Fit Family Challenge: Two Families Take Action


The Hudsons and the Armstrongs are off and running — or at least walking. And maybe eating a few more fruits and veggies.

Carolina Parent is following both families as they take part in our first Fit Family Challenge, sponsored by Coca-Cola. For the Hudsons and Armstrongs, the idea is simple: improve overall health with the assistance of a dietitian, personal trainer and motivational coach.

Robin Hudson is a single mom raising 13-year-old Nadia. She has worked as a high school teacher and paralegal, and is now a full-time graduate student. The Hudsons’ busy lives sometimes push them toward fast food and sugary snacks. And while Nadia stays active with cheerleading and dancing, Mom can’t always make time to exercise, aside from walking their dogs.

The Armstrongs (pictured above) are a family of five. Parents Kim and David are looking for the right balance for their three kids, who are home-schooled. The lack of structured physical education time isn’t ideal, and like most kids, George (14), William (12) and Naomi (10) have varying interests in healthy food groups.

Both families are committed to discovering a healthier lifestyle, so Carolina Parent has provided them with some assistance.o-ffc-cooking.jpg

Nutrition: Make Big-Impact Changes First

Let’s face it, when it comes to getting fit, most of us have a hard time giving up our favorite foods. Whether we make choices for convenience, comfort or just because something is delicious, there’s always a reason we go back for more.

But something has to give if you’re counting calories. Fortunately, Maria Kennedy, a registered and licensed dietitian and nutritionist working with the Hudsons and Armstrongs, won’t try to make them give up everything.

“I’ll try to pick the most important things for them to change and work on those things first — whatever will make the biggest impact,” Kennedy says. “In general, it’s hard to fix everything at one time. I might give them a goal a week since we don’t have a really long time to work with.”

For dinner, Kennedy has advised the Hudsons and Armstrongs to keep cooking. (Pictured at right: Robin and Nadia Hudson work with Maria Kennedy on ways to create healthier meals. Photo courtesy of Melissa Hayes Photography)

“If you buy frozen Lean Cuisines or Healthy Choice dinners, there’s very little in them,” she says. “You could buy a box of whole grain pasta and boil it at the beginning of the week. You could add your own veggies and meat, and you’ll spend about the same if you bought five or six individual items.”

With more mouths to feed, the Armstrongs have the challenge of serving a meal that all three kids will eat. Kennedy takes a no-nonsense approach toward handling that dilemma.

“You have to be the parent. You can’t let them dictate everything,” she insists. “If Kim makes salad, chicken and rice, and they want something else, they should be responsible to get a replacement on their own. If they won’t eat the vegetable, they need to get another vegetable or a fruit. They can’t go get chips instead. It has to be nutritionally equivalent.”

Kennedy understands the reality that kids won’t always embrace everything on their plate. She says it’s pointless to make kids eat something they don’t like — within reason.

“But if they hate all vegetables,” she says, “then it’s time to start sampling again and re-train your palate.”

Exercise: Make It Fun

Just as our eating habits are entrenched, so are peoples’ lifestyles. Ryan Fahey’s job is to get everyone moving. Since he is a member of the Certified Personal Trainer’s Network of Canada and a canfitpro personal training specialist and fitness instructor, he knows just how to do that.

For Robin Hudson, he will encourage her to make time for herself and use it wisely.

“She has such a busy schedule that she is neglecting that self time for her to engage in the outdoor environment,” he says. “I have her getting out and walking 30 minutes every day.”

Eventually, Fahey wants Hudson to jog for one minute then walk for two. Soon, she will be able to add more activity.

“I would like to see some dynamic stretches that allow her to be a little more mobile and her body to be more flexible,” he says. “By losing weight from what she’s consuming she will gain range of motion and flexibility.”

For the Armstrongs, Fahey put together a different plan — one that is more of a guide than curriculum. If they can’t get to the park for “park bench” pushups or tricep dips, for example, he has suggested activities for home, such as band bicep curls and medicine ball shoulder presses. He also introduced a few fitness apps the Armstrongs could share with their kids.

“Just make sure it’s fun,” Fahey says. “Ultimately, do everything you can outside. Be sure they’re having fun and buying into the program. The last thing I want as a trainer is a report coming back to me that the kids are finding it too challenging or they can’t stick with it. That’s really disheartening. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I left with the sense they are going to do that as a family.”

Like so many parents, Kim Armstrong wants to make sure her children are burning off some of their youthful energy and not just spending time on their smartphones.

