Your alarm goes off at 6 a.m. — just enough time to get yourself and your kids out the door. You log 8 hours at work (including 5 minutes to scarf down your lunch), then you rush to get kids to practice and make sure homework’s done. Maybe you top off the day with a dinnertime swing past the drive-thru. Once you get the kids to bed, you step on the scale to see your weight slowly creeping upward as your energy level goes the opposite direction.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Some small changes you can sprinkle throughout your day will help you get to a healthy weight without throwing off your schedule. Even better? You’ll have the chance to show your kids that there’s always time to make healthy choices.
Attack Fat First Thing in the Morning
Scientists have had a hard time proving a clear link between breakfast and slimming down. Some studies have found that people who eat a morning meal do lose weight, and others say it doesn’t make a difference.
But there is a reason breakfast earned its “most important meal” title. It can help you make healthier choices later in the day. If you skip it and you’re starving by lunch time, it’s harder to choose that salad over a cheeseburger. Plus, if you get energy in early, you have more time to burn it off during the day.
“Breakfast should be your largest meal,” says John Meigs Jr., MD, president-elect of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “When you load calories at the end of the day, you don’t have time to burn them off. When you go to bed with a full stomach, it’s all packed into storage called fat. You don’t sleep well and then don’t function well the next day.”
You have to eat the right things, though. Powdered doughnuts and a diet soda won’t help. You can get something healthy together no matter how much time you have:
- If you’ve got time: Scramble some eggs and serve with turkey bacon, fruit, and whole-grain wheat toast.
- If you’re in a rush: Toast some English muffins for ham-and-low-fat-cheese sandwiches. Make breakfast tacos with corn tortillas. Or top unsweetened cereal with some fruit.
- If you’re running out the door: Microwave some eggs, toast a whole-grain frozen waffle, or even peanut butter sandwiches will do in a pinch. Or at least grab a banana.
Challenge Yourself and Your Family
Just because you and your family spend the weekdays apart doesn’t mean you can’t be active together. “Invest in pedometers,” Meigs says. “Compare results at the end of the day. ‘I got my 10,000 steps. How about you?’”
Once you’ve thrown down the step-tracking challenge, pad your own numbers by chipping away at your recommended 30 minutes of physical activity throughout the work day:
- When you arrive at work, park at the end of the lot and walk.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
- Bring your lunch. It’s healthier, and it takes less time than standing in line for takeout. Then you’ll have time for a quick walk or maybe even a trip to the gym.
Skip Soccer Practice
Yep, you read that right.
Meigs says that while team sports are good for children, sometimes they can also create stress from peer pressure — and parental pressure. “I’m not against organized sports leagues,” Meigs says. “But sometimes we tend to overdo it, over-structure. Kids need unstructured play time.” Besides, while your kid is out there chasing a soccer ball, you’re sitting on your rear.
Instead of adding another sport to your family schedule, spend some evenings and weekends going for family hikes, riding bikes together, or just going to the park as a family. And if you do find yourself waiting around at soccer practice, see it as a chance to get yourself moving, too, like with a walk or jog around the field.
Dinner: The Second Most Important Meal
What you eat for supper is important, of course, but so is how you eat it. Meigs emphasizes the importance of making time for a long-lost tradition: dinner together at the family table.
“Not only is there better nutrition from a home-cooked meal, but there’s better cohesion in the family,” he says.
If you’re taking the time to put the fork down and talk with the family, Meigs says, you’re eating slower, giving yourself more time to feel full, and maybe eating less. Meanwhile, you can get clued in to what’s going on with your kids, good and bad.
Get Some Sleep
Just like your kids, you need rest to be ready for the next day. That’s 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. “When you get enough sleep, you function better, your stress levels are better,” Meigs says.
And if you get enough shut-eye, you’re more likely to have more energy the next day. You could use it to beat the alarm clock and hit the treadmill for 15 minutes or make a healthy lunch before you walk out the door. Even small changes can make a big difference for you and your family.