – or some combination of the two? Maybe we’re still struggling with weight or other body image issues. Regardless of how we approach our health and what priorities we focus on, our children are undeniable witnesses to our lives. They see our daily endeavors, and they undeniably pick up on our self-talk. What messages are we sending (consciously and unconsciously)?

If your child is old enough, have a heart-to-heart about experiences with health, body image and weight. Divulge honestly – but selectively. You can show your kids you identify without burdening them. Most importantly, talk about where you get your sense of perspective. What guides you, motivates you and grounds you day to day? What have you learned that you wish you knew earlier in your life? What do you hope they enjoy about living a healthy life and taking care of themselves?

Talk about what health really means.

It’s pretty easy for kids to grow up not really having a clear understanding of health. Hey, most adults don’t get it either. If I’m not sick, I must be healthy, right? Health as a concept can be a random swirl of disconnected images for kids: food pyramids, sweaty gyms, sports icons, a salad bar. How do they put it together? What does it mean to be healthy? To feel healthy?

In the vast array of images and messages out there, kids have to be pretty thrown by the paradoxical shape of it all. On the one hand, there’s infinite fun to be had in downing every variety of fast food, sodas, energy drinks, chips and other snack abominations (just look at the youth-centered commercials). On the other, there are tabloid articles about celebrity crash diets and stories of their three hour a day workout routines. Our culture encourages either disregarding or punishing the body – making a joke of physical health or exercising/depriving ourselves into the ground. The result? As a culture we don’t have the most comfortable relationships with our bodies. It’s little surprise that many of our kids absorb this mindset.

Parents, unfortunately, have a lot of ground to fill in. Find a chance to talk about what health means to you personally. How did you come to learn about healthy eating? Why do you make the choices you do? What gets you motivated to stay active, to keep your stress under control? When do you feel the best physically? Ask them what makes them feel healthy, strong and rejuvenated? Is there a way you can help support those experiences (e.g. emotional support or family activities)? Let it be an open and continuing conversation. Let it be a catalyst for healthy changes and experimentation. Let it be a challenge to your family to play more, cook more, do more, get out more.

Talk about what living really means.

This website is all about health, yes. Nonetheless, I put health squarely into a large picture of happiness and vitality. Too often the messages kids get come off as instructive but less than relevant and inspiring. In the midst of navigating the social scene, figuring out an identity, and finding their way through school and other responsibilities, dry details can quickly fall on deaf ears. Consider a different angle. We hear a lot of success stories from people who have overcome serious health issues, dropped weight that they’d wanted to lose for years (or decades), and/or turned around their lifestyle to gain a whole new sense of energy in their lives. A common thread in so many of their accounts is a sense of self-investment. Whether a serious medical scare that made them realize how precious (and endangered) their lives were or the culmination of a deep soul-searching, something sparked a novel sense of ownership. Their health mattered more because they’d chosen to see it and value it in a new way.

Maybe talking to kids about real health ultimately means talking about life. Owning your health necessitates – on some level – knowing and respecting yourself. It’s a self-commitment after all. The more self-confidence and self-respect we have, the more likely we are to invest in ourselves.

For kids who struggle with weight and body image, too often the goal is outside themselves, remote and elusive. How can the goal finally be authentically personal? What does it mean to dig down and learn to tune out the noise in life – the social clamor, the media messages? What’s there to listen to once you reach the other side of the commotion? How, finally, do they see themselves there? What does their vision of a healthy and happy life look like from that vantage point? Kids, like the rest of us, shape their health a step at a time. Maybe a parent’s best role is to help them start down their own path.

And now…let me know what you think. What should kids hear growing up? How can a parent walk the line to empower their kids’ overall health and well-being? How do we avoid the traps that either alienate or enable? I look forward to reading your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

The Hardest Sets of All-Time

  By Casey Barrett // Swimnetwork Columnist


All swimmers work hard. Wait… Scratch that. All swimmers think they work hard. Even the sprinters. Pain is a proud partner for all of us, at some point all of our bodies have been broken and crippled into lactic acid induced paralysis. But some are a breed apart. Aquatic masochists who can take a degree of coaching sadism that’s certainly cruel and unquestionably unusual. The sets they complete send shivers down the wet spines of lap stroking mortals. Best times might be the final word on swimming success, but there’s another standard that counts for swimmers: the sets they did to get there. They’re a shadow currency that carries serious weight among those who know how much it truly takes – and those who can take ever more. This January 4th to 17th, in Potsdam, Germany, an international crew of the some of the hardest core swimmers on earth is gathering for what’s shaping up to be the ultimate distance training camp. They plan to attack the hardest sets any coach can possibly conceive. They’re calling it Battle Training. It’s the brainchild of German National Team coach Dirk Lange and it’s an open invitation to any and all who think they can hang. Germany’s Phelps-beater Paul Biedermann will be there, along with Germany’s open water four-time world champion Thomas Lurz. Russia’s European champion, Yuri Prilukov is going, along with the top distance stars from Australia, South Africa, Canada, and elsewhere. In an email last week, Dirk Lange summed it up for me nicely: “The strongest will survive,” he wrote. “We’re offering it for everyone who is not scared of pain.” A fine taunt for all you self-respecting distance swimmers out there… It got me thinking about the all-time hardest sets I’ve ever heard of… or, in some cases, ever swam myself. Here are five workouts that the folks at Battle Training can try to live (or die) up to… if they can take the pain:

