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Modelling Healthy Choices for the Kids

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It has been several months now since Husband and I began our new health and fitness plan. Hubby has lost almost 100 lbs and I have lost over 15 lbs. I run three times per week and cycle twice a week. Hubby runs or cycles six days a week and has started doing a video fitness program at home as well. It has become just a normal, natural part of our life to count calories and weigh food as we prepare our meals throughout the day. It takes such little extra time, and the results are so very worth it.

Having been so successful in changing our own eating habits, we felt empowered to help our kids. Mr. Boo was an average-weight child until around the age of 6, when he began to gain weight. He’s now 9 years old and, while very tall for his age (just shy of 5 feet), is quite overweight, clocking in at just over 100 lbs. He likes his food, especially treats, and he doesn’t like sports. Carrying around extra weight doesn’t make moving your body much fun, either.

And so we decided to put him on our health and fitness plan. He’s watched us on our journey and we asked him about following our plan. We discussed it with him, presented the risks associated with childhood obesity, and stuck to an emphasis on health rather than looks or body image. He seemed quite keen on the idea. We started a food journal in which we log what he eats, and set a goal for him based on a calculation of his daily caloric needs (his goal is < 1650 calories per day). If he meets his goal, his reward is a miniature chocolate bar for dessert (60 calories).

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We’ve been doing this for about a month now and couldn’t be happier with the results. Not only has he lost 2 lbs, a very healthy rate of loss (~ 0.5 lbs per week) but we can see that we are establishing healthy habits that will serve him well for the rest of his life. He now reads nutritional labels and makes choices based on calorie content. He helps prepare his food, weighing out the ingredients and calculating portion size. We help by presenting choices when he’s hungry, and laying out the consequences of those choices in terms of what he can eat later. He’s learning that he likes to have a big meal at the start of his day, a small snack midway, and a good size dinner. He also likes to save room for an extra dessert, and will often forgo a second sandwich, for example, for a banana and some yogurt instead so that he can have that extra treat later on. One day he announced that he wanted to eat a whole pizza for dinner and asked for help in choosing some healthy, low calorie options for breakfast and lunch.

He’s also beginning to see exercise as something positive because it buys you more calories (up until now, the word “exercise” was met with groans and protests). This evening we attended the first night of a new drop-in gymnastics program at our local community centre, where the kids get two hours of free, supervised time on the equipment (trampolines, etc). It’s one of the few activities he has always enjoyed and he was particularly pleased that all that fun meant he could have a treat on the way home from the gym (he carefully read the labels in making his decision).

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To make this as easy on ourselves and him as possible, and given his extremely limited diet due to his sensory issues around food, we decided that “any kind of food goes” so long as it fits within his goals. It’s not what a lot of people would think of as “healthy” eating – it includes hot dogs and McDonalds cheeseburgers, and yet we still see that he is learning about making good food choices for his body. We’ve had a couple of interesting conversations about what a body needs to be healthy and grow, and why some foods are so high in calories while others are low. What we’ve all learned is that when you are looking to get the most food satisfaction “bang” for your caloric “buck” it pays to stay away from the really junky stuff. One bag of of potato chips, for example, is more than an entire cheese and liverwurst sandwich (despite his picky eating habits, the kid loves liver sausage). The sandwich will keep him full for some time and provide his body with protein, healthy animal fats, iron, and other nutrients he needs. But with the chips, he’ll be hungry soon after eating them, and they really only provide carbohydrates (which turn to fat if not needed for energy) and some not-so-healthy hydrogenated vegetable-based fats.

Miss Em is not officially on the plan – she is only mildly overweight and is independent enough that it would be difficult to monitor her food intake as closely. She has definitely been paying attention to what we are all doing, however, and she has expressed some interest in considering calorie content, although she is not prepared to take on calorie tracking just yet. She has made an effort to work more exercise into her week, going on bike rides or long walks to the local corner store. Kids watch what adults do and I know even if she doesn’t follow us right now, we are modelling the route to attaining a healthy weight and being fit so that when and if she decides in the future to do something about it, she’ll know how.

