Family Health: 9 Simple Tips to Help You and Your Loved Ones Thrive
The concept of health has been both oversimplified and complicated.
So many mothers I work with feel defeated by their mile long lists of all the things they feel like they should be doing, for themselves and their kiddos.
With the sheer amount of information available at our fingertips and Dr. Google as our go-to guru, it’s no wonder that we’re left feeling confused.
How do you best help your family stay healthy?
How can you focus on nutrition when it may be a struggle to get food on the table?
How do you keep your health a priority when you’re in the trenches raising little people?
There’s good news here, mama.
The truth is that you can raise a healthy family here and now with whatever resources you have at your disposal.
Your family doesn’t have to look a certain way or bring in so much money in order to live a life that supports healthy behaviors for you and your loved ones.
There are a lot of myths perpetuated about what it means to raise a healthy family.
Let’s debunk some of those right now.
In order to raise a healthy family, you do NOT need:
To only buy organic food
To never have fast food
To constantly be working out
Weight loss or to weigh a certain amount
Shop at certain grocery stores
The reality is that health goes far beyond what we weigh or the size of our bodies. There are many health-promoting practices that you and your family can participate in to promote your health as a whole.
But first, why is it helpful to think of health as a family?
What is Family Health?
Essentially, family health means looking at the big picture at how a family is functioning as a unit and putting practices in place that can help everyone in the family thrive: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Because the reality is that if even one member of a family is struggling, this will have a significant impact on other members of the family unit. When a family is collectively working together toward reaching a specific goal, there is a greater chance that the desired outcome can be achieved.
When thinking of health as a family, it’s recognizing that there are dynamic factors at play that will influence each person that is part of that family. It’s also important to note that no matter the culture, background, structure, or socioeconomic status, families are deserving of the tools and resources they need to function at their best.
While not every person in a family may agree on the same things, there are some overarching principles that can help each family member live healthier lives.
What if Other Members of My Family Don’t Want to Participate?
Part of living harmoniously as a family is picking your battles and learning how to compromise.
If you are wanting to implement a change for your family as a whole and there is a member of your family that doesn’t want to be part of it, this can definitely be challenging.
As you work together as a family to integrate practices that support the health of your entire family, it’s important to have realistic expectations. It’s also helpful to engage in these changes slowly, as too many changes done too drastically can be hard for your family to adapt to.
Here are some steps to take when considering taking on new practices together as a family:
Have a family discussion about goals you’d like to work on together
Listen and allow other family members to express their ideas and suggestions
Pick 1-2 things you would like to focus on together
Come up with positive ways to support each other throughout the process
Going through these steps together as a family can make it a little easier for your loved ones to not only come on board but to be excited about trying something new together.
This can also help minimize any disagreements among family members, especially if you’re coming up with your goals together as a family and letting everyone share their thoughts and ideas.
What is the Best Way to Stay Healthy?
Many health messages targeted toward families glorify weight loss or the achievement of a thinner body as the pinnacle of what it means to be healthy. However, it is important to step back and look at the bigger picture here.
Our body sizes tell us very little about the entirety of our health. When the pursuit of weight loss becomes the primary objective of health and dieting and/or restricting is involved to reach this goal, unfortunately, much more adverse consequences can result.
Research studies have found that encouraging kids to diet can have long-term consequences that can have generational effects. This means that kids who are exposed to dieting are more likely to encourage their kids to do the same, perpetuating destructive behaviors for generations to come.
Research has also found that adolescents who were encouraged to diet by a parental figure had an increased risk of negative health behaviors that can impact them into adulthood, including:
Unhealthy weight control behaviors
Lower body satisfaction
With the fear-mongering messages that have widely circulated around childhood obesity, parents are facing more pressure than ever when it comes to their kids’ health and body sizes.
However, when thinking of your child’s health, it’s important to have a perspective on well-being that goes beyond body size. The fact of the matter is that dieting will benefit no one in your family, especially for the long term.
