The Drevitches, Week 26: Keeping Up With the Latest News

Filed under: Healthy Families Challenge

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Benjamin and Natalie visit Washington, DC, birthplace of the healthy-eating guidelines. Courtesy Gary Drevitch

It's one of the oldest jokes in the book.

Whenever you hear a news report about the "surprising risks" of some food previously thought to be innocuous, you just know some wag is going to say, "Next they'll tell us broccoli causes cancer and we should all go on a chocolate-only diet!"

It's a good punchline -- or was, anyway, back in 1995. But it's also true that our collective wisdom about food and dieting changes over time. I know people who have recently done diets focused on dairy products and vegetables and, to prevent hunger, no workouts. And I know people who have done the "paleo" diet, eating as cave people might have -- no processed foods, grains, dairy or sugar. The diets have worked for them, too, probably an indication that the key to weight-loss success is not the menu, but the mental readiness to change.

Since my crew began the Healthy Families Challenge in the fall, I've been clipping articles on the latest discoveries about eating healthy. I recently opened the file to see how well research reflects reality.

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Here's what the experts say:

1. It's no mystery: School lunch is bad for you.

A study of sixth-graders found that children who regularly ate school lunch were 29 percent more likely to be obese than other kids, making pizza and tater tots a greater risk factor than two hours of daily TV. Fortunately, our own forward-thinking public elementary school has scrapped its old menu for a new, healthier lineup high on whole grains and low on fat. Benjamin, 10, and Natalie, 8, miss the chicken nuggets, but we're not complaining. We'd been terrified of their wholesale embrace of greasy lunch-tray options.

2. Want to lose 190 unsightly pounds? Drop the kids.

This one was no surprise: Couples without kids eat healthier. Why? Fewer people demanding Oreos or mac-and-cheese every night. The kids don't always get those things but relentlessness pays off -- most moms and dads give in at least once in a while. In fact, in an average week, 84% of parents give their kids some sort of fast food, and then usually partake themselves. Couples without kids spend a lot less time at children's birthday parties stocked with baked goods, but, more important, they don't have a pile of unfinished dinner plates tempting them every night, even when they've already had enough.

3. The children are watching, always watching.

The American Horticultural Society, not surprisingly, thinks adults should eat more produce, and that's partly because the group really thinks more kids need to. However, since only 26 percent of adults have three servings of fruits and vegetables each day, the vast majority of kids don't have role models for eating well. When my family started the Challenge, the kids called me out for demanding that they finish their veggies when I wasn't doing the same. Now that it has ever so gradually become clear to them how much healthier I'm eating, they're starting to ask questions about how I choose what I eat.

4. They're from the government, and they're here to help.

The new healthy-eating guidelines released by the federal Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services not only reflect advice I'd already received from our nutritionist, Marissa Lippert of Nourish, they make sense: Fill half your plate with fruits or vegetables; stick to lean meats and eat more fish; when you have a choice, go low-fat, low-sodium and high-fiber; eat more home-cooked meals; drink more water and less booze; and, in general, eat less and exercise more. These guidelines make so much sense, the Tea Party can't even complain about them. (Ah, who am I kidding?)

5. Learning to love yourself IS the greatest love of all.

A new area of psychological research known as "self-compassion" makes a compelling case that people who are as accepting of their own flaws as they are of other people's tend to be happier, healthier -- and more successful at losing weight. One leader in the field told The New York Times, "If you care about yourself, you do what's healthy for you rather than what's harmful to you." Now, these guys are on to something. After years of living with, and resenting, my overweight self, why did I embrace change this year? Maybe because the Challenge was pitched to me, by my editor, and then by my wife, as something good to do for myself, rather than a way to fix what was bad about myself. Once I looked at it that way, I was ready to go.

Who's the rest of the competition? Check out all the challengers' latest updates here.



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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.