An excerpt from Dr. Agatston’s new book, The South Beach Wake-Up Call
This Country Needs More Super Moms—and Dads
There is a growing cadre of women in this country today I call Super Moms—women who are fighting back against the fast-food, sedentary way of life and its disastrous consequences, and who are transforming the culture within their homes, workplaces, schools, and communities. And this can also be said of the Super Dads, who are either the primary caregivers or who are partnering with their wives in clamoring for change.
While I do not want to sound sexist here, it has been my experience in my cardiology practice and the experience of my colleagues, both male and female, that women are most often the primary guardians of their family’s health. The women come to my office dragging in their husbands, fathers, brothers, and grown sons (often by their earlobes) because these men have been in denial regarding their health. So it’s not surprising to me to discover that it is primarily the Super Moms who have educated themselves about what’s best for their kids, particularly when it comes to successfully providing their children with nutrient-rich food.
Today, people from all walks of life, from the White House on down, are trying to combat our obesity and diabetes epidemics and turn our toxic lifestyle around. In March 2010, Michelle Obama—the nation’s First Super Mom—launched the Let’s Move! campaign to promote a healthier, more active lifestyle as a way to combat the obesity epidemic in this country. Her work, and the spotlight she shines on the issue, is hugely refreshing and desperately needed. Around the country, groups like Urban Farming in downtown Detroit are planting vegetable gardens in abandoned lots so that the residents have access to fresh food.
Today, many thousands of people support the 6,100-plus farmers’ markets cropping up in cities and suburbs. And concerned citizens across the United States are beginning to take the school lunch bureaucracy to task, fighting for high-quality school meals for all children. My own work with our Healthier Options for Public Schoolchildren (HOPS) program, in which we provided nutrition and healthy lifestyle education programming to more than 50,000 elementary school children nationally, has taught me that kids will not only eat better food but will also become advocates for doing so once they understand the principles of good nutrition and how food impacts their lives. When children grasp why nutritious whole foods are good for them, and how they make you healthy and strong, they will bring this message back home to their families, which can help change the mind-set of entire communities.
With my patients, I have always found that the better they understand the causes of their medical issues and the rationale for their treatment, the better they do. I also believe that for Americans today, the better we understand the real impact our lifestyle choices are having on our health, the better the chance we can turn things around.
We are at the critical juncture where, if we do not wake up and turn the tide on our unhealthy lifestyle, we are going to increase the human and economic costs to the point that our very way of life will be severely threatened. And this is the high-altitude overview. Up close and personal, if we don’t commit to leading a healthier and more active life, we will find ourselves old before our time and riddled with chronic health problems. Even worse, if we don’t commit to making sure our children are eating nutritious foods and are physically active, we may well be sentencing them to a future of poor health and a shorter life span.
Let me share the real-life story of one Super Mom:
Super Mom, Katonah, New York
“I’ve worked really hard to get my kids to try new foods.”
I have a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old. Both girls. My friends marvel at the fact that both my kids eat vegetables. They love asparagus, they ask for Brussels sprouts, they eat cauliflower, broccoli—they gobble up pretty much any vegetable that I serve them. They even eat edamame! In fact, that’s a staple in our house.
I’ve worked really hard to get my kids to try new foods. I can pretty much get them to try any new food that is within reason. I’m not going to pick something like caviar that’s going to look yucky to a child, but my younger girl tried salmon with balsamic vinegar the other day. Now, she didn’t like it, but she tried it. I let her spit it out if she hates it, but at least I get her to give it a try.
How do I do it? We have a family ritual around trying new foods, and it works for us. It started when I read my first child the book Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss. Remember that book? In it, a character named Sam tries to get another Seuss character to eat green eggs and ham in all sorts of places—in a house with a mouse, in a box with a fox, and so on—until, at the very end, he does try the green eggs and ham and discovers that he actually likes them! That’s one of my kids’ favorite books, so I read it to them a lot. Every once in a while, while we’re reading it, I ask them, “How does he know that he doesn’t like green eggs and ham if he never actually tried them?” When I want my kids to try a new food, I remind them of the book. I tell them, “If you don’t try it, you don’t know if you’ll like it, and if you try it, you may like it.”
They will usually try it. Then, after we’ve found one they do like, we do a little food dance. We all put our hands in the air and we literally dance around, going “OOOOOHHHH, new food!” Again, it’s all about making food fun.
What I’ve also discovered is that when I find a new food that the kids like, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll eat it every time. Kids get bored, and if you give them the same thing every day, they’re not going to eat it. Incorporating the new foods about once a week is what I’ve found works best.
I don’t let them eat junk, but I’ve learned that if they get too hungry, they will grab anything. So I put out small plates of healthy snacks all day, especially colorful fruits and vegetables, like berries and carrots. I also give them nuts, cheese, and whole-grain crackers. They don’t ask for sugary stuff. I give them fresh fruit or a squeezable yogurt pop for dessert. I don’t give them chips or juice; they drink water and organic milk. I only serve them organic meat, dairy, eggs, and poultry. I worked for Planned Parenthood as a nurse before I had children, and I saw girls coming in who had gotten their periods as early as 9 and 10 years old, and I came to believe it’s from all the hormones and antibiotics in our food. So I try to avoid giving my kids anything that is loaded with chemicals.
We can’t keep them away from fast food entirely—that’s not realistic. We did celebrate a couple of their friends’ birthday parties recently at McDonald’s. We taught them that this is a special treat. My husband was with them at the party and he didn’t get them the french fries, because he told them we don’t eat this kind of food. They didn’t even question him. They ate the apple slices instead and were happy.
Excerpted from The South Beach Wake-Up Call by Arthur Agatston, MD. Copyright (c) 2011 by Dr. Arthur Agatston. Published by arrangement with Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098.