We’re in the midst of football season, and I’ve got playbooks on my mind. A team’s playbook holds the strategies that create each week’s game plan – which can ultimately make or break an entire season.

When a team suits up and takes the field on game day, they may make it look easy. Through the sea of bright jerseys on well-toned physiques, we can’t see the individual dedication which shapes the group as a whole: two-a-day practice sessions, injured limbs, special diets, personal sacrifices and of course, committing that playbook to memory.

Staying in shape and coordinating a team demands both physical and mental work. Those demands apply as equally to ball players as they do to healthy families.

In pursuit of the title of Fit Family, parents are coaches and kids are quarterbacks. The coaches prepare the team over time, then guide from the sidelines on game day. But it’s the quarterback who has to execute plays and make decisions on the fly. Hopefully, after running plays day-in and day-out, the playbook is etched in a players mind and makes those snap decisions even easier.

What if, in the pursuit of raising a fit family, we also had a manual with a range of possible plays and tactics for any situation? In other words, wouldn’t it be great if we had a single comprehensive guide to help navigate the challenges in the food-and-fitness game?
PARENTS: Use your  purse power

As a working mother of four young children, and a board certified pediatrician, I have to admit I sometimes feel overwhelmed. Not just about juggling a career while running a household – but actually trying to consistently follow my own advice about healthy family habits!

Eating well and building activity into our daily life is not effortless. That’s just it. Like all parents, there are days when my best intentions are undermined by the reality of a busy family. At that point, I just wish someone would toss me a FitFamily playbook – a guide to getting my weekly game plan back on track.

For the past year I’ve suggested many ways to improve your family’s health. Rather than inundate all you coaches and QBs with hours of game film, here’s a highlight reel of some quick takeaway points and links to the original articles.

Most of us focus on the food our families eat to maintain a healthy weight. But don’t forget what a huge impact drinks have on our overall health. Remember, you hold the power to cut out sugary drinks which can lead to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Sugar-sweetened beverages make it easy for kids to pack on “empty” calories – high in number and low in nutrients. Remember the body’s internal appetite controls register liquids differently than they do solid food. So, by drinking calories, we don’t necessarily compensate by eating less food later on. Bottom line: Drinks make it very easy for all of us to go over daily calorie quota.

Here’s the good news: Calories in drinks are NOT hidden. They’re listed right on the Nutrition Facts label!  Pause before you drink to think about just how many calories that juice, soda or sports drink is about to contribute to your daily intake. Because calories from drinks can add up quickly, make water your go to choice and only splurge on higher calorie sips from time to time.

Instead of asking ourselves which foods we should eat to be healthy, the more important question is, “are we eating food at all?” As a population, we are over-fed and under-nourished, due in part to processed or “fake” foods. These quick, cheap and convenient impostors have edged out “real” or natural foods in our diets. Once we recognize real vs. fake foods for what they are, it’s easier to buy and prepare the genuine edibles that are less addictive and more nutritious.

Here’s a recap of basic principles from Michael Pollan, the “real food” guru and author of Food Rules:
  • Eat Food (not “edible food-like substances”)
  • Don’t Eat Anything Your Great Grandmother Wouldn’t Recognize as Food
  • Avoid Food Products Containing Ingredients That a Third-Grader Cannot Pronounce
  • Avoid Foods That Are Pretending to Be Something They’re Not (i.e. imitation butter)
  • Eat Only Foods That Will Eventually Rot (vs. shelf-stable items impervious to nature)
  • If It Came from a Plant, Eat It; If it was Made in a Plant, Don’t Eat It

Most of our time is spent in chairs. Think about how much of our work, leisure time, transportation, entertainment and meal times revolve around sitting!

Although just being sedentary doesn’t make us overweight, it does contribute to an overall energy imbalance. If we spend hours each day in passive activities, there’s simply not enough time in the day to offset our food intake and lack of physical activity. Family homes and workplaces are critical environments for fostering physical activity – or not.

You might NOT want to sit down for this: the average kid spends about 7 hours a day in front of some type of screen. Watching TV burns only about 5 calories an hour above what you might burn if you were asleep. So after 7 hours of sedentary screen time, that’s only 35 calories burned! So pretty much anything is better than staring into a screen of any type, not to mention there’s a strong correlation between screen time and weight gain over time.