It’s a good feeling to take charge of your health, to be at a healthy body weight, to enjoy being active, and to feel good in your body. Hubby and I are pleased enough that we’ve been able to do so for ourselves, but seeing our son embracing this lifestyle and learning to make healthy choices for himself, is truly rewarding.

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Not Back to School week

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It is Day 1 of the new learning year. While families and children spent the morning trying to get back into their morning routines, filling backpack, packing lunches, rushing off to catch school buses, etc. my family slept in, listening to the quiet sounds of the rain pattering on the roof. After a morning run with my husband, I did some laundry and began the first lesson of the year: unloading the dishwasher!

This year I’m planning on doing more homeschool stuff with the kids, which means I’m going to need help with the housework. As part of my own morning routine (which I’ve been slowly easing into over the past week) I do a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, and fill it up with any dirty dishes that didn’t make it in last night. This morning I had the kids unload the dishwasher, and I stood by making sure they knew where everything went. They actually seemed to enjoy it, playing together as they worked. Mr. Boo enjoyed pulling the chair over to the counter so he could put things on higher shelves.

To celebrate the first day of Not Back to School I made them their favorite breakfast: English pancakes. These are basically crepes rolled up with lemon juice and sugar. These were my favorite treat as a child, and I’m happy to have passed on the tradition.

After breakfast the kids had some time to play while I finished tidying up, and then it was Math time. Mr. Boo has not done any math for over a month as I decided to give him (and myself) a break towards the end of summer. I was pleasantly surprised to see he had forgotten nothing of the exercises he’d last been working on. He even advanced through the lesson and picked up a couple of new concepts. He really has an amazing head for numbers – the challenge is getting him to sit still and focus. He made it to 15 minutes before he started getting really squirrelly, and finished up at just shy of 20 minutes in total. An excellent first day back!

While Mr. Boo uses a program called Dreambox Learning, Miss Em has decided it’s too “babyish” and so we are giving Khan Academy a try. Today she took the Placement Test and began some lessons. She enjoyed the ones about graphs, reinforcing my belief that she is a visual learner. She also learned how to carry numbers today for adding 2- or 3- digit numbers together. It was a chance to view the instructional videos that come with Khan Academy, but also this was part of a lengthier video about adding in general so she got bored pretty quickly. In the end, I grabbed a sheet of paper, showed her how to carry, and she immediately got it and was off. She ended up adding the numbers and doing the carrying in her head, simply typing down each digit of the answer as she progressed. She hasn’t decided whether she prefers this to Dreambox, so we’ll continue for another week or so until her old Dreambox account is about to expire and she can make her decision then.

I have been preparing the kids for this week and the work definitely payed off. I had no meltdowns or tantrums today and the kids followed the plans to the letter. We’re done for the day now, which is fair since the school kids are only having half days as well today. Plus I want to ease them into their full weekly schedule slowly. Most activities don’t start until next week, and some even later, so it’s the perfect slow transition into busier days. I’m feeling really good about this learning year and looking forward to sharing our progress with our Learning Consultant.

In Search of a Healthy Weight Loss Plan

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Two years ago my husband introduced me to the low-carb/high-fat diet. It goes by various names: Primal, Paleo, South Beach, Atkins. There are slight differences among these but the overall theory is (a) sugars are bad, (b) carbs are sugars, therefore (c) carbs are bad. Primal/Paleo types recognize that animal fats, and those found in such foods as avocados, coconuts, and nuts, are very healthy. I watched Husband lose over 60 lbs on this diet without even exercising, read one of the Low-Carb Bibles (Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories), and decided to give it a try.

I lost weight quite effortlessly, with no change in activity level and no calorie counting. In fact I ate far more calories than I normally do. It was an exciting time: I lost 20 lbs in about 3 months, more than my goal of 10 lbs, and I was thrilled. I swore I would never go back to my old weight. But then I started eating carbs again, certain I could control myself, but the cravings began again and I fell off the wagon, and several months later had gained back all the weight I lost.

