Kids learn by example. That makes adopting good fitness and nutrition habits for yourself even more important. “Even though my daughter is the one with diabetes, the whole family changed the minute she was diagnosed,” says Christina, mom of an 8-year-old with type 1. “We’re all healthier now. I want to be a good role model for her, so she doesn’t feel like she’s in this alone. Otherwise, I’d feel like a hypocrite!”
Of course, appearing as the perfect picture of health around your kids is often easier said than done. Here are three common challenges parents face, along with solutions that will help the whole family maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Challenge: I want my kids to love veggies — but I’d rather eat comfort food.
Solution: Make veggies fun — or hide them! You know that diet is an integral part of diabetes management. When a child is diagnosed with type 1, it’s an ideal time for the whole family to embrace healthier eating habits, says Jennifer Miller, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist at La Rabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. It’s important to eat a variety of foods every day and get a good balance of whole grains, lean proteins, and fresh fruits and veggies.
Vegetables in particular are packed with fiber, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals — but how do you get the little ones to devour broccoli when you’re not a fan yourself? Try incorporating “hidden” veggies into favorite recipes, such as adding a super-fine dice of peppers to turkey meatballs, pureeing spinach into fruit smoothies, stirring pureed chickpeas into mac and cheese, throwing some mixed frozen veggies into omelettes or quesadillas, or making zucchini bread or carrot cake for dessert.
You can also make eating veggies more fun by serving grilled corn on the cob, vegetable kabobs, veggie pizza, or celery sticks filled with peanut butter. Sprinkling a little low-fat cheese on broccoli and cauliflower or dipping raw veggies into a light ranch dressing dip are also great ways to liven up the taste.
Challenge: I always tell my kids to go play outside, but I’m so tired after work all I want to do is hang out on the couch.
Solution: Sneak in little bits of exercise! “Do as I say, not as I do” isn’t exactly an effective parenting strategy, especially when it comes to exercise. Physical activity benefits everyone, but in children with type 1 diabetes, it may also help stabilize blood sugar. It can help the whole family maintain healthy body weight, lower blood pressure, improve muscle tone, and boost confidence and self-esteem. That’s why it’s so important for parents to join in — even when you don’t feel like it!
If you’re exhausted by the end of the day (and who isn’t?), Los Angeles personal trainer Shemar Jackson suggests sneaking in fitness when and where you can. Park far away from store entrances or take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator. Take the kids to play in the park and throw around a Frisbee. Tack on an extra 15 minutes to the dog’s walk. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend 60 minutes of aerobic activity daily for children and 30 minutes daily for adults — but that doesn’t have to be all at once. Try exercising in short spurts. “Do jumping jacks or crunches as a family during television commercials,” Jackson recommends. “Small bits of exercise add up!”
Research and experience have shown that exercise boosts energy rather than lowering it. So once you rally (even if that means doing leg lifts on the couch you’re having a hard time pulling yourself off of), you may find it gets easier to keep going.
Challenge: I tend to get on a health kick around New Year’s, then eventually slack off.
Solution: Set tiny goals! Many people overindulge at the holidays, make a New Year’s resolution to get back on track, then fall off the wagon again a few weeks later. This pattern can even play out in how tightly families adhere to type 1 diabetes management. But for both parents and children, staying healthy takes diligence, commitment and perseverance. “It’s better to be consistent year-round, since consistent effort yields consistent results,” says Jackson. “This is a marathon — not a sprint!”
Remember: A healthy lifestyle is not a crash diet or 30-day workout plan — it’s a lasting change of everyday habits, says Jackson. Instead of making grand plans this time of year, set small goals that are actually attainable. The ultimate goal is to make changes you and your family can live with (and enjoy) for the rest of your life.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.