Knowing there would be documentation of my food choices in my journal made me think more carefully as I made those choices. Last Spring, my husband talked me into doing the South Beach diet, because he knew it would be easier if we were not only shopping for and eating the same foods, but also had each other to commiserate with and encourage to stick with the diet. That diet made me aware of how much sugar I had been eating and how often I either finished off food my children did not eat or had a bite of whatever snack I was giving to them. All those bites here and there really added up! Having to keep this journal these past few weeks was a reminder that I had gradually been slipping back into some of my old bad habits during this busy summer. The big thing I noticed was my tendency to slip-up in the evenings on days when I had not had much sleep the night before.
The goal I set for myself after a week of keeping the journal was to exercise at least three times a week when I am especially busy and five on easier weeks. (I had only been exercising one or two days a week!) The best way for me to accomplish this is to plan in advance which days I will exercise and then not let myself shower and get dressed until I have done it. That way I have my stinky self in exercise clothes with no make up on as a reminder! This week I met the goal, and my husband and I plan to exercise together next week while we are visiting his family. It will be trickier once the school year starts, especially with a new schedule juggling “work” and kids which I have never done, but if I make time on the weekends, those two days will get me off to a good start each week. Also, my husband has suggested, since we have a treadmill and elliptical trainer in our basement with a TV, that we exercise together a couple of nights a week while watching TV. Setting realistic goals with a specific plan and having a partner with the same or similar goals with whom to work are great strategies to teach my students. I have found I am much more likely to stick to a plan with this accountability.
A couple of easy ways I can model good health habits for my students are including any exercise I and / or members of my family have done over the weekend in a Monday morning class conversation and also to be mindful of all of the birthday treats brought into the classroom. (My son’s first grade class always wrote and drew about what they did over the weekend every Monday in a journal). I will need to come up with a polite system regarding birthday treats, since there may be 25 or so cupcakes coming in over the course of the school year – maybe only have one bite each time someone brings a treat or designate four treat days a year for fall, winter, spring, and summer birthdays to teach that it is okay to have treats in moderation. I would then come up with something special for student’s actual birthdays, such as everyone in the class sharing something they admire about the birthday person. I understand that children really enjoy celebrating their birthday at school, so I do not want to be a curmudgeon about birthdays.
Keeping a health journal could be a great activity for my students. Besides practicing writing skills, students could graph their exercise by time or type of exercise over a period of time. It would be fun to compile the data of the whole class and make a graph together reflecting all of the different types of exercise students did which can be a way to share interests and inspire new ones. It could even motivate us to start setting aside a short period of time for class exercise together. (My daughter’s third grade teacher always did Monday morning mile and timed the students so that they could see their improvement over the course of the year). We could also graph food groups the class ate as individuals and as a group. This could be a good segue into learning about nutrition, and class goals for making better food choices could then be set. Many fun science activities could be a part of this nutrition unit: volume of a certain number of calories of vegetables vs. same number of calories of candy (which will fill you up more?), adding sugar to fat (seeing how it becomes sticky and learning how that sticks inside of us), dissecting fruits, and so much more. Working on improving our health as a whole class, rather than labeling any one student’s diet or exercise habits as “bad,” will not only be more fun but will be more successful as we can encourage and remind one another to practice healthy habits on a daily basis.