Getting Fit, Bit by Bit: Change Your Focus

Start by viewing diet and exercise in a more serious light.

  • "Nutrition and activity decisions are really health decisions," says Sandra G. Hassink, M.D., editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics' A Parent's Guide to Childhood Obesity. Putting these issues in the "health realm" will give you the proper perspective.
  • Now, stop counting calories and look at the big picture. When feeding your family, focus on healthier food, rather than fewer calories.
  • "Basically, people want to eat until they feel satisfied," says David Katz, M.D., director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. "If you improve your food choices, it will take fewer calories to feel satisfied."
  • Offer more fiber, fresh fruit and vegetables; cut back on processed, sugary or fatty food. This way, your meals will be more filling but without the excess calories from sugars and fats.
  • Emphasize healthy activity over burning calories. "Exercise isn't really about burning excess calories," says Robert Lustig, M.D., director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) program at the University of California - San Francisco. "After all, you have to jog for 20 minutes to burn off two chocolate chip cookies."
  • Instead, use daily physical activity and a healthy diet to keep insulin levels low. Low insulin levels mean that your body has more available calories to burn, and you won't need to eat as much.
  • Target your efforts toward the entire family so no one feels singled out. Everyone will benefit from good nutrition and healthy activity.
  • Work toward small changes that become habits, rather than a dramatic diet-and-exercise makeover. "Small changes done every day really will make an impact," says Hassink. Stop bringing soda into your home; start walking the kids to school every day, etc.

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