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Early last week, a headline from the United Kingdom caught my eye. And no, it wasn't Brexit-related. The headline read, in part, that “80% of parents overfeed their children."


Come again? My mind was slightly boggled. I mean, to the untrained eye it seems that my own children subsist off a steady diet of air and watermelon. How could I possibly overfeed my children when our mealtimes tend to go a little like this:

Me: Please have a few more bites.

Child: I'm all done.

Me: You haven't eaten anything. Please take another bite.

Child: I'm full. I ate at breakfast.

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Me: . . .

And so on and so forth. From the stories of most of my mom-friends, we aren't alone in our struggle to get our kids to eat. It's sometimes hard to get anything at all into them. So it seems only natural that I am constantly badgering them for, “just one more bite."

Yet when I clicked on the article and researched a few more like it, I found that in reality I had no clue what an appropriately-sized meal looked like for a three-year-old. Portion control is such a simple concept! I couldn't believe it had never crossed my mind to think about it for my children when it's something I think about often for myself.

And before the pitchforks come out, don't worry. I'm not talking about limiting what they eat. I'm just talking about starting with realistic portions on the plate. If they want seconds, by all means! But let's set the bar correctly and go from there.

A quick search on the Healthy Children website managed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and I discovered that the portions I was placing in front of my children were entirely unrealistic. It turns out, I'm one of the 80% of parents overfeeding their children. A healthy serving of grains for my 3-year-old is actually HALF a slice of bread or 1/4 cup cooked pasta. Seriously. So when I set a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in front of him, I'm actually giving him 4 entire servings of grain. And when he gobbles up two scrambled eggs for breakfast? He's actually eating twice his recommended daily protein in that one sitting. I was completely taken aback.

Maybe my kids were good eaters after all. Maybe I was the one who needed a reality check.

I know that we are, for the most part, healthy eaters around here. I make three meals a day for my kids, and I serve well-balanced, nutritious foods. We don't have separate “kid-meals." We buy a decent amount of organic meats and we get our vegetables from a local farm. I'm not trying to brag, I just mean to give a little context. I am a food-conscious parent, and I thought I was doing a great job. But in actuality I was missing some key components.

Could I do better? Absolutely! I just didn't know how.

According to the CDC, we are in the midst of a childhood obesity crisis. In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has doubled in children aged 6-11 and quadrupled in adolescents aged 12-19, resulting in more than one third of American youth being considered overweight or obese. Childhood obesity carries with it a number of immediate and longterm health effects including higher risk of cardiovascular disease, pre-diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, some cancers, and adult obesity.

And though we are all aware that there's a genetic link to obesity, we don't need to despair just because we may be carrying around a few extra pounds ourselves. There's good news too. It's not completely out of our control and there are plenty of things that parents can do to help our children avoid obesity.

Here are seven research-backed ways parents can protect their children from becoming a part of the childhood obesity epidemic:

One

Maintain healthy folate levels during pregnancy.

You can start protecting your child from obesity before he's even born. While it's long been known that children born to women who are obese during pregnancy are more likely to become obese themselves, it's not been known exactly why this is.

But a 2016 study conducted at Boston Medical Center suggests that the link is not simply obesity, but specifically folate levels during pregnancy. The levels of folate during a mother's pregnancy were found to affect the child's metabolism after birth. Mothers who maintain optimal folate levels during pregnancy, regardless of their own weight, are less likely to have children who become obese.

Two

Make sure that young children get enough sleep.

When our kids are older, they are more capable of dictating their own sleep schedules. But for very young children, ages 0-4, they need the help of caregivers to make sure they're getting ample sleep at night. Many children need guidance even longer.

My own children have been known to turn into terrorizing derelicts when kept up too late at night, but I didn't realize that their lack of sleep could have adverse health effects as well. And I certainly didn't know that less sleep increases their chance of becoming obese or overweight later in life.

A 2010 study confirms that very young children, aged 0-4, who have shortened nighttime sleep duration are almost twice as likely to later become obese or overweight. Daytime sleep, or naps, were not found to affect this outcome. The theory here is that when we are tired, our body produces fewer leptin and more ghrelin hormones, the same hormones that regulate our hunger and appetite. By making sure they are well-rested, we set our kids up for a healthier metabolism.

Three

Practice smart portion control.

