“As kids, my sisters and I were called by our last name, Begin (pronounced like the word meaning To Start).  This tattoo is my mom’s signature; my sisters and I got them together. It makes me feel close to all of them. And when I’m feeling unmotivated or unfocused or lonely or overwhelmed, etc., I use the tattoo as my touchstone, do some short breathing or meditation and refocus to Begin again.”  – Kristen Begin Shane

My “why”.  What’s yours?

By Kristen Begin Shane

As a mom with a long-standing career in medicine, I often find myself in the position of wanting to help my sons (ages 5,10,13) appreciate the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.   Thus, I will admittedly use just about any opportunity to advise my boys on making healthier choices when it comes to food and sleep!  Of course, if you were to ask them, they might prefer to describe this as their mom’s (all-too-frequent) “rants” and “boring, endless lectures”.  (In fact, as I write this, I am chuckling to myself, hearing their grunts, and picturing the (far too) many eye-rolls I’ve received in response to efforts aimed at limiting screen time and processed food.)  That being said, I know that for each grunt and eye roll, my sons, at some level, are hearing and listening to me, albeit perhaps only to store the information away for a rainy day in the future!   However, wanting them to truly understand the motivation behind my guidance, I recently decided to share a story with them during a family summer vacation to the beautiful island paradise of Kauai.   Today, I decided to also share this same story with all of you, to explain why I persevere, in constantly and continuously encouraging my kids to promote wellness through healthy living.

So let me tell you the story behind my “why”.  I hope that through sharing powerful stories like these, we can help each other find meaningful ways to motivate our children. 

“Boys, I know that I talk about food and food choices a lot, but as we sit here in paradise, poolside with the beach and the ocean on the horizon, I am struck with the memories of my mom, wishing she could be here with us today, while simultaneously thinking about why she isn’t.  Now, I know you might not remember her much anymore, since you were either too young (or not even born yet!) when she sadly succumbed to brain cancer, but I hope to keep her memory alive in your hearts and minds, through the stories and photographs I share with you.   My mother was my greatest role model.  While I wanted to be just like her in so many ways, there were also things I learned about my mom which taught me that I need to be different from her. 

Mom cared for my sisters and me, more than she cared for herself.  That doesn’t mean that she didn’t try hard to care for herself as well.  Unfortunately, like a lot of other folks, she sadly got misled by food industry propaganda.  She believed the hype that the processed food industry could do a better job of feeding her and her family, more easily than she could do herself.  She, like so many others, got duped into believing the misleading packaging labels on most foods she bought for us in the grocery stores.  She believed in the “low-fat” trend of the 1980s and 90s and then bought those same packaged “health” foods to feed my sisters and me.  Unbeknownst to my poor mom, those so-called “health foods” were laced with too much-added sugar, not to mention tons of other dangerous chemicals and additives.  My mom didn’t know any better then, and the food industry is to blame.  They cheated us all, and we should always regard them with some degree of mistrust, knowing that food corporations will almost always put their profits above our health.  

My childhood is full of memories of devouring the so-called “healthy” snacks of the 90s, like Snack Well’s and flavored yogurts.  I distinctly remember how she wouldn’t allow us to eat sugary cereals for breakfast, but she readily allowed Cheerios, Chex, flavored instant Oatmeal, Rice Krispies, thinking they were truly part of a healthy breakfast.  While we may not have been able to afford “Lunchables”, mom allowed us the luxury of “Fruit Snacks”, packing them into what she truly believed to be healthy lunches.  Along the same lines, “Healthy Choice” frozen dinners, along with low-fat pasta were our dinner staples.  In our house, if it wasn’t microwaveable, it wasn’t dinner-worthy.

Sadly, I remember mom often bemoaning how hard and time-consuming feeding a family could be (#truthbomb!).  And I also remember the day when, after twenty years of marriage, she finally decided enough was enough, and she simply wasn’t going to be responsible for running the household and working full time.  My dad, suddenly forced to take on that responsibility, resorted to coupon-cutting, and oh boy, did that lead to an even more regular intake of prepackaged, ready-to-nuke meals!

When mom was diagnosed with brain cancer at the mere age of 63, I remember her doctors telling me that there wasn’t any specific cause that led to her devastating and deadly condition.   Neither genes nor toxins, or anything else were to blame.  Nothing could have been done to prevent it; it was all just bad luck.  I’ll never forget how they told my sisters and me that we had nothing to worry about in terms of our own risk of developing cancer ourselves.  Initially, while those words of advice did serve to reassure us, allaying our worries about our own health risks, with time and knowledge, however, I came to know better.  Now, I have come to understand that my mom’s life was full of modifiable risk factors and how ridiculous that medical advice was!  I only wish I could have used the body of knowledge I have now (after years of imbibing all I could about nutrition and lifestyle science), to have helped my mom’s path take a different trajectory, decades prior.  

Today, my knowledge empowers me.  I know the many ways in which I take after my mother, and with that knowledge, I am resolute in changing my path to promote sound health and wellbeing.  I am choosing to make more informed choices when it comes to my lifestyle choices, most importantly, what foods I put in my body.   I know that I have a choice when it comes to how I cook, how & where I shop, what I eat, and what I serve to my family.  My knowledge also empowers me to do more, share more, and pass on my knowledge to others: patients, friends, and even schools and sports clubs.  But the reason for my passionate pleas is to not only help prevent poor health outcomes for others but for myself, my sisters, and of course you.

So, kids, now do you see how lucky you are (wink, wink!) to have me as your mom?  Do you understand why I’m “forcing” you to travel with me on this path of promoting total body health and wellness?   Always remember that you too, share your grandma’s genes and with that, comes her medical history and (modifiable) risk factors.  As part of my parental duties, I strive to lay down the best foundation for good health (physical, emotional, mental) for you.  As your mother, this is what I consider to be my top priority and number one responsibility.  

So, this is the story of your mother’s “why”.  It’s why she does what she does, says what she says, and lives the way she lives.  Your mother’s family is her “why”.

I know none of this is easy, and there is no way any of us can do all of this 100% of the time because…well…. life (real-life) happens.  But please understand that when I refuse to buy soda or juice or candy or processed foods you perhaps see others “enjoying”, please know my choices are not meant to punish you (or me) (although I know it can often feel that way).   Believe me, I know very well that there are far too many times the three of you would prefer to eat a store-bought “energy bar” or boxed cereal rather than eating an egg or slice of cheese or fruit!  I know this path I’ve set for us isn’t easy, but while I am alive, and while I still have you, I will never stop doing everything possible within my power to protect you every day.  I will never stop striving to set the best example and making the best choices for us all.   I will always distrust the food industry and its hype and propaganda.  Why? Because in twenty, thirty, and even forty years from now, I want us to all still be having these wonderful opportunities together, to sit oceanside, you and your kids and grandkids, enjoying each other’s company as a healthy family!

So, next time you’re tempted to give me one of your eye rolls or grunts, please, consider some love and hugs as well!”

My tattoo in honor of mom (w/childhood home in background)



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