The solution? Sit less and move more every day. Build movement and activity into your “day job,” whether that means work, school or maintaining a household. If we get moving during our regularly scheduled activities, we won’t bear the burden of penciling in extra

Try as they might, even head coaches can’t ultimately control the people around them. But we can all try to be a positive influence to family members during the hectic school schedule by encouraging more sleep, finding creative ways to manage stress, and planning ahead for healthier meals.

Night after night of shortened sleep creates a “sleep deficit.” When we’re not working with a full tank of zzzs, it’s harder to concentrate on school work and other activities. Add stress into the mix and look out for mood swings, overeating and eventual weight gain. Too little sleep and too much stress can be partially responsible for piling on extra pounds.

As on the playing field, change doesn’t happen overnight. Old habits are hard to break and new ones can take months to master. So don’t expect to change your sleeping, coping or eating habits overnight!  But start making small changes each day to get on the right track!

Staying in shape is a life-long balancing act. While eating and exercise are both contributors to weight control, the fact is we gain weight when we take in more calories than our body can use. With so many supersized convenience foods within our reach, many who struggle with overeating simply can’t do enough physical activity to “exercise off” all the extra calories they take in during a 24-hour period.

Remember the game plan for enjoying the food we need without going overboard?
Eat mindfully, read labels, control portions, cook at home and make healthy substitutions on restaurant menu items.

Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight. For most adults, mastering a new habit may feel like we’re stuck in a Groundhog Day experience of two-a-day practices in the heat of summer.

I challenge you to learn the FitFamily Playbook inside and out and become your own best trainer and coach. Be patient and realistic as you choose just one of the above plays to work on first. Post a note in a place you visit at least a couple of times a day (your car dash or bathroom mirror work great) and concentrate on that one challenge for one month. Chart your success and establish a threshold for a non-food reward once you’ve achieved your goal. Let others know what you’re up to so you are accountable.

Rely on your internal playbook of health-smarts when the going gets tough and realize that on your road to the FitFamily Title, you’ll need to remain at the ready for trick plays from the food industry, advertisers and social situations.

I have worked with many teens who overeat. Some are bored, others are depressed , others are simply not being mindful about what they eat. 

If you have a problem with overeating, here’s the first question to ask yourself: Is this something that happens occasionally or every day?

Sugary drinks add calories you don’t need.

Don’t believe the commercials: Energy drinks aren’t helping you win or perform any better.
Fruit and energy drinks have as much sugar and calories as a regular soda.

Wise up: Replace soda/pop and sports/energy drinks with water or low-fat milk.
Take the Pledge: Rethink Your Drink at http://www.rethinkyourdrinknow.com/Pledge

Fake food pretends to be something it’s not by using chemicals and flavor additives.

The more fake food you eat, the more you’ll crave the super-intense flavor combinations only a machine can create.
If you can’t pronounce the ingredients on the package, don’t eat it.

Look out for, and avoid: partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, acesulfame-K, aspartame.  
You have the right to choose: Choose to drive past that drive-thru; choose to get involved in making meals at home; choose to read food labels and be educated about how you fuel your body.

Improve your quality of life with a more active lifestyle.
Find a sport or activity you love and stick with it.

Endorphins from a good workout boost your mood and calm your mind.
Schedule active time like you would group study or movies with friends.

THE BIG ONE: Find the will power to turn off your screens and get moving!

Establish whether you’re actually hungry before you eat. Not just bored, tired or upset.
Choose proper portion sizes. Use your body as a guide:

2 fists – A serving of vegetables (leafy greens, cooked or raw veggies)

Your palm – Protein serving size (meat, fish, chicken, tofu, beans)

1 fist – Starch serving (whole grain rice, potato, peas, corn, oats)

Your thumb – Serving of fat (clear monounsaturated oils, butter, avocado, nuts, nut butters)

Eat food from a plate or bowl, never straight from the bag.

Don’t eat in front of the TV, computer or other screen.

Sit down to eat your meals and don’t multitask at mealtime.


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