Until I began to research appropriate child-sized portions, I had no idea that the amount of food I was placing in front of my kids, and even encouraging them to eat, was not realistic. Even worse, it was putting them at risk. And I'm far from alone.

A study by the United Kingdom's Infant and Toddler Forum surveyed 1000 parents and found that 79% of them were routinely offering portions larger than the recommended size for their child. At the same time, 73% of parents worried that their children were not eating enough.

So why does portion size matter if our kids don't typically eat everything we place in front of them? Another study new in 2016 revealed that larger meal sizes put children at increased risk for childhood obesity. But don't fret. There are resources available to help.

The Infant and Toddler Forum created a visual guide to toddler portions and a similar chart is also available from the American Academy of Pediatrics. By placing smart portions in front of our children, we set them up to expect more realistic portions as they grow.

Four

Limit media exposure.

Though we're primarily talking about food and a healthy relationship with eating here, media and screen time are involved in the childhood obesity epidemic in two important ways.

First, media consumption tends to be a sedentary activity, meaning that when our children are partaking in screen time, they are missing out on physical activity. Recent studies found that increased screen time is linked with increased risk for childhood obesity.

And second, a new study out of McMaster University in Canada revealed that exposure to ads for junk food increased the amount of unhealthy food and beverage choices children made. Decreasing screen time decreases exposure to these ads. Practical advice linked with limiting screen time includes not having more than 2 TVs in a home, not having screens in a child's room and having consistent rules in place to limit screen time.

Five

Educate yourself and other primary caregivers about healthy eating and physical activity.

A 2012 study from the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that over time, children whose parents had access to information and support regarding diet, health and physical activity were less likely to become obese and more likely to beat obesity if they were already afflicted. Central to the findings was the parents' role in identifying healthy measures and feeling empowered to make good choices.

Unsurprisingly, parents who are proactive and educated regarding obesity are less likely to have obese children. The American Psychological Association agrees, noting that “when parents stock the home with healthy foods and encourage outdoor exercise—and when peers and family members join in the healthy eating—overweight children are most likely to show sustained weight loss over time."

Six

Make family mealtime a positive experience.

Family meals together on their own are not enough to prevent obesity. If dinner together becomes a battleground over food or an upsetting mix of family dynamics, family meals are just another stressor. But family meals in a positive environment are associated with lower rates of childhood obesity.

Specifically, longer meals served around a table and away from the television were less likely to be associated with overweight families. Additionally, non-overweight families were more than twice as likely to allow children to serve themselves at mealtime.

Seven

Send your kids outside to play.

The CDC and the United Kingdom Health Education Authority both recommend that children and youth get at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. A statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents “should encourage children to play outside as much as possible."

But many parents may actually be afraid to do so. An article from the United Kingdom's Telegraph quotes child psychologist, Dr Richard Woolfson, as pointing out that although “energetic free-play outdoors used to be the typical activity in childhood, such opportunities are rare now, largely because of parental fears about their child's safety. Sadly, this has a restrictive effect on a child's development . . . [and] this reduction in physical movement during play almost certainly contributes to the increase in childhood obesity."

It's a sad day when attempting to protect our children from one danger exposes them to another, but for parents who fear free play outdoors, structured sports or play areas provide the necessary opportunities for physical activity.

Eight

Provide regular nutritious meals and limit stressors during adolescence, particularly for girls.

Another study new in July 2016 followed female adolescents who are of normal weight in their early teen years. This study found that when girls are exposed to food insecurity (i.e. uncertainty about whether regular meals will be available), in combination with harsh parenting styles as adolescents, they were more likely to become obese or overweight during their teen years.

Among the harsh parenting techniques under the microscope were hostile physical contact and angry or critical behavior. Though some parents may be unable to prevent food insecurity or personal stress levels, we can all be mindful of the way we let our own stress affect our children. Teens who were exposed to food insecurity without the addition of harsh parenting were less likely to become overweight than those who experienced food insecurity in combination with harsh parenting.

Though childhood obesity brings with it a number of disconcerting health issues and additional psycho-social concerns, it is reassuring to know that as parents, we are not helpless. Like many parents, I believed I was doing everything I could to foster my children's healthy relationship with food, but I wasn't aware of the current research that shows just how much more we can do to set our kids up for success. Providing well-rounded, nutritious meals is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Armed with knowledge and backed by science, parents of kids of any age can play a role in protecting them from the childhood obesity epidemic and making sure that they are on the path for success as they forge their own relationships with food.

