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At Home With Michelle Obama

8/14/2014 Susannah Bradley, MSN Health & Fitbie
First Lady Michelle Obama holds a roundtable discussion on Let's Move initiative and Motherhood issues in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, Oct. 17, 2011.[Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy](First Lady Michelle Obama holds a roundtable discussion on Let's Move initiative and Motherhood issues in the Old Family Dining Room of the White House, Oct. 17, 2011.[Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy] ) © Microsoft Photo

She's among the most powerful women in the world, the driving force behind a campaign to end childhood obesity and the owner of a killer set of biceps, but Michelle Obama is also a mom determined to set a positive example for her daughters and raise a healthy, happy family inside the White House bubble.

She shared her thoughts on healthy eating, family fitness and parenting strategies at an intimate gathering of editors from MSN Health & Fitbie and other online outlets at the White House earlier this week.

How she stays motivated

Mrs. Obama arrived for the meeting in the Old Family Dining Room in a bright pink sundress--a Target purchase, she shared--that revealed those famous biceps. When asked how she stays motived to maintain her toned figure given the demands on her time and the stresses of public life, the First Lady was candid. "Vanity," she said to laughter, explaining that nothing sparks her motivation faster than seeing an unflattering picture of herself in the newspaper. “It’s like, oh, my God, is that me?”

The First Lady urges those who are struggling to stay motivated to exercise not to give up.  "What I tell my girlfriends that are struggling with it is that it takes a few weeks before exercise is fun. It doesn’t happen overnight. Just tell yourself for five weeks I’m going to do the same thing and I won’t like it. I will hate working out and I will be cursing the name of the people who told me to do it.  But there will come a time when you have a healthy jump. You have a cardio pop, an epiphany where actually it does feel better. But it doesn’t happen overnight."

Music that moves her

The right soundtrack can boost motivation and make workouts more fun. So, what’s on the First Lady’s iPod? “I’ve got my cardio people -- so it’s anything from Beyonce to some Jay-Z to Janelle Monae. Yes, her song “Tightrope,” that’s a good cardio song. And then, I’ve got Sting. I’ve got Mary J. Blige. I’ve got the Beatles. I’ve got Michael Jackson. So I try to pick the songs that I personally love. So it could be some crazy song that I hear and I’m like, I love that song.  I don’t even care who it is. But my iPod are songs that I love, so that every song that comes on I don’t have to skip over it.”

Keeping it all in balance

Mrs. Obama went from high-pressure careers in law and non-profit management to the even more demanding role of first lady of the United States, so maintaining a sense of balance in her life is more important that ever. “What I learned early was that I have to be healthy. I have to exercise. I have to eat right in order for me to be able to perform at my maximum capacity for my family. And I want my girls to see the model of a mother taking care of herself, because, quite frankly, my mother didn't do that.”

Mrs. Obama also believes that it’s important to get kids moving, since physical activity is necessary for a healthy body and mind. Because it’s hard to get kids interested in fitness for its own sake, Malia and Sasha Obama are required to participate in sports. “With the girls, we find that it’s more important that it’s fun, and it’s more about sports and teamwork. But they take swimming. They take tennis. They're on their teams now -- middle-school sports.”

“But sports are an expectation, and we say it’s an expectation because it’s about good health. It’s about learning how to play on a team; learning how to lose, learning how to win gracefully; learning how to trash talk and not get your feelings hurt,” said Mrs. Obama.

Handling junk-food cravings

Does the First Lady’s devotion to fitness mean she lets herself indulge in late-night snack attacks? Not hardly. "I’m a salty snack person. So if a bag of chips were there, I’d eat the whole thing, so I just can’t have it around. And I think the same thing is true for the kids. It’s just tough temptation. So we try to put out healthy snacks in clear containers, because seeing dried fruit gives the kids the idea, oh, yes, if I’m hungry I could really have this or the nuts or the soybean things or -- we put new things out and they’ll try it. And my whole thing is if you’re really hungry, you can have that. If you don’t really want it, then you’re not really hungry.”

Healthy around the holidays

What happens to the Obamas' healthy eating habits around the holidays, when fat-laden foods and calorie bombs are traditional menu staples?

Mrs. Obama answers, "Our philosophy is if you live right every day -- and I shouldn't say "right," but if you make good choices every day -- I tell this to my girls all the time -- that when it's time for the holidays and the fun stuff and the birthday party, that you don't have to worry about it because you're doing what you're supposed to do every single day. So we really talk about daily choices that they're making, and balance. Right? Because I don't want them to have to worry about how much candy they eat on Halloween.

But what we do do is we get that bag of candy -- I let them hang out with that bag for maybe a day or two, and then I confiscate it. Because it's like, you just don't need to have this in your room; it's not good. The temptation is too great."

Managing screen time

Like a lot of parents, Michelle Obama thinks about the impact of television and the Internet on her kids. Part of the Let’s Move campaign focuses on reducing screen time for kids and adults alike. Mrs. Obama readily admits, however, that she comes from the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ school of parenting, and that putting down the smart phone can be a challenge.

She tells MSN, “I know, I know. It’s bad. And Barack is the worst, but [Malia and Sasha] call you out on it. It’s like, “We’re having dinner, put that down.” But we have clear rules. We have clear rules about screen time and TV time. None during the week if it doesn't involve schoolwork (Malia, who is in eighth grade, often has school assignments that require working on a computer). So we’ve had this conversation -- I’ve got to trust that when you’re on the computer that you’re actually having conversation about school and not talking to Taylor about God knows what."

When it comes to television, the Obamas have rules for what the girls can watch.  “Barack really thinks some of the Kardashian -- when they watch that stuff he doesn't like that as much. But I sort of feel like if we’re talking about it -- and I’m more concerned with how they take it in -- what did you learn when you watched that. And if they’re learning the right lessons, like, that was crazy, then I’m like, okay,” says Mrs. Obama.

She continues, “They can’t watch R-rated stuff, although there are some movies that Malia goes to that have been R-rated and we usually check it out and it’s like, well, what’s in it? Sasha can’t see R-rated movies or anything like that. But I like to talk to them because nowadays sometimes what’s on the kid programming, some of that teenage programming is pretty high-level stuff, too. So you find that you have to constantly just be engaged with them and hear what they’re learning and talk to them about the shows that they’re watching. And my kids fortunately talk a lot, so we hear what’s on their mind on a pretty regular, unrestrained basis. And if something is sounding kind of crazy, we’ll talk it through. And it’s like, do you really think you should be watching that? And they kind of talk themselves into the right answer oftentimes.”

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