Flashback to the days of enjoying peanut butter power snacks at the kitchen table and hitting the monkey bars on the playground until Mom reeled you in for an early bedtime. Doesn't your 5-year-old self sound like the ultimate health coach? Turns out, she is. “Children are inherently self-regulating. They listen to their hunger cues, they indulge without guilt and they're incapable of sitting still,” says Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet. “These are all healthy lifestyle practices that would serve us well in adulthood, if we implemented them.” With that in mind, we pinned down which kiddie habits are surefire ways to stay in shape, and how to make them work in your grown-up life.
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Listen to your stomach
When kids are hungry, they eat. When they're full, they stop. “We're born wired to obey our appetite, but somewhere along the way, those wires get crossed,” says Gans. Introduce stress, hormones—even boredom— and most of us end up able to list “professional plate cleaner” on our résumés.
The Adult Spin: Reprogram how you gauge your appetite. “For a day or two, dont pay attention to the clock and eat only when you truly feel hungry, not when you think you should eat or just want to,” says Jennifer McDaniel, RD, owner of McDaniel Nutrition Therapy in Clayton, Mo. “Eat slowly, really chewing each bite, so you're able to hear your body tell you when its getting full.”
Play with your food
As every mom knows, kids bring the mess to the dinner table. But there are benefits to getting hands-on with food: One study out of Eastern Illinois University found that when eating pistachios, people who shelled the nuts themselves ate roughly 86 fewer calories' worth than those who gobbled up ones that were already shelled. “When you eat with your hands, you're more aware of everything you put in your mouth. It's more of an engaged, sensory experience than just absentmindedly bringing your fork to your lips over and over,” says Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, author of Eat Clean, Stay Lean.
The Adult Spin: Have a laborintensive (in a good way) side dish or snack every day, suggests Bazilian. Get in there with pods, shrimp in shells, roasted shishito peppers and pomegranates.
Make a meal of dessert
The more children are cut off from sweets, the more they want them, studies show. The same goes for adults, points out Libby Mills, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “That feeling of deprivation can deflate motivation, making it harder to stick to your diet,” she says. And ignoring sugar cravings can lead you to eat more, she adds: “You have one treat, and then you can't stop because it's such a rarity and has become too important.”
The Adult Spin: Candycoat parts of your meals, so to speak, in order to satisfy your sweet tooth in moderation. Try a Greek yogurt parfait for lunch, layered with fruit and some granola, or indulge in a thin slice of carrot cake with fat-free vanilla Greek yogurt instead of frosting. For a snack, toss sliced strawberries in balsamic vinegar, with a shave of Parmesan cheese.
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Refuse to sit still
Desks, cars and commuter trains have interrupted that childhood state of perpetual motion. “Kids are always on the move,” says Gans. “They're constant calorie burners.” Those active habits help more than just your gut: Sitting for too many hours during the day increases your risk of heart disease, cancer and other illnesses.
The Adult Spin: Invest in a fitness tracker, says Los Angeles celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak. “A FitBit can help you get moving more because it becomes like a game,” he explains. “You can even compete against friends.” Urge each other to move every hour, and compare steps later on.
Have breakfast for dinner
You used to love when Mom and Dad broke the rules by serving eggs and bacon in the p.m.—and it's still a savvy idea. Studies show that eating a high-protein meal helps you stay full longer, and that those who include eggs in their diets consume less overall. “Eggs are protein-packed and filling, and they're a great way to use up leftovers,” says McDaniel.
The Adult Spin: Whip up an omelet with cottage cheese, herbs, fresh or frozen vegetables and deli turkey or chicken for dinner to keep you full until morning, advises McDaniel. The best part? Making breakfast for dinner is a time-saver: You often need just one pan, so there's minimal cleanup required!
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Next Page: 10-MINUTE RECESS
Set up indoors or head to the playground for this fun circuit from Carrie Underwood's trainer, Erin Oprea. (Stay warm while you're at it with the Asics Lite-Show Glove, $30; asicsamerica.com.)
Get into a wide sumo squat with your palms on the ground between your legs. Then take a big jump forward. Next, take three small hops backward to your starting mark. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Sit on the ground with your legs bent and your hands behind you, fingers facing feet. Thrust your hips up and hold yourself in a tabletop position. With your core and tush engaged, crawl backward for 30 seconds.
Extra Credit: Do 20 push-ups once you finish.
Use sidewalk chalk or masking tape to set up a hopscotch board. (Or imagine one in your head.) Begin hopping through it— alternating one foot, two feet, one foot, two feet—leading with a single hop on your left leg. Use your right leg for the single hops on the way back. Keep it up for one minute.
Extra Credit: At the end of each lap, do 20 alternating plyometric lunges.
Hold a medicine or slam ball at your chest with both hands and lower into a squat. As you stand, launch the ball from your chest as far as you can throw it. Sprint to the ball, squat to pick it up and throw it back toward the starting mark. Continue for 30 seconds.
Put your palms flat on the ground and lower your knees so they're hovering just above the floor. Abs engaged and bum low, move one arm and the opposite leg forward, then switch. Crawl for 30 seconds. Extra Credit Tack on 20 burpees when youre done.
Add power to a traditional skip by bringing your knees as high as you can toward your chest and swinging your arms to get more momentum. Skip for one minute.
Grab a light speed rope (or mimic the arm motion) and jump for 30 seconds with both feet. Then jump for 15 seconds on your right foot and 15 seconds on your left. For the final 30, jump with high knees.
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Next Page: WHY NOT SPICE UP YOUR SNACK BREAK?
WHY NOT SPICE UP YOUR SNACK BREAK?
Try these nutritionist-approved noshes that are kid favorites fit for grown-ups.
Thinly slice an apple, then put peanut butter or low-fat cheese (Swiss and Cheddar are tasty options) between two slices to create healthy little sandwiches.
These DIY chews are free of preservatives and added sugars: Slice up some fruit and evenly spread out the pieces on baking sheets. (Smaller fruits, like cherries and cranberries, can be used whole.) Set your oven to the lowest possible temperature and bake anywhere from six to eight hours.
Ants on a Log
Fill endive spears with a bit of low-fat cream cheese; chopped, toasted pecans; and dried cranberries.
Rainbow Fruit Skewers
Cut up your favorite fruits and skewer them on bamboo sticks. Dip in nonfat Greek yogurt.
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