For more about preventing childhood obesity, visit the American Heart Association or the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

Our Partners

I am currently 38 weeks pregnant with my second child and I hate everything. Okay, not everything everything. I only hate slowly falling apart as a person. And I miss running. I also miss sitting in hard chairs without back pain. Oh, and I hate how my boobs slowly suffocate me if I'm not lying down at an angle.

I only hate not being able to fully empty my bladder which means I run to the bathroom every 10 minutes thinking I'm about to pee my pants. And I hate how long it takes. I also hate being tired. I hate the super large prenatal pills I take because really, who thought giving a gigantic pill that smells horrible to someone who is already gagging every 30 seconds was a good idea? But really, that's it.

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I am supposed to be grateful and glowing and be excited to meet my baby. And I am. Excited and grateful, but most definitely not glowing. I'm more like sweating a lot, which I guess makes you kind of glow?

The thing is—no one wants to hear the real answer to "How are you feeling?"

I take the opportunity to be honest every time I am asked. And this has not once been received well. An example of how this goes. let's say, at a wedding...

SOMEONE'S AUNT: How are you feeling?

ME: My body is on fire and if I have to sit on this hard Chiavari chair for another 15 minutes I may murder the groom or dive headfirst into the cake.

SOMEONE'S AUNT: Yeah but only a couple more weeks!

ME: Do you know how many days make up two weeks? 14 days.

Do you know how long a day is when you can't put weight on your left foot because of how bad your plantar fasciitis is?

Do you know how long a moment is when you've hit your daily limit of TUMS and you resort to shots of apple cider vinegar which burns as it goes down your already burning throat?

SOMEONE'S AUNT: You should really try to enjoy it.

ME: Yes I should. Right after I figure out how to poop properly. I haven't done that in a couple of months. So I live life in this lovely limbo between constipation and diarrhea… It's been great chatting. Please pour a glass of wine out for me and have a nice night.

Everyone wants to see "the bump" but "the bump" better look small.

I never feel comfortable showing off my bump, so I wear a series of black tents that don't make me look that pregnant. And I am constantly rewarded for it. People are constantly telling me how good I look and how I am carrying well, and here's the thing, I am not.

I gained 50lbs with this pregnancy and 50lbs with the last one. I am fat-shamed and threatened with C-sections every time I go to the doctor's office. Naked I look like something out of National Geographic but if I cover it up, the people rejoice.

It's not cool. If it's not socially acceptable to comment on a woman's body when she is not pregnant—let's not open the floodgates when she is pregnant. I'm still a person. A 34-year-old woman with a buffet of body image issues. That all didn't stop when I gained 50lbs… if you can imagine that.

No. I am not excited about any part of maternity leave and "my time off."

At some point during my last maternity leave, I watched the movie "The Room"—the one where the woman is a captor with her child in some creeps backyard and I had never felt more seen. My company is giving me six months of leave, which is amazing by today's standards. And it's amazing for my baby. But I also feel trapped with someone who can't laugh at my jokes or commiserate on how hard the day has been for both of us.

AND CAN WE GET REAL ABOUT NIPPLES.

How the… what they… but how are they… what color are they… and HOLY AREOLA are they spreading? And what the… is my shirt wet? Are they leaking…? Why are they leaking? Should they be leaking? Cool. Cool, cool, cool. My giant brown areola boobs leak now.

If you are the type that grooms the, uh, ya know, you won't be seeing anything for a while.

I don't want to get too into this because people I know may read this and believe it or not I have a line I don't want to cross. But let's just say I lost sight of the "land down under" a couple of months ago. So what's going on "south of the border" is anyone's guess. I look forward to seeing her again someday so we can evaluate the damage and align on our approach to the situation together.

Okay, now if you'll excuse me, I have a cervix to soften and labor to induce.

So I have six dates to eat, some pineapple to cut, a TUMS and a Pepcid AC to take, a prenatal yoga class to go to, a birthing ball to bounce on, an Evening Primrose Oil supplement to swallow, some Red Raspberry Leaf tea to steep, an acupressure appointment to get to, some awkward sex to attempt right after I rub some Clary Sage essential diluted oil on my belly.