I recently decided it was time for me to lose the extra pounds, and I set out to do exactly what I had done before. But I failed almost immediately. The first obstacle was that our financial situation has changed and we are on a tight budget. I could not afford the kinds of foods I needed to stick with low carb (lots of nuts, dried fruits, etc). I had gotten used to eating foods I really enjoyed (nothing horribly unhealthy, but things like rice and beans, risotto, guacamole with tortilla chips, homemade hamburgers on actual buns, quesadillas with roasted veggies) and many of these were now off the list. For whatever reason, I became rather depressed (I don’t meant that in the clinical sense of the word) about what I was faced with eating. I was feeling deprived and miserable; not “deprived” in a caloric sense – you never go hungry on a low carb diet – but deprived of things that “normal people” ate and which I really enjoyed. Finally, I couldn’t even get past my carb addiction – despite knowing that the cravings would go away if I just held in there for a couple of weeks, I caved in to the cravings more often than not and, consequently, my weight wasn’t budging.

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I then began to ask myself why I was making myself so miserable, agonizing over everything I ate, all for the sake of 10 lbs. Surely life was too short to let a few extra pounds rob me of the joy of eating? It’s not like I eat a ton of garbage, and it’s not like live a totally sedentary lifestyle: I walk, hike, and cycle regularly with my dog. I decided to let go of all dietary considerations and just eat “normally”. On the bright side, I haven’t gained any weight. But on the down side, I honestly don’t feel great in my body right now. Where I feel great in my body is still, according to all the charts, more than I should weigh, but I don’t place much faith in those charts. Ten pounds lost would make me very happy. I began to wonder if there was some way to compromise between going full-on low-carb while still losing weight.

My little theory is that going low-carb allows one to lose weight without depending on exercise or reduced calorie intake. It certainly worked for me. On the other hand, I know people can lose weight by following the old “eat less, exercise more” thing. In my experience, that doesn’t work well for me (and Gary Taubes’ book goes into fascinating detail about why the “calories in, calories out” concept is way oversimplified) but perhaps, I thought, if I was willing to accept that the rate of weight loss would be slow, I could find a place in the middle where it would work for me: don’t overdo it on the carbs, watch the calories without going hungry, and see what happens.

I joined a free online fitness program where I can track my caloric intake and exercise. I’m not paying attention to their fat and carb requirements, which are too low and too high, respectively, in my opinion. I have found that, just as the website says, the act of simply tracking my food has already made me more mindful about what I’m eating and whether I’m truly hungry or just craving something. I’m on day three and so far I’ve learned that, at baseline, I don’t overeat to any significant extent. I can understand now why my weight has been fairly constant for the last several weeks: I’d guess, based on what I know now, that my average daily caloric intake is around that required for maintenance (about 2000 calories).

I’m not restricting myself from any type of food, but I’m also not going crazy either. Breakfast is often a bowl of Cheerios (the only commercial cereal I know of with no sugar) or poached eggs on white toast. I have been enjoying ham sandwiches for lunch. I’m happy being able to eat these foods, but I’m also cautious about overdoing it. I don’t feel deprived. I do find that I wake up hungry, which I didn’t when on a low-carb diet. And I do have to be very mindful of my carb addiction. According to the website, simply logging my calories will serve to keep me on track, and the site is well set up to make doing so easy. My hope is that I can lose weight, although I do not expect it to be as fast as with a low-carb diet, and then keep it off by being mindful of my intake. Otherwise I don’t intend to restrict myself and, at this time of year, it’s easy to get lots of exercise. I’m even considering taking up running again.

It will be interesting to see how this works.

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Animated clips for a movie

Miss Em is working on an animated movie and has been putting together clips she can use. Here are some of her latest clips. The captions denote what the characters are saying or what is going on in that scene. You may have to click on the images to get them to play.

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“He’s gone.”

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Intro Scene.

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Enderman: “I don’t understand”….Enderdragon: “You will”

Dragonflight in Motion

Here is Emily’s latest animated creation. She draws each frame and then puts them together in such a way so that they flow smoothly as possible. She was very proud of this as it was the first one where she changed the perspective of the character (i.e. the character moves into the background, giving it a 3D effect).

Note: you may have to click on the image to get it to play 

This is one of her recurring characters, Dragonflight the Warrior Cat (a la Erin Hunter's very popular book series)

This is one of her recurring characters, Dragonflight the Warrior Cat (a la Erin Hunter’s very popular book series)