Primal Starter: Talking to Kids About Health

Inline_Live-Awesome-645x445-04It’s pretty easy for kids to grow up not having a clear understanding of health. Hey, most adults don’t get it either. If I’m not sick, I must be healthy, right? Health as a concept can be a random swirl of disconnected images for kids: food pyramids, sweaty gyms, sports icons, a salad bar. How do they put it together? What does it mean to be healthy? To feel healthy?

In the vast array of images and messages out there, kids have to be pretty thrown by the paradoxical shape of it all. On the one hand, there’s infinite fun to be had in downing every variety of fast food, sodas, energy drinks, chips and other snack abominations (just look at the youth-centered commercials). On the other, there are tabloid articles about celebrity crash diets and stories of their three hour a day workout routines. Our culture encourages either disregarding or punishing the body—making a joke of physical health or exercising/depriving ourselves into the ground. The result? As a culture, we don’t have the most comfortable relationships with our bodies. It’s little surprise that many of our kids absorb this mindset.

Parents, unfortunately, have a lot of ground to fill in. Find a chance to talk about what health means to you personally. How did you come to learn about healthy eating? Why do you make the choices you do? What gets you motivated to stay active, to keep your stress under control? When do you feel the best physically? Ask them what makes them feel healthy, strong and rejuvenated? Is there a way you can help support those experiences (e.g. emotional support or family activities)? Let it be an open and continuing conversation. Let it be a catalyst for healthy changes and experimentation. Let it be a challenge to your family to play more, cook more, do more, get out more.

This website is all about health, yes. Nonetheless, I put health squarely into a large picture of happiness and vitality. Too often the messages kids get come off as instructive but less than relevant and inspiring. In the midst of navigating the social scene, figuring out an identity, and finding their way through school and other responsibilities, dry details can quickly fall on deaf ears. Consider a different angle.

We hear a lot of success stories from people who have overcome serious health issues, dropped weight that they’d wanted to lose for years (or decades), and/or turned around their lifestyle to gain a whole new sense of energy in their lives. A common thread in so many of their accounts is a sense of self-investment. Whether a serious medical scare that made them realize how precious (and endangered) their lives were or the culmination of a deep soul-searching, something sparked a novel sense of ownership. Their health mattered more because they’d chosen to see it and value it in a new way.

Maybe talking to kids about real health ultimately means talking about life. Owning your health necessitates—on some level—knowing and respecting yourself. It’s a self-commitment after all. The more self-confidence and self-respect we have, the more likely we are to invest in ourselves.

For kids who struggle with weight and body image, too often the goal is outside themselves, remote and elusive. How can the goal finally be authentically personal? What does it mean to dig down and learn to tune out the noise in life—the social clamor, the media messages? What’s there to listen to once you reach the other side of the commotion? How, finally, do they see themselves there? What does their vision of a healthy and happy life look like from that vantage point? Kids, like the rest of us, shape their health a step at a time. Maybe a parent’s best role is to help them start down their own path.

Further Reading on Kids’ Health:

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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7 thoughts on “Primal Starter: Talking to Kids About Health”

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  1. Most kids (and many adults) don’t get it that a bad diet is cumulative. You might get by with soda and junk food and still feel great into your 20’s, 30’s, and maybe your 40’s. But by the time most people are into their 50’s they start to experience minor problems that can become major ones as the years go by. This is because the body no longer operates at peak efficiency as one ages. It starts to go downhill after the reproductive years are over and needs all the help it can get in order to remain healthy into old age. Getting old is a concept kids don’t understand either, but It should at least be explained to them that it’s a lot easier to prevent disease than to cure it.

    1. I think it happens long before your 40s or 50s, but becomes so normalised that you don’t realise it. I started experimenting with primal at around 30. I’m 37 now. I still get into phases now and then where I get back into my old eating habits, and it always surprises me how much worse I feel after a couple weeks of it.

  2. Wow, this is important. I’ve realized that many people (especially women) who struggle with food issues find the root of those issues in their upbringing. It’s so exciting to think about parents being conscious about modeling a sense of fun and happiness as they lead healthy lives. I love the idea of asking kids about their vision of health and happiness. Good stuff!

  3. We can talk all we want to our kids, but the best thing we can do is set a good example. I took my kids grocery shopping and to the farmers market and encouraged them to help in the kitchen. I also supported them in whatever sport they wanted to play and encouraged outdoor play. They are now young adults. One is a vegan who is an excellent cook, the other is an omnivore who can barely open the fridge door. But both turned out to be pretty adventurous eaters who enjoy their food and eat tons of veggies. You do the best you can but ultimately they make their own choices.

    1. Setting a good example is about the ONLY thing we can do because kids grow up and, as adults, ultimately do make their own choices. I was very fortunate in that my mother always cooked fresh meat and veggies from scratch. True, we did not eat a Paleo diet, but what we did eat was all homemade and didn’t contain any preservatives or non-food ingredients. I think it made a huge difference in my health as I grew up, which continues even to this day. Kids need a good foundation to grow on.

  4. I don’t have kids yet, but for me, the key was watching my parents generation. They grew up in an age when the “miracle of modern science” was going to “save the modern housewife from slaving over the stove”, by introducing a variety of “healthy & nutritious new foods”. Now they’re in their mid 60’s, and their bodies are falling apart from a lifetime of processed foods that no amount of arguing can convince them to give up. They’re on all sorts of medications to compensate, and they’re absolutely positive that it’s just a natural part of aging.

    Wanting to avoid this future for myself has caused me to develop a love of cooking. What was a chore for their generation has become one of my greatest joys.

    I hope to never set the example for my kids that my parents set for me, but I do hope to pass along the same love of cooking that their example triggered.

    One of the positive examples my parents set, that I absolutely do want to pass along to my future kids, is a love of the outdoors. Especially fishing & gardening. There’s nothing more rewarding than eating food that you grew or killed yourself, and it’s instilled in me a great appreciation for finding the freshest ingredients whenever possible.

    We live in a world that’s constantly telling us that being healthy is a huge chore, while simultaneously telling us that we’re losers if we can’t do it, all while providing us with a constant barrage of contradictory health advice. It’s how the diet companies make their money. I think the key to teaching kids about health is to demonstrate to them that contrary to it being a chore, it can be an absolute joy!