It goes fast, enjoy it!

Life

No matter our age or gender, hugs are the universal language of love. Hugging our babies when they are sad, hurt or disappointed lets them know they are safe and cared for, and can help alleviate some of their emotional pain.

But research has shown that hugs do more than just provide comfort. In fact, children need this type of stimulation to grow stronger and happier.

Studies show that hugs can enhance a child's physical growth by triggering the release of oxytocin—yes, that same hormone that your brain released to onset your labor and help you bond with your baby. When oxytocin levels in the blood are increased, several other hormone levels increase, too, promoting growth in cells, tissues and neurons. Other studies have shown that the absence of a nurturing touch can cause the brain to suppress cell responses to these growth hormones.

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Plus, those hugs a child receives in their early years are also important for their emotional development. When a baby is born, they have about 50 trillion synapses (the connection between two nerve cells) in their brain—that's about 100-times the number of stars in the Milky Way! This network of synapses grows rapidly during the first year and continues to do so up to the age of three when a child's brain will have 1000 trillion (!) of them.

As a baby grows, more connections in the brain are added based on daily life. But not all of the synapses will remain as the child grows. Life experience will activate certain neurons, create new connections among them and strengthen existing connections—and unused connections eventually will be eliminated in a process called synaptic pruning. During this pruning, the connections in the brain that are frequently used are preserved, and those that are not are eliminated. All to make the brain more efficient and boost brainpower.

Research has found that it is important to expose a child's brain to positive stimulation in order to preserve the right connections. For example, if we consistently show a child love and care, those related connections in their brain will develop and strengthen over time. Without love and care, the corresponding brain cells atrophy and eventually will be removed from the child's brain network, making it difficult for them to comprehend what is essential to create healthy, meaningful relationships later in life.

Bottom line: What we do during a child's formative years can have lifelong effects on their health and happiness. Keep those snuggles coming, mama.

Learn + Play

It was one of those mornings all moms know about. I was tired, my daughter was tired and we were running late for school. My daughter was in her school uniform, her backpack was organized for the day, and her snack box was filled with healthy treats to keep her fueled. Yet I was still in my pajamas. My hair was pulled up in a messy bun, and my glasses—the gold glittery ones that my girl says look like they belong to a grandma from Las Vegas—were sliding down my nose.

As I pulled up to the school's entrance, there she was: another mom dropping off her 3rd grader. She was dressed in heels and a form-fitting dress with her hair perfectly styled and cascading down her back. I felt like the biggest wallflower on the planet. Then my heart panicked. Dear God, please-oh-pretty-please make sure the principal is there to open the back passenger door. Please, don't make me have to step out of this car!

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Long story short, the principal met us and he opened the back door and greeted my girl. I inched out of the parking lot, pulled onto the street and headed home.

Then an unkind voice entered my head. It said that I wasn't enough.

I wasn't as good as the mom who, at 8:00 in the morning, was already perfectly outfitted for her day and ready to walk the runway of life. I pulled my car over, put my head on the steering wheel, and let out a long, hard sigh.

Have you ever felt this way? It's not uncommon that we, as mothers, can find ourselves living in black and white when it seems everyone else is living in full color. Life seems a little lackluster, at times. Where did that "together" woman go who once had time for wardrobe planning and long, warm showers? Moreover, when did the voice of insecurity enter whose sole occupation is to whisper of her inadequacies?

How do you silence that voice? Where do you go to remind yourself of your worth, while you're reminding everyone else—your kids, your partner, your friends—of theirs? How do you fall back in love with yourself and with your life? How do you return to the empowering sound of truth?

When it seems that I've fallen out of love with the woman I see in the mirror, there are two key things that I do to connect back with my true voice. The voice that speaks of my value and my worth.

These two keys help me tune into it:

First I initiate what I like to call irrational self-love. Irrational self-love is all about loving yourself without conditions. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to see their mothers as truly happy and in love with who they are. Our example of being comfortable in our own skin can help our kids grow to be real, whole, and joy-filled people who are comfortable in their own skin.

I cannot give and serve from a place of depletion. Irrational self-love tells me that I'm worthy and of value, whether I find myself in my jammies or in a sequined gown. That's the mama I want my daughter to know and see exemplified before her every, single day. We should be willing to love ourselves scars, flaws and all. That's irrational self-love and it will transform your life.

