Most parents know there’s more they could be doing to take care of their own health.
There’s that yoga class you’ve been meaning to join, if there’s ever a day you can get out the door before 7:30. There’s the healthy-eating kick you’ve been meaning to implement, you know, when the kids get over their picky eating phase and acknowledge a food other than chicken fingers. Maybe you even signed up for that 5K race, but LOL.
Today’s busy parents are already run ragged without adding literal running to their daily list of to-dos. But your own health needs to remain a priority — after all, you can’t take care of your kids if you’re not taking care of yourself, right?
WATCH: How to get through parenting burnout. Story continues below.
So, instead of adding more to your plate (GTFO, yoga class), it could be easier to start by cutting some of the unhealthy habits you already have. Yes, it might be annoying to give up drinking pinot in the fetal position after the kids go to bed ... but not as annoying as joining a fitness bootcamp with Becky from the PTA.
We rounded up some of the worst habits parents might have (many of these based on, um, personal experience), and ways to kick them.
1. Watching TV all night, every night
Listen, we get it. When the kids finally nod off and you have one or two hours of blessed free time, it is VERY TEMPTING to binge watch the final season of OITNB, or, ugh, Bachelor in Paradise. But when you do this every single night, it’s problematic.
Watching too much TV as an adult is bad for your brain and your body, studies show. One recent study found that adults who watched more than three hours of TV per day were more likely to have poorer cognitive performance down the road. Another found that adults who watch TV “very often” were 71 per cent more likely to develop a blood clot.
Plus, watching TV can decrease the amount of sleep you get each night because you’re pushing back your bedtime to catch one more episode.
Cutting down on your nightly binge-watching is a small change that can have a big impact on your health. Here are some other ways to unwind at night:
- Go to bed an hour earlier. You know you’re tired.
- Read a book. Remember books?
- Stretch. Your back is probably sore AF from lugging kids around.
- Go for a walk around the neighbourhood (if you have a partner at home. Don’t, like, abandon your kids at home to stretch your legs).
- Call a friend. Remember calls? Remember friends?
- Clean something. You have kids. Everything is dirty. You’ll feel better if at least some of that shit is tidy.
- Get started on crafting your kid’s Halloween costume LOL just kidding, we said unwind. PUT DOWN THE GLUE GUN. Play a board game. Partake in some adult colouring. Put on a record. Have a bath. Whatever.
2. Eating super late
Whether you enjoy an “adult dinner” after the kids are in bed, or just gorge on snacks after sundown because that chicken-finger dinner at 5 p.m. didn’t cut it (and you can’t break out the good snacks while the kids are awake), a lot of parents tend to eat late into the night.
And that’s not particularly healthy. Studies have found that eating late at night may induce weight gain and higher levels of blood sugar, which can lead to chronic illnesses, the Washington Post reports. Studies have also found that late eaters tend to eat more, and the foods they choose are less healthy.
Some dietitians recommend leaving at least three hours between your final meal and bedtime, Elle reports.
“Then at least your food gets to digest and you’re not sleeping on a full stomach,” Farah Fahad told Elle.
Here are some tips for cutting down on those late-night food fests:
- Eat dinner as a family. Yes, it can be a challenge to come up with meals that both adults and kids will enjoy, but there are also benefits to eating a meal together. And you won’t be as starving at 9 p.m., which is not the best time to hoover a steak.
- Oh hey, guess what? Watching TV and late-night snacking tend to go hand-in-hand. If you curb the first, the second may naturally follow.
- Stock up on healthy snacks like fruit with yogurt, veggies and dip, and crackers with hummus or peanut butter. Protein-based snacks are the healthier option at night.
- Ask yourself why you’re eating so late. Is it because you’re truly hungry, or because you’re stressed/bored/upset/your toddler got into your $80 night cream? If it’s the latter, Dietitians of Canada recommends going for a walk, listening to music, or reading instead.
3. Drinking to de-stress
This is always a tough one, especially in the time of mommy wine culture (although dads aren’t off the hook, here). It’s become normalized, and almost celebrated, to pour yourself a drink when the kids are assholes/the day is long/no one touched the dinner you cooked/you feel like you’re failing at life/your pre-teen literally told you you’re failing at life.
Maybe you and your partner like to open a bottle of cab sauv to unwind after baby is finally asleep, and one glass turns to three. Maybe a kid-friendly brewery opened up within walking distance and you are ... frequent customers. No, YOU discover your kid has lice and comfort yourself with a glass of water.
WATCH: Mommy wine culture is ruining lives. Story continues below.
The health effects of even just a few drinks are sobering. Alcohol is one of the top three causes of cancer deaths worldwide, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Today’s Parent reports that “one small drink” can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer by seven per cent.
And drinking to relax is actually counter-productive. “Alcohol is a depressant, so while you might feel some relief, even one drink per day for women can increase anxiety within just a few hours of consumption,” Svetlana Popova, senior scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH, told Today’s Parent.
“This could lead to more drinking and poor sleep quality, interfere with everyday tasks and even increase the risk of suicide.”
That’s ... not great. So, here are some ways to cut down:
- Limit yourself to “less than one” standard drink per day if you’re a woman, and less than two if you’re a man, to lower your cancer risk.
- Find other ways to de-stress. Take deep breaths. Take a bath. Exercise.
- If you just like the experience of a refreshing, delicious drink, explore some mocktails or other non-alcoholic options. Who says you can’t have an iced tea with your nachos?
- Don’t keep alcohol in the house. Easy. Plus, you’re saving yourself the effort of baby-proofing the booze cupboard.
- Have designated dry days. No one says you need to be 100 per cent sober every day. But maybe on weekdays? Make Friday special by enjoying a glass of wine after the kids go to sleep.
- If you’re drinking because you truly feel like you can’t cope with parenthood otherwise, it may be time to seek some support and professional help.