5.) 24 x 400’s, long course – by Tom Dolan. 6 of each stroke, descending each series 1 – 6. Devised by Rick Curl, it was sets like this that helped make Dolan the greatest IM’er of his generation. 6 x 400’s Fly is a back-breaking set any day. When it’s just 1/4 of the main set, you know you’re going around the bend and asking for rare and memorable pain.

4.) 80 x 200’s Free on 2:30, long course. Wearing gym shorts and tights. Ok, I’m biased, I did this one myself when I was at the Bolles School in 1993. But I’ll take the challenge with anyone who’d like to say it doesn’t belong. 16K wearing shorts (with pockets) and tights, while holding 1:10+ for over three hours. 1996 Olympic champ Trina Jackson was among the last standing; others had to be dragged from the pool barely conscious. Literally.

3.) 20 x 1500’s on 20:00, long course – by Larsen Jensen. Had he made it, this one would be number one. However, word has it that Jensen made it to #17 before missing the interval and having to stop. No shame there. It’s sets like this that made Jensen step up every time under pressure and always perform at his best when it mattered most. With this in the bank, it must have seemed easy.

2.) 4 x 5000’s on 50:00, short course – by Jeff Kostoff. The distance king of the 80’s reportedly did this one while he was at Stanford. Makes you delirious just thinking about it. 20K averaging under 1:00 each 100… Flipping at every wall for 200 consecutive laps before a few gasps of rest, then doing it again, four times. Kostoff did this 25 years ago. You can take the fast suits and the tech-assisted records, sets like this are more impressive any day.

1.) 30 x 1000’s on 10:00, short course – by Erik Vendt. The gold standard by, quite possibly, the greatest training animal in American swimming history. Vendt performed this masochist masterpiece in high school when he was with the Ocean State Squids in New England. It happened one Saturday morning when Vendt and his coach, Josh Stern, decided to show up at the pool an hour and a half before workout started for the rest of the team. When his teammates arrived, Vendt had already plowed through half of this monster. They dove in and pushed him through the back-half – another 10 miles at minute pace! Anyone who’s swum with or even crossed swimming paths with Vendt has a story to tell about his training toughness, but this set may set the standard for every age grouper who wants to know where those outer limits lay… Here’s hoping the swimmers in Potsdam push these limits further still… If you’d like to be one of them, the invitation is open…


Girls 9-10 100 Free
   1:25.23   Joanna Hirsch at Brent 19th Meet 2006
   1:24.17   Sidney Miralao at ISM Fall Meet              
Girls 13-14 100 Breast
   1:32.78   Cayi Yoon at ISM Spring Meet 2009
   1:31.85   Eve Caudill at ISM Fall Meet 2009

Girls 13-14 100 Fly
   1:36.24   Cayi Yoon at Club Twilight Meet
   1:33.31  Cayi Yoon at ISM Fall Meet 2009
Boys 13-14 100 Back
   1:13.86    Raymond Oo at ISM Spring Meet 2009
   1:10.00  Jung-Ho Kim at ISM Fall Meet 2009
Boys 13-14 200 IM
   2:35.58    Jung-Ho Kim at Club Champs – Oct 2009
   2:31.99  Jung-Ho Kim at ISM Fall Meet 2009

Girls 9-10 200 Free Relay
New Record –

2:55.68  P. Sungkboon, S. Peabody, N. Gonzales, S. Miralao

Girls 9-10 100 Medley Relay

1:30.08   S.Peabody, M.Tumiwa, S.Miralao, I.Jeffries  9/19/2009 ISM
1:29.43    N. Gonzales, P. Sungkboon, S. Miralao, S. Peabody

Sailfish News



Today we had the Sailfish parent meeting, and we discussed:

ISM Fall Swim Meet

  • Juniors are to meet at the pool at 7:10am
  • Seniors meet at the pool at 11:30am
  • The club is going to run a bake sale, please bring along something to contribute to sell. Parents are requested to help man the booth.


  • has been moved to the 5th of December,
  • Pledge forms have been sent home with the swimmers, and a copy has been e-mailed. 
  • Parents or an Adult Guardian is required at the event to count each swimmers laps. 
  • We also need parents to assist with the registration process, please email coach Andy Astfalck, if you are able to help.


  • December 1s for Elementary and Middle School Swimmers
  • Starts at 3:30 finishes at 6:00pm
  • Cost 200 Pesos each.  Club will be subsidysing event
  • Bring your swim suit and clothing for bowling.

December Club Champ Meet

  • Date has been changed to December 14th.

Questions?  E-mail Coach Andy

ISM Sailfish and Varsity Swimming