“Getting kids outside today seems to be a perceived risk,” Fahey says. “I think there’s more of a bubble wrap we put around our kids. Moving forward, allowing our kids to go and explore in the outdoor learning environment is something we need to start emphasizing and looking into more.”

Motivation: Set — and Defend — Manageable Goals

Just in case it’s difficult to put down that brownie a la mode and get outdoors for a brisk walk, the spotlight families will have some additional support.

“Coaching is very goal-driven and self-directed,” explains Cindy Goulding, a health and wellness coach, licensed professional counselor and certified personal trainer. “As a coach, I’m here to collaborate with them and explore things with them. I’ll ask challenging questions.”

When she met with the Hudsons, Goulding found someone ready to dig into specifics. One of Robin Hudson’s goals is to replace soft drinks with water. She also plans to add a couple servings of vegetables to her meals, so she can be a better role model for Nadia.

Surprisingly, Hudson is worried about her goals being undermined. She has people close to her who don’t support her focus on getting fit. Goulding will give her strategies to block out the negative input.

“I will talk about focusing on what she has control over and what she doesn’t. That’s going to be a big part of it,” Goulding says. “Basically respectfully letting other people know that this is important to her and that she is going to continue doing this no matter what they think or say.”

The five Armstrongs will require a different focus. Taking a family approach, Goulding says, rather than setting five separate goals, will cut down on confusion.

“I’ll talk about what the nutritionist and personal trainer have already discussed with them, then I will integrate that with setting a goal,” she says. “If Maria is telling them to use a crock pot for meal planning, what I will do is create the goal of using the crock pot three days a week to avoid eating out.”

Now, It’s Your Turn

Registration opened April 1 for our Fit Family Challenge, so create your family’s account at and begin logging activities and healthy habits today. In addition to living a healthier lifestyle, you’ll also be eligible to win great prizes, including a grand prize family vacation to Universal Orlando® Resort.

Kurt Dusterberg is a freelance writer who lives in Apex. He is the Carolina Hurricanes correspondent for and the author of the book, Journeymen: 24 Bittersweet Tales of Short Major League Sports Careers.

Read our Fit Family blog, which features posts from our panel of experts, spotlight families and other guest bloggers.

Subscribe to our Healthy Families — Fit Family Challenge enewsletter offering healthy lifestyle tips.

Fit Family Challenge Expert Panel

Meet the Dietician

Maria Kennedy, a registered and licensed dietitian and nutritionist, acknowledges that families have established eating habits, so she won’t necessarily throw out our spotlight families daily menus.

“We’ll figure out what their needs are for their lifestyle,” Kennedy says. “If you give them unrealistic goals, then it doesn’t ever work.”

Both families expressed concern about making time to prepare healthy meals. Kennedy thinks a little advanced planning will help.

“I’m good at helping them with ways to make things at home,” she says. “Make meals in advance so you can spread it out over the week and not just grab something that’s quick or convenient.”

Learn more about Kennedy at

Meet the Personal Trainer

Ryan Fahey is a member of the Certified Personal Trainer’s Network of Canada, and a canfitpro personal training specialist and fitness instructor. He is also the program manager for Be Active Kids, an interactive health program created by BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina for N.C. children up to age 5 that offers tips, ideas and suggestions for young kids to develop healthy physical activity and nutrition habits. Outdoor activity is great, he says, but you can get kids moving indoors, too.

“Be sure to plan ahead and be prepared with indoor activities such as hide-and-seek, cup stacking, garage ball hockey or indoor fort-building,” Fahey says. “These games are fun when kids can’t play outdoors. Remember that even though the kids are indoors, there are still plenty of ways they can be active.”

Fahey blogs at

Meet the Motivational Coach

Cindy Goulding, a licensed professional counselor, health and wellness coach and certified personal trainer, will work with both families to achieve success by setting goals.

“I always like them to envision a long-term goal,” Goulding says. “Without one, they don’t know what the short-term goals are to get them there.”

In her book Healthy Weight: It’s a Family Affair, she discusses barriers to good health, such as stress and busy schedules. She intends to keep both families looking ahead.

“Each time we talk, we will talk about their successes and their challenges and move forward from there,” she says.

Learn more about Goulding at

Universal elements and all related indicia TM & © 2014 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.


Categories: Family Health, Fit Family Challenge, Health, Lifestyle, Nutrition, Work-Life, Work-Life Balance