Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Role Modeling

As parents, we are the shining (and often, not-so-shining) example of who and how to be for our children. Our food preferences, our political preferences, our jobs, and our recreational preferences shape the way that our children see the world. If we are doing our job, then our children grow up with the ability to decide whether or not they share our preferences. Who we are affects who they will be...good, bad, or in between. Despite the fact that in the last 20 years the medical profession is regarded more often with fear and mistrust than with respect and value, I still find myself in the role of role model and mentor for my patients, as well.

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how one area in my life is absolutely out of control, and how it affects both my patients and my children. That issue is lifestyle, and more specifically, my weight. When I started medical school, I took care of myself. I ate well, exercised, and got plenty of sleep. Not coincidentally, I was also a healthy weight. In the 11 intervening years between the start of medical school and now, this has all fallen by the wayside. I eat a terrible diet, often rewarding myself with food, rarely exercise, and sleep is inconsistently 6 hours a night, at best. I look at myself now, 14 months after my second child was born, and I know that I no longer have any excuses. I am obese with a BMI of 36. I didn't "just have a baby." It was over a year ago!

Day in and day out, I give weight loss, diet, and exercise advice to patients. Prior to medical school I was also a weight loss counselor. I *know* what to do. How can I expect them to listen to my advice, as a role model, when it is obvious I do not practice what I preach? Worse yet, how do I model a healthy lifestyle for my 4 year old daughter? I can't keep fixing her fruits, veggies, and healthy dinners while I eat a pound of pasta night after night. I can't encourage her to keep active and fit when I come home at night, exhausted, and plant myself on the couch. Soon enough, the questions will start.

In my quest for a better work lifestyle, I am also embarking on a personal lifestyle change. Mr. Whoo and I are taking the kids for walks before or after dinner. This week I have started a weight loss regimen that requires me to track what I put in my mouth. I've started over and over again in the last 3-4 years down this road. I need this time to be the last. I'm doing it for myself, for my family, and also for my patients. It is time to realize that *my* health is important, too. I want to be able to tell my overweight/overworked/overstressed patients "I did this, this is how I did it, and you can do it, too!"

How are you being a positive role model in your patients' and families' lives?


  1. I understand what you are saying. It is tough trying to exercise when you come home exhausted. You also feel guilty because you haven't spent time with your family. It is a matter of prioritizing. I am an Anesthesiologist who works 50-60 hours per week. I find the only time I have to exercise is to get up at 4:30am and go running. I have to be at the hospital at 6:00 am and oftentimes don't get home before 7:00 pm. If I waited until I got home it would never happen. The thing that makes it easier for me is the fact that I have been running for 30 years and I don't want to go back to inactivity and have to start at ground zero again. I would encourage you to do what you are currently doing and don't give up. It is worth it.

  2. I don't eat really unhealthy..... just more than I should... and I do have a sweet tooth.... bad... i know.... but.... I also hate exercising! I did dance lessons weekly in high school.... and now i take horseback riding lessons weekly.... I am definitely not a morning person..... and they gym I used to belong to closed at 7 pm.... sorry... most days at 7 I was still at school... I'm thinking of joining a new one thats open later... so I can go.... I'm a little excited.... they have classes too.... plus its so hard to cook for one.... you have SO MUCH FOOD! lets keep track of eachother ok? :-)

  3. Dr. Whoo, thank you for giving voice to my own thoughts and feelings in a way that makes me want to exclaim, "YES! Totally!" with almost every sentence. I hear ya. I'm right there too. I feel totally inadequate in the "role model" department for my family. But Doc's right - we can't give up. If we have to just keep starting over, let's just keep starting over. I'm with you.

  4. I just put on 5 lbs during my Family Med rotation -- the land of the endless candy bucket. Now, I am still a skinny person, but THANK YOU for writing this, because I see that I too have started rewarding myself with food and skimping out on the exercise. And unlike you, I don't have a kid yet so I have no excuse at this point. THANK YOU. Seriously.

    Good luck.

  5. I'm a wellness director for a company of 2000 and by no means do I have the "Ideal" look/profile for a person in my role. But I think finding exercise that I can do with my family and that still provides some challenge to me has helped greatly. And taking a 15 minute break to do nothing but eat my lunch. 10 minutes even, I'm always surprised at how much more I can eat while standing up or watching tv than if I sit down with a plate at a table.

  6. Dr Whoo?

    Boy, do I hear you. I remember when my eldest was born, vowing I would be a healthy mom role model for my girls. Now 17 years and many pounds later, I am still dealing with my weight. Hopefully for the last time, as I am on the diet that I think finally fits my lifestyle - namely, letting someone else feed me for awhile.

    Sounds like you may have found a plan that works for you.

    I know you can do this. I can do this. We MUST do this.

  7. Things will get easier once your call improves. It is almost impossible NOT to reward yourself with food, if food is the only reward you get...sleep, quiet time by yourself, even a reasonable number of pts are out of your control. Been there. A reasonable goal would be not to gain any more for now. Sometimes you just have to compromise temporarily. Good luck and keep your eyes on the future. RuralObGyn

  8. Exercise is good, but over-rated for weight loss.

    With a BMI above 35 you can certainly lose weight by cutting back on snacking and watching portion sizes. Brown-bag to work and you'll save money and calories.

    When your kids get to be school-aged you'll have more time and opportunity to work in a steady exercise program. See what you can do with diet now, and don't beat yourself up about exercise for a few years.

  9. Thank you, everyone. I truly appreciate all of your suggestions. I am doing what I can to get my portions and eating under control, first. Food journaling has really helped with this. I also want to get moving, and taking walks is a good compromise right now while the kids are still small. My first goal is to lose 10% of my current body far down 2 pounds this week! :)


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