5 atypical ways I want my children to imitate me

What’s your one hope for your child with regard to body image?

I’m guessing it’s not to be thin, have a perky butt, or killer biceps.

I bet nearly everyone’s answer would be something like this:  Oh, I just want her to be healthy and not worry about what her body looks like.

Unfortunately, for years, my actions said: The scale, what food I eat, and the hours of exercise dictate my body image.

The honest truth is that unless we model how we want our children to behave, chances are they will repeat the cycle.

I give you five ways I’ve shifted to mindful modeling.

  1.  Stop counting

Several years ago, my husband and I were in our annual phase of tightening up our nutrition.  We go through this almost every January, literally and figuratively. After enjoying steak, wine, and fudge in December, we hit the brakes the next month.  

This particular year, we added to the discipline by using a calorie-tracker app.  

One of my mostly-useless talents is being able to accurately guess how many calories are in any food item.  It’s a side effect from reading labels for most of my teen and young adult life.  My husband and I had daily exchanges about meals, snacks, and beverages.  

“How many calories in dinner tonight?”


“Does that include the dressing?”

“Yes, but not the extra tablespoon of chopped peppers.”  

“Cut to me rolling my eyes.” – Favorite Will & Grace quote ever.

Kids quickly pick up on our energy. It shouldn’t have felt like such a gut-punch when my naturally-thin seven-year-old uneasily asked how many calories his peanut butter and jelly held.  You can count his ribs from across the pool.  The last thing he needs to fret about is a PB&J sandwich.  Brushing his teeth, yes.  Too much food, no.

We were modeling obsessive tracking, not balanced health.  My child was mimicking that.  Right away, I knew we needed to back off the calorie discussions and increase the intuitive eating dialog.

Which leads to …

  1.  Rely on my own body, rather than a device

The app isn’t always right. Sometimes it told me I couldn’t have any more food, and I was about to gnaw my arm off.  At 4 pm.  Nobody wants a hangry mama for six hours.

Do we want our daughters looking to an electronic device to determine if her sugar allowance includes a banana?  Or do we want her to listen and respect her body’s need for a sweet piece of God’s provision?  

These are helpful, but not always beneficial.

Food tracker apps can be a great tool. Creating an awareness of what you eat can open a dialog with your child.  Imagine how impactful it is for an impressionable child to hear, “Wow, I thought this Yoplait strawberry yogurt was healthy, but it turns out it has four and a half teaspoons (18 grams) of sugar in it.  Next time I’ll try the plain Greek, topped with berries for half the sugar.”

Once we learn the basics, we can shift to allowing our body to govern what it needs, rather than a faceless algorithm.

  1.  Limit the amount of time I exercise

I am not a professional athlete. My job doesn’t require several hours of daily physical training.  If I spent two or three hours a day in the gym, I would be showing my sons that strength is only achieved with this time commitment.  As student athletes, there may be seasons that require this, but I’m thinking long-term.  I don’t want their 30-year-old self to bypass exercising because they don’t have two hours to invest.  With the right workout, you can get all you need in thirty minutes.  

Gym time is fantastic, but not when it’s hours on end.

  1.  Enjoy sugar-filled family moments

You know those rare magical family moments, tucked between chaos and soccer practice, when everyone is getting along and enjoying each other’s presence?  The pantry is scavenged for graham crackers, Hershey’s bars and yes! We do have marshmallows!  An impromptu s’mores night!  

Why would I pass on these?*

For years, I passed in the name of too much sugar.  I realized I was missing out on cherished memories.  Everyone looking around with gooey fingers and chocolate dripping from the sides of their lopsided smiles … I didn’t want to be excluded from the memory because I wasn’t indulging.  Worse, they would remember mom wouldn’t ever let loose and have fun because of the negative health factor.  

I don’t want to miss the magic of family memories in the name of staying within my food allowance.  And don’t tell my kids, but this summer we’re intentionally visiting Orange Leaf more often.

Because nothing beats frozen yogurt and authentic conversations with my kids.

  1.  Give myself grace for slip-ups

God doesn’t expect perfection from us.  When I follow Christ, it means accepting the grace and forgiveness He suffered for us when my actions come up short.  This transcends into everything in my life, including how I treat my body, my temple. I do my best but realize it’s not always going to be perfect.

Gone are the days of trying to work off last night’s special-occasion cheesecake.  Or fretting about a missed workout.  It happens. I forgive myself, and I start fresh.

God willing, we get a new sunrise every day. Start fresh on your journey.

Our children don’t expect perfection. This health adventure isn’t about making sure we don’t go over our calorie or sugar allowance, or getting profuse amounts of exercise.  Our journey is to show our children what balanced health looks like.  

It’s about creating life-long, sustainable habits that enable our body to do what it’s called to do.  Yes, that includes limiting sugar and making sure we move, but it’s also balanced with life and a little bit of chocolate.

unusual healthy habits for child to imitate

*Photo credit Autumn Mott via Unsplash


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