“Raising a Healthy Family in a Health-Obsessed World,” Ensign, September 2020
It can be difficult to know how to be healthy. While the Word of Wisdom offers us general guidelines on what to eat, social pressures can make us wonder if our food should be organic, non-GMO, low-carb, paleo, keto, alkaline, sugar-free, vegetarian, vegan, locally sourced, hormone-free, cage-free, farm-raised—or all of them. We honor God as we care for the gift of our bodies (see 1 Corinthians 6:19–20). But it can be difficult to know how to do so in the commotion of a health-obsessed world.
As a registered dietitian, I am fully aware that the amount of nutrition information available for families can be overwhelming, and often the pressure to learn it all gets laid on the shoulders of mothers—as does the pressure to serve colorful, flavorful, picture-perfect meals so that everyone in the house eats all their vegetables. While this responsibility to provide healthy meals has traditionally fallen on the mothers,1 research shows that fathers also play an important role in children’s health.2 As stated in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” when it comes to matters of spiritual and temporal welfare, “fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”3 It is important that parents support one another when it comes to healthy family behaviors. Parents need to set goals together for family health.
The way to establish health is to slow down and focus on sustainable behaviors. In other words, we should make small changes that can last over time. Society may invite you to get caught up in the latest diet fad, pill supplement, or workout regimen. But health does not happen in a meal, a run, or a swim—just as a testimony is not established in reading the scriptures once, partaking of the sacrament once, or going to the temple once. We are encouraged to read and pray daily, attend church weekly, and honor our covenants through frequent temple attendance. The principle of steadfastness and habits should be applied to our health as well.
Here are some tips for establishing healthy habits in our homes:
Focus on health, not weight. Though society places great importance on being thin, thin is not synonymous with health. Help your children to recognize that health is not a number on a scale but a sum of our behaviors and a celebration of what our bodies can do.
Be an example (see 1 Timothy 4:12). You do not need to be perfect to set a good example. Let your children see that you are trying and ask them to join you in your efforts. Don’t require your children to do anything that you are unwilling to do—too often, parents excuse themselves from eating vegetables while still requiring their children to eat them.
Make it fun. Do you find yourself dreading exercise? Find a way to make it fun. Play a game of soccer with your family. Take a walk with a friend. Is making dinner a chore? Involve your family in trying fun new recipes.
Let your adventurousness be tested. We all have different likes and dislikes, and that is okay! If we are willing to try new foods, prepared in different ways, we can all find healthy alternatives we enjoy. Try new vegetables and look up different ways to prepare them until you find a way you like.
Watch your words (see James 3:1–12). No matter how well-intended they may be, comments like “You need to lose weight” can be damaging. Be sensitive, especially with teens. If you feel that comments are needed, focus instead on discussions around eating nutritious food and getting enough physical activity. Especially while in the presence of children and teens, avoid making comments about the bodies of other people, such as “They need to step away from the plate” or “He looks like a skeleton.”
Use the power of habits. When you find new foods, new recipes, or new behaviors you enjoy, include them in your weekly or monthly patterns. Some habits you could incorporate are Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Homemade Pizza Fridays, after-dinner walks, Saturday morning bike rides, family soccer night, gardening, hiking, and so on. But don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Start small with one thing you’re doing well and build from there.
As parents, we have the unique opportunity and responsibility to be examples to our children, both spiritually and physically. How we teach them about health can have a lasting effect on their overall well-being, both spiritually and physically. Let’s help them be healthy in every way!