When you’re thinking about how to encourage your entire family to engage in healthy behaviors, it’s important to think about the long-term impact on both yourself and your children.
The bottom line is that dieting is simply not sustainable and certainly not conducive to good health, physically or mentally. In fact, dieting is associated with increased weight gain over time, which creates the opposite result that many people set out to achieve with dieting.
Even if one family member is dieting, this can create a negative ripple effect on other members of the family.
Let me ask you this question - have you ever been around someone who is dieting or severely restricting their intake? In ain’t pretty, right? This in itself usually creates increased tension for the rest of the family.
The dieting family member may be experiencing adverse side effects as a result of the diet and have a negative affect, poor mood, and more. It can become more difficult to eat together as a family if everyone is eating different things for the sake of following dieting “rules.
Health-Promoting Behaviors That Don’t Involve Dieting
Contrary to many popular mainstream beliefs, it is not necessary to diet or lose weight to improve your health. This applies to you and every member of your family. Instead, work on cultivating health promoting behaviors.
When a family is committed to engaging in a positive health behavior together, this can help the entire family become successful and accountable toward reaching these goals.
Engaging in health behaviors that don’t emphasize weight or changing body sizes will ultimately help your family be more successful in becoming healthier overall: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
These are behaviors that will also stick with your children and stay with them as they grow into adults.
So if focusing on dieting or weight loss is not the answer for improving your family’s health, what are alternative things to focus on?
What Are Some Simple Tips to Improve Your Health?
I’d love to suggest these following nine things you can do together with your family to help improve the well-being of everyone.
The best part is that there is zero dieting involved, and these practices can help build a sturdy and positive foundation from which your children can grow and thrive:
Move Away From Dieting Behaviors
if you or anyone in your household has been engaging in dieting behaviors, a good first step might be to move away from these for good.
By doing so, you will be creating space and room for everyone in your household to focus on practicing new, productive ways to truly elevate your well-being.
This can definitely feel scary at first, especially if you have been dieting for a long time.
Remember that you can become the best expert of what your body needs without having to rely on external rules from diets anymore.
Learning more about how to become an intuitive eater can help you break free from chronic dieting for good.
When it comes to food and your body, aim to model the message that your body deserves to be cared for and nurtured.
If you can keep this goal in mind as the basis of health, you and your family will naturally engage in life-giving behaviors that help improve your overall well-being, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
2. Have Regular Family Meals
One of the most impactful ways you can improve the health of your entire family is to prioritize family meals.
In our overworked, over-scheduled culture, this simple practice has become more and more difficult for families to manage.
Getting back to basics with family meals can help your family on several fronts, including:
Creating a safe space for family members to come together and talk
Decreased risk of eating disorders
Decreased risk of negative, high risk behaviors, such as drug use
Higher quality dietary intake, including more fresh fruits and vegetables
Providing structure that helps children feel more safe and secure
Improve language and academic development
Decreased risk of mood disorders, like depression
Having regular and consistent family meals can serve as a protective factor for kids on many fronts.
Giving the benefits involved with family meals, making this a priority for your family can be an important first step toward improving health.
This doesn’t have to be complicated or even time-intensive to make it happen. You can start right now with what you’re currently doing for meals.
Even if it’s fast-food or take-out, get your family together around the table to eat together. Make it a rule to keep electronics put away during meal times.
Having conversation starters ready can make it easier for your family to engage together. Start with where you are at and slowly increase frequency around your family’s schedule.
When you and your family have regular, predictable access to meals and snacks, this can also help create a foundation for a healthy relationship with food.
3. Focusing on a Positive Feeding Relationship
Equally important as family meals is having a positive feeding relationship between you and your children.
What exactly does this mean?
How your kids will feel about food and their bodies is largely based on the interactions and experiences they have at mealtimes and with their primary caregivers.
Certain feeding practices can create more stress on both parents and kids and mealtimes, which can build negative associations with food for the family.
