Monday, April 11, 2011

Excuses, Excuses

University of Minnesota researchers have found that parents of young kids "tend to neglect their own health and are therefore generally fatter than their childless peers."
The results of the study were published today in Pediatrics, and in addition to other stats, researchers found that mothers with children under 5 years old on average consume 368 more calories per day than women who don't have kids.
The researchers are laser-focused on "calories and saturated fat" as the major drivers of obesity. I think they're wrong, but that's besides the point.

What really dismays me is the widespread acceptance of parenthood as a valid excuse to be unhealthy.

Here's a typical news article about the University of Minnesota's findings:
Sheri Lee Schearer, 34, says the results reflect her life with a 5-month-old son. Before, when she worked as a paralegal, she had time to make a spinach salad or go out for one. Now, as a stay-at-home mom in southern New Jersey, she grabs whatever is easiest and quickest.
"I often find that his needs come before mine," she said. "Do I get to the gym? No. Do I eat always healthy? No."
(Wha--? Did I miss something? When did making a FRIGGIN' SPINACH SALAD become a complex and time-consuming task?)

And here's another report:
“I think parents make sacrifices to their own detriment for their kids,” says Lori Francis, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of Biobehavioral Health at The Pennsylvania State University. 
As a nutrition researcher and the mother of a 2-year-old, Francis says she felt her own life echoed in the study’s results. “I have a very picky eater, so I go through all kinds of acrobatics just to get him to eat, and what he doesn’t eat, I’m eating, or my husband’s eating,” she says.
Put another way, these folks claim they're getting fat because their schedules make it impossible for them to exercise or prepare halfway-healthy meals. And there's no way they can stop themselves from devouring the highly-processed leftover crap that their kids refuse to eat. Also? They're doing this as a "sacrifice" for their children. Such martyrs!

I call bullshit. I just don't buy the argument that becoming a parent means you get a free pass to Baskin Robbins and a permanent spot on the couch.

More after the jump...

To be clear: This isn't about folks who -- due to socioeconomics, personal circumstances or whatever -- were just as unhealthy before having kids. We're talking about people who have the means and knowledge to do what they're supposed to do -- they actually did it! -- but are now using their children as human shields against criticism for letting themselves go the way of Al Bundy.

Yes, it's insanely tough and time-consuming to be a decent parent. Sure, you now have a lot less "Me Time" at your disposal. And it goes without saying that your kids should always be your top priority, and sacrifices must often be made.

But is it wise to sacrifice your own health, fitness and longevity? How, in the end, does that benefit your kids (other than allowing them to access their inheritances at a younger age once you drop dead of metabolic syndrome)?

Seriously, folks: Stop with the excuses. Having kids isn’t mutually exclusive of exercising and eating right -- and you don't have to break the bank to stay healthy, either.

Don't believe me? Try on some of these tips:
  • Reduce your screen time. Parents complain about not having enough time to exercise, but the average American household has the television on for over seven hours each day. That's more than 50 hours a week. (WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU WATCHING? Unless you're replaying "The Wire" over and over again, trust me: It ain't worth it.) And I bet you're on the computer a lot, too. Like right now. Cut your total screen time by just one hour a day and spend it preparing food or exercising.
  • Get as much sleep as you can. I know this is a losing proposition for many new parents. I've been there. But prioritize sleep over everything else. Believe it or not, missing an episode of 30 Rock or SportsCenter or Dancing with the Stars won't affect your life one bit. But lack of sleep will make you fat and sick.
  • Watch what you eat. I know: If you have an infant, you’re likely not getting much sleep. You’re physically and mentally drained. But that doesn’t mean you should compound the problem by eating like crap. Stop grazing on the nutritionally-deficient junk that you shouldn’t have purchased for your kids (but did anyway). Remember: You don’t have to: (1) spend a fortune to eat healthfully, (2) give in to your toddlers’ every food-related whim, or (3) finish what they leave on their plates. (By the time they're done slobbering and gnawing on it, it's not all that appetizing, anyway.) And don't whine about how nothing beats the convenience of a Snickers or a bag of Cheetos, because you're wrong: Type II diabetes really isn't all that convenient.
  • Work out at home. Can't afford to join the YMCA or pay for CrossFit classes? Can't steal away for an hour due to lack of available babysitting? You can still work out in your garage or living room. With the money you'll be saving from canceling your gym membership, you can outfit your home gym with the basics: some weights, a pull-up bar, some resistance bands. You won't have to waste any more time driving to and from the gym anymore. Plus, you can stop worrying about gym towel germs or how that weirdo from the office is going to see you naked in the locker room.
  • Exercise with your kids. Who says you have to dump your kids off somewhere in order to move your ass around? Exercise with the munchkins (in the backyard! at the park! in your living room!). Dance with them. Have your little ones bike (or trike) alongside you as you go for a run. Race ‘em and chase ‘em. Take them on a hike. Work out at the playground while your tykes are clambering up and down the slides. You know: Just like the Bartendaz.
  • Work out when your kids are asleep. Children should be getting a lot more sleep than their parents, which means most folks should have a few solid kid-free hours each day. The typical counterargument: “But I need that time to get stuff done around the house!” Yes, there are chores you need to do after the ankle-biters are knocked out. But admit to yourself that you’re: (1) not spending all your kid-free moments doing laundry and picking up toys; and (2) you’re spending at least an hour a day doing less-than-important crap, like updating your Facebook status or Googling yourself.
  • Schedule your workouts. Life has a way of derailing you from the best-laid of plans. So schedule your exercise if you can, and stick to the routine just as strictly as you stick to your kids' daycare schedule. Consistency is key. For me, getting up at the crack of dawn for class at CrossFit Palo Alto is a great way to make sure nothing gets in the way of my workouts. Do whatever works for you -- but treat exercise just as you treat eating, sleeping, and flossing; it’s a non-negotiable.
Hey, parents: Got any other tips?