I had a very interesting conversation with a client this week. A mum of two, who came to our studio last May with the intention of losing weight. A little bit over a year later and she is closing in her on her long term weight loss goal. I love training this particular client, because she often regales me with stories of her two young children and their many adventures. Her youngest, is a six year old boy - an enthusiastic young sportsman with a gift for tennis. Her daughter is just slightly older at seven years of age, who might lack the sporting prowess of her younger brother, but excels in the performing arts. Both children are spoken so highly of, and it's really special to watch my client's expressions as she talks about her greatest treasures.
As is often the case in our sessions, when we're not talking about my client's children, we're talking about her goals and what she's doing this week to ensure she stays on track towards her weight loss goal. Being the one who prepares all the meals for the family she has a great deal of control over what she's eating and what she prepares for her family. What I found interesting in my conversation with her this week, was how she explained to her daughter why she's eating slightly differently to everyone else. At no point does she say "because I need to lose weight". Instead she carefully chooses her words and elects instead to say something along the lines of "because I feel better when I eat these foods" (we were referring specifically to cauliflower rice as opposed to regular rice that she'd prepared for everyone else). Like I said earlier, I've been training this client for over a year now, and I think what I admire most about her is how she tries to set such a good example for her children through her own health and fitness habits, but she does so in a way that's not going to have a negative impact on her seven year old daughter. She's careful to avoid talking about measurements and weight around her, because she doesn't want to pass on the message that she's dissatisfied with her appearance (nothing could be further from the truth anyway). When she's leaving home to come to the studio it's because "I go see my trainer so I can be fit and strong so I can play with you two" not because "I need to lose weight". What she's doing, is reinforcing in her daughter's eyes, that exercising regularly and eating well means that she can maximise the amount of time she spends with her children due to an increase in her health and fitness.
What really shocked me in our session this week though (and what has actually led me to write this article), was information from my client that the girls at her daughter's school were going to be weighed and measured for a scientific study. Now, I don't know what this study is and I don't know the reason behind it so I can only assume, which I'm not prepared to do. But I will say that it created a generous amount of discussion amongst the parents who received this information. Particularly from my client, whose seven year old daughter came home afterwards and told her not to eat that biscuit because "it has too many calories". Having grown up a boy (and an only child) I'll be the first to admit that I'm quite ignorant in the subject of body image amongst girls and women. But from what I have learnt and from the studies I've read, I feel like, and I strand to correction here, that the environment plays a significant role in the formation of these issues.
What I do know for certain, is how impressionable children are, and how they aspire to be like their parents. I like the advert of the father driving a car with strings attached to his arms and legs (resembling a puppet) with his son in the back seat also with strings attached to his arms and legs and he mimics every motion the father makes whilst driving, both positive and negative. The slogan at the end reads "what kind of driver are you raising?"
I aspire every day to lift my own standard and be an exceptional role model, and as a Personal Trainer, I think I'm more aware than most, of the messages I'm conveying through my own actions (who would train with an unfit, unmotivated Personal Trainer?)
I think the client I've been referring to throughout this article does an excellent job of leading by example, and she does so in a way that creates a positive environment for her children to receive the messages, whilst simultaneously conveying a positive message to her daughter about food and exercise that will not have a harmful effect on her long term health (both physical and mental). The result, is that her daughter views "what mummy does" as a way of improving her strength, fitness and vitality. An environment in which children are weighed and measured creates a set of standards that you either meet or fail to meet, and personally I think that's wrong - especially when we're talking about seven year-olds!
What lead me to pursue a healthy lifestyle was early exposure to sport and the benefits of keeping physically active and eating well. A lot of the men in my family rank amongst some of my greatest and most influential role models. Many of them are endurance runners, so it's only natural that I should aspire to be like them and look up to them (and believe me, I do!) Playing my first team sports at the age of nine, allowed me to meet many other kids who also wanted keep active. Those same boys are still my closest friends today, some fifteen years later! And having gone through primary school, secondary school and university together, our circumstances have changed dramatically as our lives have lead us in different directions, but every single one of us is still keeping active in some way, shape or form.
Renowned expert on leadership Simon Sinek was quoted earlier this year saying, "We are social animals, and we respond to the environments we're in. Always! Leaders are responsible for that environment, and I think leaders forget that".
If you're a parent, you're a leader. Probably the most important leader your kids will ever look to for leadership, and the seeds you plant now with regard to health and fitness, either positive or negative, will play a big role in determining the long term health of your children.
*Disclaimer: Individual results vary based on agreed goals. Click here for details.