Even though these feeding practices are often done with good intentions, they can often backfire. Some of these feeding practices might involve:
Forcing or pressuring kids to eat
Withholding or restricting certain foods
Not having consistent structure around meals and snacks
Requiring a child to clean their plates
Having a child eat certain foods before having dessert
Building a positive feeding relationship between a parent and a child can make eating more enjoyable and mealtimes less stressful.
This is a vital component of supporting good health for the entire family and for helping your children and family build confidence with food and eating.
4. Enjoy Movement and Activity Together
Families that participate in physical activity together are more likely to reap the health benefits of exercise.
It’s important to note that exercise does not have to be rigorous in order to be beneficial. You don’t have to get gym memberships for your entire family to exercise.
Participating in activities that encourage your entire family to move your body can include things like:
Riding bikes together
Playing tag or frisbee
Gardening or doing yard work
Washing the car
Hiking, walking trails
Team sports, like soccer or basketball
This also helps reinforce an important concept around exercise for you and your family, which is that movement should be enjoyable and something that feels good in your bodies - not something that should be dreaded or a punishment.
Kids are already being exposed to mainstream messages that tell them they need to “work-off” what they eat or use exercise as a way to change their bodies, but this creates negative messages around exercise.
Instead, use it as something that can be enjoyed together. Engaging in positive movement and exercise can also help empower you and your family and connect you to the strength in your own bodies.
Having access to safe spaces for you and your children to play can also be helpful, whether that is your backyard, a local park, or a community recreational center.
5. Drink More Water and Stay Hydrated
This may seem obvious, but drinking adequate water can be a struggle for many families, especially kids.
Having some support and accountability in this area can absolutely help you and your family members stay hydrated.
Research has found that many American children and teens aren’t getting adequate water throughout the day, with boys being more likely than girls to struggle with inadequate hydration. Poor water intake can be responsible for many physical and mental culprits, including:
Decreased physical performance
Poor mental functioning
Getting even 1 more cup of water per day can help reduce the risk of experiencing the symptoms associated with dehydration. Doing this however, can be easier said than done.
Working together as a family to prioritize hydration can help your family get adequate water intake. Check out these ideas to help boost your family’s hydration:
Keep a large pitcher of ice water visible on the table with reusable cups nearby. The visual reminder of the water can create the gentle nudge needed to drink as needed.
Try adding some fresh sliced fruit or veggies, like oranges or cucumbers, to naturally infuse your water with a refreshing flavor.
Get your kids a reusable water bottle that can easily be refilled. Adding ice to keep water cold can make water easier for your kiddos to drink rather than at room temperature. Kids also love fun, reusable straws.
Make different shapes out of ice cubes that your kids will enjoy eating by using shaped ice cube trays.
Serve fruits and veggies that naturally have a higher water volume, including melons, cucumbers, and citrus.
Homemade fruit popsicles and smoothies are also ways to naturally help increase water intake
Try an app to help with accountability. There are many free apps available that help remind you to drink your water throughout the day. For example, some apps give you a visual of a plant that you have to “care for” by drinking adequate water and recording how much you drink throughout the day. The visual example can be helpful!
No matter your approach, working together as a family to increase your water consumption can be helpful for everyone!
6. Prioritize Sleep and Rest
With parents and kids facing demanding schedules today, getting adequate sleep often falls to the wayside. Too often, families are suffering because of lack of sleep.
Part of the challenge can be cultural and the way our society perceives rest. Sleep is often approached as a luxury, when in fact, it is as essential to our health as is food and water.
Lack of sleep can contribute to a host of physical and mental health problems for both kids and adults, including:
Difficulty learning new information
Increased risk of anxiety and depression
Irritability and moodiness
If even one family member is struggling with lack of sleep, this can have a domino effect on other family members.
If you are in certain seasons of motherhood, consistent sleep might be harder to come by, especially with babies and little ones.
However, if getting better sleep is on your radar, you can take small steps to improving sleep for everyone in your family.
This might start with creating a bedtime routine with your kids each night to help you transition to sleeping easier.
