"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
March 11, 2013
Weighty Matters
by Melissa Howell

I was out to dinner with a few friends, when one of them shared a story about her five-year-old daughter. About how this daughter was wearing a pretty dress, and her mom/my friend suggested she wear a certain cardigan with the dress. About how her daughter instantly balked at the suggestion, replying vehemently that the cardigan “made her look fat.”

Of course, our friends and I all gasped in horror at the necessary place in the story, sufficiently mortified that a five-year-old is concerned about “looking fat.”

And for the record, she isn’t. Not even remotely.

My son recently ran into my bathroom and stepped on the scale, muttering something about “all that cake he ate the night before” at his Nanna’s birthday party. He is a very thin nine-year-old. I felt ill when I heard him.

But for the record, my husband has embarked on a much-needed weight-loss endeavor, and we have been celebrating his success in this area.

Like so many other things, weight matters seem to be shrinking and stretching to the extremes. We have everything from rail-thin actors and actresses and people who are “famous” for the most ridiculous things – I want to shove a hamburger into their faces when I see them – to the “Biggest Loser.”

I once wrote a story for a prominent local children’s hospital about a teenage boy who suffered from anorexia and bulimia, a boy who had been hospitalized for his struggles with food and body image and all that accompanies such a struggle. It broke my heart.

I once wrote a story for the very same prominent local children’s hospital about a weight-loss clinic for ‘tweens and ‘teens, a clinic that strives to teach the children about proper exercise and nutrition. I interviewed kids who can barely get through the most basic of workouts and constantly think about sitting and playing video games, and food. It broke my heart.

As parents, we have got to do our part to teach kids and present them with a healthy, balanced approach to, well, health and a balanced lifestyle.

What are we as parents doing to build up our children, to teach them that how they feel is more important than how they look? To teach them that their bodies will stretch and grow, shrink and expand, and the important thing is that they are doing their best to take care of those ever-changing bodies? To remind them that their bodies are temples, and should be treated as such, not punished to fit an image, but nourished to be their healthiest and happiest selves?

The habits we are exemplifying and teaching now can have lasting effects. It’s so crucially important to teach children: the meaning of real beauty, and how to recognize it in themselves and in others; the importance of a balanced, healthy diet; and the need for regular physical activity.

Do you read labels? It’s astounding to me what can pass as “food” these days. In the midst of writing this column, I received an e-mail from a friend with an article about a powerful dairy lobby pushing the FDA to approve aspartame – an artificial sweetener that I steer clear of – as a milk additive without even being labeled. If this is indeed true, it would be yet another way to rev up kids’ sugar-craving devices, thus becoming another contributing factor to the rising obesity rates. Shameful.

Anti-sugar I am not. I like it. I have to control that liking. Giving kids access to too much sugar clearly has a negative outcome, but withholding it can also have negative consequences. I view sweets as a once-in-a-while thing. Even when my darling two-year-old asks after dinner, “can we have any C-N-D-Y?” I am reminded of two things: 1. There is no point in spelling around a toddler, he will call your bluff even if he omits a vowel here and there and 2. It’s my job to sometimes answer “yes” and sometimes answer “no.”

We can offer a variety of foods at meal and snack time. Such items as fruit, vegetables, string cheese, yogurt, healthy crackers and the like are fantastic snack choices. I’ve been making granola bars that are easy, healthy and cost-effective and the kids love them. Perhaps you’ve Pinned them.

As much as we should offer healthy snacks, we should offer continual and frequent opportunities for exercise and play that does not involve a screen. We’ve all seen the statistics on kids and screen time. Be the exception. Family walks, family sports games, family bike rides and similar activities not only promote health, they provide quality time that results in lasting memories.

Let’s strive to be examples and teach children to be less concerned with appearance, and more concerned with health. Even if it means hiding away the scale.

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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