What Women Eat When They Think No One's Looking
It's all in the family. Of the four women, Lodge-Clarke has the healthiest routine. She's made assertive, deliberate decisions about her self-care—although she's still getting a fair amount of caffeine from her green tea and might consider decaffeinated. Now she needs to apply her acumen and creativity to improving the health of her family. Lodge-Clarke is wise enough to recognize that she can't force changes in her husband's habits—Peeke notes it usually takes a health scare to move a man to action—but the team would like the boys to receive a unified message. Children learn preferences from their parents about the way to cook and eat, and they learn that it's possible to leverage one parent against the other. Peeke proposes that the boys be enlisted in reforming their dad's eating behavior. "It's worked for smokers," Peeke reminds us. "A wife can nag all day, but it has much more impact when a kid tells a parent, 'That secondary smoke is bad for me.'"
Make a date with a married man. "There's a great work ethic here and connection to family," says Nelson, "but the couple need to notice each other, have some protected time together." Instead of taking turns handing the kids off to each other, as they usually do, a trustworthy babysitter could provide them more time alone, perhaps even to work out at the gym together. Getting more involved in their community, especially with neighbors who have kids the same ages as theirs, would offer opportunities to socialize with adults while the young ones play.
Table the food differences. The couple also need to be more present with their sons. They could start by having a family meal, eating the same food, three times a week or consistently on the weekend. The Journal of Adolescent Health recently reported that families who eat together consume healthier fare. Treitler is a fan of giving foods amusing child-friendly names: Whole wheat pasta shells are "boats" and broccoli florets are "trees."
Preempt the monthly munchies. Lodge-Clarke is so tuned in to her body that she can feel each ovulation (a pain known as mittelschmerz), but that also means she's at an advantage in planning ahead. "There is plenty of evidence to show that women's appetites are associated with their menstrual cycle," confirms Peeke, "so she can be prepared with appropriate foods to help quell the impetus for refined sugar and fat. Cottage cheese with raisins and walnuts is a good combination; crunchy peanut butter on a multigrain cracker with no-preservative jam is a mini PB&J."
Take a time-out. Although Lodge-Clarke does an acrobatic job of juggling her work, travel, family, gym, and school, she's at risk of running herself ragged. The experts say there's a real need for her to foster a mind-body connection every day—which can be as simple a gesture as putting a lavender-scented eye pillow over her eyes for a few minutes and maintaining a blank mental blackboard. Her life, like that of many women, is not a continuum but a series of cycles, often including education, career development, and childbearing. "Women's lives are not so unilinear as men's," says Treitler. "Women feel like they lose direction and every little tornado will last forever: Your body will never be your own again after pregnancy, you'll always be running after a toddler.... If a woman appreciates that each cycle is a way station, she can throw herself into every minute of it and really be empowered."
Next: Finding your health blind spots