Then I rally back with radical forgiveness. I'm tougher on myself than on anyone else in this life. Sometimes I practice diminishing self-talk and hold on to limiting beliefs. Yet when I hold tight to pain and when I keep score of hurt, I ultimately imprison myself. When I forgive—with radical and wide-sweeping forgiveness—I set myself free. This freedom throws open the door to loving myself, and my life, again. And, when you're in love with your life, that joy spills over and buoys up everything and everyone you touch.

Who or what do you need to forgive, right now? Even if the person you need to forgive is yourself, please let go of the burdens inside that are weighing you down. You didn't clean the dishes after dinner last night? It's okay. You drove to your daughter's school in your pj's this morning? It's alright. Forgive. Let it go, mamas. Let it go.

It's amazing just how freeing forgiveness is. It will bring you back to what matters most and that's love for yourself, your life and for all those around you.

When the day has gone less than smooth, when it seems like motherhood has the upper hand on myself —I take action. Give yourself a good dose of irrational love and radical forgiveness. You're a beautiful and brave mama.

Sometimes, we all just need a little reminder.

Life

Finding the perfect gift for your loved ones can be a tough task, but if you have a beauty buff on your holiday shopping list, then Pinterest has you covered. The leading destination for inspiration just released their Pinterest 2019 Holiday Shopping report, where they curated the best of the best gift ideas. Digging into their data, they pulled some of the top-shopped and most-searched products of the entire year to curate the must-have list beauty lovers will want to open up this year.

Here's what's we're adding to our carts (okay, fine, buying for our best friends):

Boy Brow grooming pomade

boy brow grooming pomade

Think of this as a mini mascara. The brush-able, creamy wax thickens and shapes your brows, giving them a fuller appearance. If you're not ready to commit to a color, the clear works wonders for daily grooming.

$16

Deep condition + repair hair care

lus brands deep conditioner

If your favorite person has curly locks, this deep conditioner will be their holy grail. It nourishes dry hair with natural ingredients and doesn't weigh down bouncy curls.

$44

Subliminal platinum bronze palette

subliminal platinum bronze palette

A palette so good, it's practically sold out everywhere. The golden taupes and velvety bronzes look gorgeous on any skin tone and the pigment lasts forever.

$65

Maelove glow maker

maelove glow maker

A great vitamin C serum is a must-have in any beauty buff's cabinet, but there's a lot on the market. This one has a blend of vitamins C, E, hyaluronic acid and ferulic acid—the perfect combo for hydrated and brightened skin at a great price point.

$27.95

Pantene festival hair kit

pantene festival hair kit

Don't let 'festival' fool you when it comes to this kit—it's perfect to have on hand even if a night out isn't on your agenda. With dry shampoo, hairspray, a nourishing mask, rescue shot and frizz iron, no one will be able to tell you haven't washed it in a week.

$10.76

Balm Dotcom lip balm

balm dotcom

Aside from the cheeky name, this has an incredible formula that's made it a cult favorite for a while now. Pro tip: Grab the original and use it as a skin salve for the dryer months.

$12

ColourPop eyeshadow palette

eyeshadow palette colourpop

With rich pigment at an affordable price, you can't go wrong with one of these palettes. Use it as eyeshadow, liner or use a larger brush to add as a cheek tint or highlight.

$16

Mini MAC lipsticks

mini mac lipstick

The creamy best-selling shades in a mini version. Throw in each bag of yours so you're never without a quick swatch of color.

$10.20

L'Oreal voluminous carbon black volume building mascara

loreal carbon mascara

If there's one beauty product I can't live without, it's mascara. I've tried everything from budget-friendly drugstore buys to high-end name brand picks and this one is always on rotation in my makeup bag. Buildable color that doesn't flake.

$8.99

NYX sweet cheeks creamy powder blush matte

nyx sweet cheeks blush

Super-pigmented shades that has a creamy smooth finish. A little goes a long way, but it's buildable so start small and then add more as you need.

$7.50

CHI deep brilliance hair iron

chi hair straightener

My first hair straightener was a CHI and this brand hasn't disappointed since all those years ago. This one was created specifically for treated or textured hair, helping to maintain moisture even with the heat.

$79.95
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