Having a set bedtime can also help you get your kids improve their overall sleep. Studies have found that regular bedtimes during early childhood are an important influence on children’s behavior, health and development.
When getting adequate rest is prioritized and protected as a family, everyone will benefit.
7. Promote Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Managing Stress
One of the most detrimental factors to your physical and mental health is stress. Faced with multiple challenges throughout the day, you and your family likely encounter stress in many different ways.
Making the effort to both reduce stress and effectively cope with it is essential to improving health.
To help you better manage stress, consider the following:
Identify major stressors for you and other family members: Some stressors might include finances, over-scheduling, relationships, etc.
Consider what, if any, stressors can be reduced or minimized: For example, if your family is over-scheduled or has minimal margin in your lives due to too many activities, you might consider where you might need to prioritize your time. Creating more margin or pockets of downtime for you and your family can give you all more space to breathe and relax in the midst of a busy week.
Consider how you respond to stress: When stressors do come up in your life, how are you currently managing it? Do you allow yourself the space to process when needed? Do you have outside support? Do you and your family have time to address issues that are on everyone’s minds?
Develop healthy habits for managing stress: Making it a point to deal with stress in healthy ways can be helpful for your entire family. For example, if there is a stressful situation escalating in your family, consider taking a time out to deep breathe and talk. Create pockets of down time after days or weeks that are busy or stressful to reconnect as a family - either with movement or a meal.
Know when to get professional help: Sometimes, professional support is needed to help you or a family member work through major life stressors, and that is OKAY. Major life transitions, like pregnancy, postpartum, having kids move out, moving homes, changing careers, etc. can put a lot of stress on a family unit. Be aware of these transitions and consider outside support to help you mentally and emotionally.
8. Cultivate Positive Relationships
When family members build positive relationships with one another, this can create harmony for the entire family unit. When children build positive relationships and attachment with their caregivers, this can also help them grow into more secure, healthier adults.
Keep in mind that positive, trusting relationships take time, nurturing, and consistency to build over time.
When your family is juggling a busy, stressful schedule, it can be challenging to find the time to invest in your relationships.
Again, this is a good reminder to take a look at your schedule to see how you can prioritize time for the things that matter most. Here are some ideas to nurture the relationships in your family:
Take time for yourself: Being able to invest into the lives of the people you love means you need to also take care of yourself first. Make sure you are investing time to do things that fill up your cup and give you space to reset.
Date your partner/spouse: Having kids is a major stressor on a relationship, and it’s easy to put one another on the back-burner while you prioritize your kids’ needs. Find creative ways to stay connected with your partner while raising your family. This might look like a date-night-in after putting the kids to bed, swapping date nights with another family so you can go out, or putting a date on the calendar once per month.
Date your kids: Whether you have 1 child or multiple kids, it’s important to invest some 1:1 time with your children to help cultivate a positive relationship. It doesn’t have to be a weekly occurrence - find a rhythm that works best for all of you. Use this as a time to have open communication with your child or to connect with them through an activity they enjoy. Be sure to put your phone away to minimize distractions and to show them that they are worth your undivided attention.
9. Role Modeling of Positive Body Image and Self-Acceptance
Learning to treat your body kindly and with respect is one of the most positive things you can do for your children. Especially in our digital age, there are unrealistic expectations with body image that are imprinting on children at younger and younger ages.
The best way they can learn about body confidence is through the example they have from their caregivers.
This is an opportunity to reflect on your own relationship with your body: is it one that you would want your children to replicate?
If you have struggled with poor body image or have had a difficult time respecting your body through the different seasons of motherhood, including pregnancy and postpartum, know that you are not alone. There is hope for healing, and as you heal your own body image, you are creating a protective factor for your own children.
Check out this post here for more ways to begin healing your body image as a way to model body respect to your own kids.
No matter what season you and your family might be in, know that there are ways you can work together in a positive way to improve your well-being.
Having a family is a unique opportunity to serve one another in a way that benefits the entire family unit.
What areas can you and your family focus on to help each other thrive in life?