Saturday, October 22, 2011

Calorie-Counting and the Voracious Vacuums

There is lots of calorie-counting going on around here, but it's not for the typical reason.  We are trying to encourage growing and active kids to eat MORE.  Opposite of an active athlete who got used to eating massive amounts, but kept the eating up after the sports went away and got hefty, the kids have maintained their former eating habits now that their bodies have grown and their activity level is increased.  

This has been particularly true for Prince Go-for-It, who has had quite the metamorphosis in a short time.  At 12 he weighed 150+ pounds and was just under 5 feet tall.  He was always the 'sturdiest' of his siblings, and didn't really like that distinction. Now, at 13 1/2, he's approximately 5 feet, 9 inches, and weighs under 125.                                                                                                                                        
And he's recently found he enjoys distance running, to boot...and is good at it.

Transformation... From age 11 to 13 1/2

Princess Sassy, with her interest in fitness and experience with cross-country running, and I, with my education in nutrition, were after him all summer to eat more.  But he was enjoying the new attention.  Adults commented on how thin he was and how different he looked... And, of course, the girls took notice.  He's been afraid to regain his round face and growing-boy chubbiness, even though he's far from it, and we told him he was risking his brain and organs by restricting his caloric intake, as well as his muscle mass.  He said he just didn't feel that hungry.

Now that the high school health instructor and the one of our health providers (a chiropractor, who is also a certified fitness trainer) both repeated the same things his sister and I had been telling him, it's starting to make a difference.  The prince now has an appetite, and the chiropractor explained how it was normal for a boy his age to bulk up, grow a lot, then plateau, both in growth and hunger.  But now that period had passed, he's doing extensive work outs and running, he's hungry again... ALL the time... and he needs to learn his "new normal" for eating.   The doctor told him that at his activity level, he could eat over 4000 calories a day, and stay in a healthy, trim weight range.

Meanwhile, the high school cross-country coach has also explained to him the hazards of running too much and too far, so we're trying to rein him in, as far as the exercise goes.

Our chiropractor gave him an easy first step by telling him to take one day, and "pig out."  He was to write down all he ate, and find out how many calories it was, and also the amount of carbs, fat, and protein he'd eaten in the process.  

The doctor told him to aim for 60% carbs, 20% (good) fats, and 20% protein... So we've had a lot of discussions about what foods fit into each category, and that it's important to have some of each at every snack and meal.

The Recipe Calculator at has been invaluable in this nutrition exercise.  By adding foods and amounts, the calculator is meant to figure out the nutrition information for one serving of any recipe.  But we have been able to do the same for whole meals or even, as Princess Eager figured out, a whole day.  She just sat down and entered everything she'd eaten for the whole day, as if it was a single recipe, specified that it fed 1 person, and the whole day was calculated for her.  

Prince Go-for-It's "pig out day" totaled just under 4000 calories.  He was amazed at how 'off' he'd been on guessing his food needs.

The focus on one prince's diet has shined a light on the habits of the whole family.  All of the kids are very physically active.  Go-for-It wasn't the only one who was being too conservative about fueling the athletic body.  It's also reminded me to fuel my tired self regularly, and with the right combinations of nutrients, so my body is not burdened trying to keep moving and restoring itself without the proper help from the food I eat.

So with 5 hungry, athletic teens at home, and 2 younger, but growing fast, too, food does not last long in our house. 


This week I made 4 loaves of bread on Sunday, again on Wednesday night, and we were down to 2 heels by mid-morning on Friday.  I buy mounds of fruit that disappear just as quickly.  It's not exactly helpful in our quest to improve our finances, but I feel better that the kids are now respecting those hunger pangs, and have learned a lot about how to feed them adequately.  

I am happy that they still prefer to make healthy choices with fruit, cottage cheese, quality yogurt, protein-boosted fruit smoothies, salads, and sandwiches of meat, veggies, and whole wheat bread, instead of filling the need for energy with empty calories of refined sugar, white flour, and unhealthy fats.  
Not to say, though, there are not some cookies baking in our kitchen, and most don't even get a chance to cool.

Of course, we've peppered all of this discussion with reminders that this is all about health, and not appearance, and that a person's value is not in his or her looks or weight, but in character and heart.
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