In training to be a healthy parent


A nutrition expert believes that although parents are trying to take control of their family’s diet, they are being misled by official dietary guidelines

WE ALL know what we should be feeding our children and although we might not always adhere to it, the fundamental food pyramid is the official guide to keeping us on the right track. Or is it?

Nutrition and fitness expert Olena Polyakova says we are following the wrong guidelines and unless we start to change the way we feed and mollycoddle our children, they will suffer serious repercussions in the future.

Having spent years in her home country of Ukraine, lecturing at the National University and training the Ukrainian national fitness team, the 50 year old moved to Ireland in 2000 and has spent over a decade living and working here, first as a lecturer in fitness at Sallynoggin College and more recently running a Total Well Being clinic at Stillorgan Counselling Centre.

Catering to all ages, Polyakova runs a specialised clinic for parents to help them to reorganise their lives and make simple changes which will enhance both their own future and that of their children.

“All over the world children are suffering from obesity. It began in the 1980s in America and now the problem is getting out of control in most of the developed countries,” says Polyakova. “Too many people are eating the wrong food, not exercising enough and living sedentary lives.”

But even when people decide to take control of their family’s diet, Polyakova believes they are being misled by official dietary guidelines.

“I believe the food pyramid is one of the biggest problems regarding nutrition and directly leads to weight gain,” she says. “First of all, the idea that we should be eating five pieces of fruit or vegetables a day is ridiculous. This is not enough and we should all aim to have at least 10 pieces daily.

“The pyramid also encourages us to eat lots of carbohydrate – this is something we shouldn’t be doing. We were designed to eat protein and although this is contained in some food with carbohydrate, our bodies spend so long trying to break it down to find the protein, that we are hungry again and looking for the next meal before we know it.”

In her Total Wellness programme, the nutritionist uses a “back to basics” method for parents to help re-train children to eat properly and get more exercise.

“When I talk to parents with overweight children I ask them to turn their heads back to when they were young and try to remember what they ate and how active they were,” she says.

“In those days, children walked to school, they were not allowed to spend all day watching television or sitting down and more often than not had jobs to do around the house.

“We also ate more freshly cooked meals as convenience food wasn’t as readily available. We weren’t given treats and fizzy drinks every day and, most importantly, we were told to eat our vegetables as there was no alternative.

“So many parents today are destroying their children through love. They think that by giving into their child’s every desire, they are showing how much they care, but in fact, they are just causing a huge amount of damage for the future.

“The first thing we need to do is lead by example,” says Polyakova.

“Buy healthy food in the supermarket, get the kids to help with the preparations and sit down together as a family with no phones or TV while you are eating.

“Cut down the amount of computer and television time your children have. Send them outside to play instead. They might be cross initially, but you are the parent so you have to lead your children, not let them lead you.”

Polyakova says changing your dietary habits will not only help you and your family lose weight, it will also help your children to lead longer, stronger, healthier lives.

“When parents come to me for help, they really want to change,” she explains. “On the first session, we will look at the whole family – taking in body condition, energy and stress levels, exercise, sleep patterns, medical conditions, and diet and exercise routines.

“Once I have discovered what needs to be done, we can work out a programme which includes planning for grocery shopping, cooking and exercising.

“I think everyone wants the best for their children and that means feeding them well, getting them to help with the cooking and the housework and providing them with skills which will help them survive in the future.

“If we don’t teach them healthy habits, we are ultimately making things very difficult for them when they grow up.”

Polyakova has the following tips for parents:

Change how you shop:Don’t buy unhealthy food and snacks. Instead stock up on fruit, vegetables and healthy proteins.

Get more organised:Prepare the lunch boxes the night before and make sure to include fresh fruit and sandwiches with wholemeal bread. Squeeze some oranges for breakfast and keep in the fridge until morning because you might not want to do it in the morning.

Get rid of the cereal from your cupboards:Give your children porridge or scrambled eggs instead.

Walk or cycle to school:If this isn’t possible, park a short distance from your school and walk the remaining way.

Eat well:Prepare an evening meal with protein such as chicken or fish, a little carbohydrate and lots of veg.

Avoid juice and squash:These are really bad for your children. We all need to drink at least 1 litre of water each day just to replenish what we lose naturally.

Screen time:Reduce computer and TV time.

Get your children to bed at a reasonable time:They need plenty of sleep to help them grow and develop healthily.

Keep treats and sweets to a minimum:They should not be given every day – limit them to special occasions or even once a week.

Talk to your children:Explain why all of these changes are necessary. They will quickly adapt and you will quickly see the results.

For more information visit fitnessbyolena.comor call 087 990 5849