Throughout my life, the idea of being active was all around me. When I was younger, I used to watch my mom and dad do FIRM videos. If you're picturing Jane Fonda videos with a very eighties vibe, you're 100% correct. A lot of step-ups and a lot of leg warmers (on the video instructors...not my parents...they aren't that cool). We even have video evidence of me trying some of the workouts out...which will never see the light of day. There also was a bench and a universal machine in the basement. The free weights and universal machine were bought secondhand from my uncle who also didn't use it. The machines and bench were great for hanging clothes and for the kids to play around on as the parents occupied themselves with other activities. On Fridays, my dad would take my brother and me to church for basketball. There were a few other guys in the church who would come together on Fridays, some would bring their kids, and everyone played pick-up ball for the night. Afterward, we'd treat ourselves to McDonald's burgers, fries, and a shake...if the machine was working.
As the years went on, I started testing out the weight bench and universal machine. Mostly to get bigger muscles to offset my massive shyness and anxiety around girls. I also ended up playing sports like basketball and baseball. My family knew nothing about baseball but we lived right across the street from a park that had a baseball diamond. I'd watch and learn, but to my parent's frustration, I learned more about swear words there than I did about baseball.
With a child of my own, I look back at all of the ways my upbringing has influenced the way I see health. I still enjoy being outside. I love lifting weights and I often look for healthier ways to create a dish.
But where did all of that come from? Did I create my own personality and habits that have led to the success I have today? Maybe some could be of my own doing, but a lot comes down to how I was raised.
So what kind of influence will I create for my child? What are all of the ways a parent can influence a child? And most importantly, can I change it if it's not something that works for me?
This is a complicated question to tackle, but it's so extremely important because almost every single one of the topics we're going to touch on influences your perspective on health. The way you see exercise, nutrition, your body, and your ability to change.
Genetics is the most obvious influence our parents have on us. Our genes are basically the cards we've been dealt. Recently, there's even been some discussions around a "fat gene" and how 70% of us carry this "fat gene". However, this discussion needs to be put into perspective since this same gene has been around for generations, even when obesity wasn't as big of an issue as it is today. The area where genes really influence our health the most is how easy or difficult it is for us to gain weight and where the weight goes when we gain weight.
If your parents have a stocky build, odds are you may have a similar stocky build. If your parents are long and lean, you may also be long and lean. Our bone structure, organ health, and many other hereditary factors are facts we can do nothing about.
However, as the saying goes, "genes are the cards you're dealt, but your health revolves around how you play the game." For most people, genes will not dictate your success in health, but they can dictate your path toward health.
As I mentioned earlier, the environment our parents created for us influenced my path a lot. Having weights in our basement and a baseball park across the stress I was constantly viewing different ways to move my body. On the negative side, we often had small heavily processed snacks and sugar-rich beverages on hand in the kitchen. This kind of environment shaped the habits I eventually grew into as an adult. When I was in my twenties I can recall having snacks and various beverages in the kitchen and then thinking I could work out enough to balance out the high-calorie foods I continued to consume. A lot of the environment I created at home was influenced by the environment my parents created for me.
These days are a little different. Now, I have a wife who has been influenced by her own environment and we are creating an environment together to help each other reach our healthiest selves. As I reflect on certain desires I have for my current environment, I ask if my desire is rooted in actual things I need for my path to health... or if it is just the influence my parents created for me that doesn't really align with the person I want to be.
The subject that scares me the most is the one around what role model I'm going to be for my son. I can already see him now walking with his hands in his pockets because he saw me do the same thing. As we read books together, I often lick my finger to get a better grip on the page and I glance over to watch him lick his finger as well. As much as it scares me, he's watching everything I do.
I also watched a lot of what my parents do. Whether it was my dad dribbling the ball down the court, sweating to the exercise videos, or eating bland grilled chicken with plain iceberg lettuce. I was watching. Our parents modeled many behaviors we may have around exercise, food, and especially how they react to weight or health issues. If they started to gain weight or had a few health scares and largely did nothing about it, that's going to influence how you react to similar issues.
Just as much as this issue scares me because I may model unhelpful behavior for my son, I have to reflect on how my parent's behavior influences me. As I approach an issue, do I react the same way as my parents? What are those feelings rooted in? How do I change? These are all hard questions to answer and the solutions take time. In the end, we want to be the best for ourselves and our children. As long as that's the goal and we're making strides towards that, we're doing a good job.
Just as much as parents model certain behavior, they also try to instill certain values. As a guy, I get that society essentially places the majority of my value in the money and work I provide. This means that most people will value work or money over their health. It's a value that's as American as apple pie and baseball. I saw that in our household. Long hours at work. Phrases like, "I'll sleep when I'm dead" and "deadlines are more important than waistlines." This lead to parents who aren't in the best shape as they enter retirement. We also see how the younger generation values being in touch with their emotions a little more than we were taught. Our emotions drive nearly every single action we take and the more out of touch with our emotions we are, the more out of touch with our health we may be.
The reflection we had to do to analyze how our parents modeled behavior and how it impacts us today, we have to question the values as well. Certain values are timeless but others may have to evolve as we mature in our journey. What served us for a certain time of our life, may not be working for us anymore. It takes dedication to figure out the person you truly want to be and the values you want to hold to figure out which ones may need to evolve for you.
Our last area of influence on our lives may be the most emotional. Some of us had parents that were supportive of every move we made. Others weren't so fortunate. I remember one time I was going for a layup in a basketball game. I was dribbling the ball up the court and when I missed it my dad yelled out over the crowd embarrassing me in a way I would never forget. On the other hand, he also was the guy who helped me in any way he could. He just wanted the best for me and for me to do my best. He didn't like it when I quit something but he knew when to throw in the towel as well. How are parents celebrate our successes and react towards our failures means a lot to us and how we embark on our health journey. Many of the stories we tell ourselves revolve around the level of support we received...or didn't. It's those stories we tell ourselves that largely dictate our actions which turn into the results we either want or weren't able to achieve.
There's a lot of unpacking when it comes to how our parents influenced our health and how they continue to influence the health we'll have in the future. As you see, there's no magic bullet you can't get over when it comes to taking charge of your own health. But we all have different starting points and different paths to get to the same place.
Your duty is to find what's right for you...which is why a great coach in your corner is super helpful. ;)