With the lights of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center shining down on me, I was filled with the joy of attaining my dreams, dreams of being on the stage at a National Pageant representing my state of Alaska. Being Miss Alaska National Teen-Ager 2004 has been an amazing experience; I was selected as one of the Top 10 of the Nation at the National Pageant, as well as winning other National Awards. I have been very fortunate to have this title and to use it to do good throughout my community. Through this thankfulness I came to the realization that many girls with the same dream will never feel confident enough to even enter a pageant due to their weight. This is why I am dedicating this column to helping others achieve healthy bodies and healthy minds so that they can lead truly winning lives.
Obviously weight has become a very important issue in America today, with childhood obesity at an all time high. While children do go through a pudgy stage in their tween years (I know I did) that "baby fat" sometimes doesn't go away. What helped me the most was consciously thinking about eating healthy foods. This doesn't mean foods with zero calories, but rather making sure I was eating fruits and vegetables with moderate portions of the other food groups. I made up a different food pyramid than you see on many packages to reflect this.
In addition to healthy eating, physical exercise is an invaluable facet of a healthy body. While eating right is important, your body absolutely needs to be active. God made our bodies to be active, not to sit on the couch watching TV and playing video games all day.
The key to exercise is to make it enjoyable and to find a friend or family member to work out with. If you make exercise something you hate to do, I guarantee you that your dedication to that particular exercise regimen will be short-lived.
I enjoy figure skating and help to coach local Special Olympics athletes in that sport as well as run in the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run with my brother. Another way I find to delight in exercise is to spend time walking or training my new puppy, Scooby Doo. Planting flowers is a great way to get outside and get exercise for your body as well as happiness for your mind. Whether gardening or planting flowers around town, getting those hands dirty will certainly help you stay healthy.
This year, as Miss Alaska National Teen-Ager I have worked to promote the American Heart Association and greatly enjoyed giving out awards at this year's Heart Walk. If you can find a source of exercise that you enjoy you will certainly be, not only more physically fit, but also a great deal happier.
Whether you are trying to maintain the weight you are currently at or whether you are trying to lose a few pounds, the key is really consciously comparing how many calories you are taking in a day with how much exercise you get in a day. Calories in need to equal calories out to maintain weight, while losing weight can be done by taking in less calories then you are expending in physical activity. I would like to say though that starving yourself is not the way to go. Some simple steps can help cut down on calorie intake such as: limiting soda intake (this is a very big source of calories), not eating at fast-food places (or if you do, don't super-size it, especially for kids), making sure juice is 100 percent juice, limiting snacks and/or supplementing with healthy snacks (i.e. fruits, vegetables, etc.), and trying to eat many of your meals at home, where you can control portions, calories, etc.
If you are looking for ways to become more active, I would suggest volunteering in your community. The benefits are endless! Special Olympics (www.specialolympics.org) offers many opportunities for volunteers to become physically active and make a difference.
According to the book Underage & Overweight: America's Childhood Obesity Crisis - What Every Family Needs to Know by Frances M. Berg, MS, LN, there are periods in the course of your life where you need to be especially conscious of your vulnerability. These times include: prenatal, adiposity rebound (pre-school), adolescence, early adulthood, pregnancy, and menopause. This book has a great deal of detail on this and many other aspects of health. To assess correct weight, many people rely on the Body Mass Index (BMI). While the BMI is helpful at assessing correct weight for age and height, the BMI may not accurately reflect the health of some children, such as listing children in the between 85 and 95 BMI percentile as needing to lose weight. In addition, athletes are often very healthy yet fall into the highest categories. It is a good idea to consult your doctor to determine whether or not your child needs to lose weight.
To increase your health I would also recommend vitamins. Vitamin C is very important as well as your daily multivitamin. To know what is best for you, consult your doctor and figure out what vitamins will be best for you and provide as a helpful facet to your wellness plan. Through 4-H families can do projects on nutrition (www.4-h.org). Also, remember to drink lots of water (8 glasses are recommended a day). This will do two things for your body: 1. hydrate you, giving you more energy, 2. help fill you up, decreasing your appetite.
I think above everything else you must have a healthy mindset in order to have a healthy body. It is a well-known fact that in many instances people overeat because they have negative feelings about themselves. Interesting to note: DESSERTS spelled backwards is STRESSED! If you can conquer negative feelings about yourself you will find that making healthy food choices is much easier and exercise much more enjoyable. I like to think of it as being aware that food and exercise will affect your life. It is up to you if the effect will be positive or negative. Faith in God is what helped me to get over negative thoughts, as well as giving me the power to do what I know is right, for my body, my mind, and my life.
The book Underage & Overweight: has a wonderful individualized "Personal Wellness Wheel." This wheel puts together the various components of wellness, which go far beyond simply being the "correct" weight. It includes social, occupational, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical well-being for a well-rounded and complete approach to health.
Setting a Good Example
In all of my research I have found that an extremely important component of children growing up healthy and maintaining a healthy weight is for their parents to set a good example. Many times if you see a heavy child, their parents are also heavy. The importance of parents really "walking the talk" cannot be underestimated. Truly a child is like a sponge, so seeing their parents eating healthy foods and eating in moderation as well as seeing their parents engaged in physical activity will be an example that will stick with them well throughout their adult lives. Some examples of family physical activities might include: swimming, biking, hiking, joining a gym together, playing a sport you all enjoy, etc. My mother use to take my brother and me to the mall in the winter to do "mall walking," since in Alaska it was 20 degrees below zero outside and my brother's disability made it difficult for him to walk in snow. The important part is to make sure that the whole family is active together!
There are of course exceptions to heavy children having heavy parents. My brother, Erik, has Prader-Willi Syndrome, a genetic neurological disorder, which among many other things gives him an insatiable appetite. His appetite is never satisfied due to a malfunctioning portion of the brain known as the hypothalamus, so he will always be struggling with his genetic problem.
In the end, I think this year especially I have learned the importance of being healthy in mind, body, and soul. Being in college, volunteering a lot, competing in pageants, and all the rest leaves me little extra time. I know, however, that without taking the time to be healthy I won't be able to truly succeed in the things mentioned previously or in life. I think the truest way to be healthy is to have faith in God and have family support. The blessings of faith and a strong family gives me the ability, as well as the daily remembrance, that life is a gift and since we have been fortunate to receive this gift of life we must use it wisely, responsibly keeping a healthy body and mind, knowing that in so doing we will enrich our lives and be setting a good example in the lives of others!
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