One Year on, Could the Family Challenge Be Becoming a Habit?

Jewell Graves and her family  --  husband Lloyd Tucker and children Kai, left, and Quinn  --  have found it easy to develop more-healthful habits.
Jewell Graves and her family -- husband Lloyd Tucker and children Kai, left, and Quinn -- have found it easy to develop more-healthful habits. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)

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By Sally Squires
Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Changing habits can be fun for a few weeks. But for most people, the novelty soon wears off. Despite our good intentions, we fall back into our old patterns, even when they risk our health.

A year ago, the Lean Plate Club launched the first Fit for Fun Family Challenge, a four-week effort designed to help families change old habits, shake off the winter doldrums and prepare for summer. Each week, participants received one simple eating goal and one simple activity goal -- and we tracked their progress in the paper.

The second annual Family Challenge begins today -- find details in "The Family Challenge," below -- so this seems like a great time to check back with the five families who allowed us to follow their efforts a year ago -- and find out whether what they learned 12 months ago stuck with them.

"We are a work in progress," laughs Jewell Graves of Upper Marlboro. "We are by no means finished."

But like the four other families we followed a year ago, Graves, her husband, Lloyd Tucker, and their two children were surprised to discover that the small changes they made during the challenge could be a springboard to healthier habits.

Since the challenge ended, "we gave up all red meat, sodas and have switched to whole grains," Graves says. "We went from whole milk to 2 percent and now use only completely fat-free milk. It was an easy, gradual transition that we made after the challenge."

Graves also solved what she calls the "grandparent syndrome." When the kids visited her mother, she often served them soft drinks or made food that the family had eliminated at home. "I was fighting a losing battle," says Graves, who now stocks her mother's house with bottled water and healthy snacks.

While the family would like to be even more active, they've made strides there, too. Graves cut her hair short to make exercising easier. She also pays her son, Kai, 16, to be her daughter Quinn's personal trainer. After school, they walk a mile -- and now a number of other neighborhood kids tag along, too. Then Kai starts Quinn, 10, on a slow speed on the family's treadmill while he works out on a small trampoline nearby or does ab crunches.

Graves has further goals, but the key to her success so far is to start with small, easily sustained changes: "We chose those things to change in our lives that we could control and be constant with."

Here are some of the other easy adjustments that the families have made over the year:

Think outside the gym. Amy Melnick of Burke has asked her family to take a bike ride to celebrate Mother's Day. Melnick also now walks the sidelines of her children's soccer and T-ball games rather than just sitting as a spectator. And the family makes it a habit to walk, toss a Frisbee or ride a bike each weekend morning before they go their separate ways to errands and other activities.

Jeffrey and Jennifer Schroeder with sons Luke, James and 6-month-old Dane
Jeffrey and Jennifer Schroeder with sons Luke, James and 6-month-old Dane
In Alexandria, Jennifer Schroeder puts her 6-month-old son, Dane, in a carrier and walks son Luke to and from preschool on most days. Later, the trio picks up son James from kindergarten. For that trip, Luke rides a new bicycle with training wheels.


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