In Episode 17 of The Healthy Podcast, I’m discussing what is behind this op-ed piece and why I want more people to know about the HOW of eating.
In 2002, Gary Taubes wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine entitled: What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie? In this article, he made the case that it’s not fat that is bad for us, but carbs. Since then, carbs have been on the chopping block in our ongoing diet debate. Yet despite this pendulum swing, health outcomes are nowhere near where we want them to be. In fact, no diet has ever saved the day the way it promises. If the claims these diets made were true, cravings would disappear, unwanted weight would fall off (and stay off), and we’d all be happier.
Now with the New Year, we’re seeing a whole new slew of diets with a whole new slew of claims. But what you may not know is that a good number of registered dietitians — me included — have taken a different direction. We are not fighting over whether sugar, saturated fat, or processed foods are the problem. Instead, we are focusing more on how people eat.
Among Dietitians, Non-Diet Approaches are Growing
When over 18,000 registered dietitians were asked about intuitive eating, they got a majority of the questions right (71 percent). And those who work in weight management reported using nonrestrictive/intuitive eating more often than traditional/restrictive practices. In short, this is the how of eating: Sitting and paying attention during mealtime, honoring feelings of hunger and fullness, and saying goodbye to restrictive rules and diet practices.
Of course, dietitians aren’t the only health professionals who support a mindful approach to eating, but I was pleasantly surprised by these numbers. My guess is that if you were to survey the general public, knowledge about intuitive eating would be much lower. You see, people are more likely to get nutrition information from family and friends than dietitians according to a 2017 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation.
I was reminded of this recently when I entered my book about raising mindful eaters into a writing contest. While the judge seemed to like the book, he had a hard time believing that how children eat matters more than restricting them, even though I made a strong case citing research. And in 2013 when I appeared on Good Morning America discussing how I let my kids decide what and how much to eat from what I serve, I was labeled as the parent who “lets her kids eat whatever they want.”
Yet there is a growing body of research showing that how we eat and relate to food matters a great deal. And preventing eating problems starts the day we are born. We all come into the world a clean slate where food is concerned and are natural intuitive eaters. But modern life brings many disruptions along the way to this natural inclination towards eating. In other words, our ability to self-regulate food intake — eat when hungry and stop when full — gets off track at one point or another. Let’s count these potential disruptions one by one.
The First Decade
In infancy, disruptions to internal cues of eating can happen when babies are encouraged to finish the bottle even when they show signs they are done. And repeatedly feeding a baby at the first sign of crying can teach children to self-soothe with food. When children begin solid food caregivers may try to get a few more spoons of veggies in them or take food away from big eaters to try to keep portions normal. And mindless eating often starts as children eat baby food pouches in the car or are given food to keep quiet.
When children hit the toddler and preschool years they become pickier and drop previously liked foods due to slowed growth and changes in development. Not knowing this is normal, parents may start trying to control their child’s eating. Instrumental feeding, for example, involves using food as a reward or taking food away for bad behavior, something linked to eating problems not just during childhood but later in life. Emotion feeding, where parents repeatedly soothe their kids with food, has been shown to increase the risk of emotional eating later in childhood. If repeated often enough pressuring a child to eat or restricting them may lead to eating in the absence of hunger. Permissive and indulgent feeding styles where kids call the shots are no better because kids lack structure, limits, and exposure to a variety of food.
The Second Decade (And Beyond)
When puberty hits something very important is added to the picture: body image. It is estimated that half of teenage girls and a quarter of teenage boys feel bad about their bodies. Data from Project EAT (Eating Attitudes in Teens and Young Adults) show that adolescent girls who feel good about their bodies regardless of their size gain less weight over 10 years than those who don’t. And on the flip side, adolescent boy and girls considered in the normal-weight range who see themselves as heavy gain more weight over time than those who don’t. The reason for this is that children with poor body image are more likely to diet, engage in disordered eating (restrict, skip meals, and binge-eat), and have poor self-esteem. After conducting a research review in 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded: “The focus should be on healthy living and healthy habits rather than on weight.”
So it’s no wonder that many of us make it to adulthood with an eating hang up or two. So then, I ask you, why would the answer be to go on yet another diet something research has shown is consistently linked to weight gain and feeling bad about ourselves? All it does is further disconnect us from our body when what we really need to do is reconnect. That’s why registered dietitians like me think starting with the how of eating makes a whole lot more sense.
Dietitians Doing Great Work
There’s no shortage of great work in this area. For decades international feeding expert Ellyn Satter has been helping parents raise competent eaters with her Division of Responsibility. This is where parents decide the what, when, and where of feeding and children take ownership over the whether and how much of eating. This allows children to regulate their food intake while getting exposed to a variety of food.
In her recent TEDx talk childhood nutrition expert and my coauthor of Fearless Feeding, Jill Castle focuses on the what, how, and why of feeding kids. “Nourishing the whole child—inside and out—requires parents to be knowledgeable about food balance, positive feeding, and the developmental milestones that most commonly influence a child’s eating,” she said. “In my experience, parents struggle with feeding their kids when this fundamental knowledge is missing.”
Megrette Fletcher is co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating, Certified Diabetes Educator, Registered Dietitian and co-author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes. “Weight loss is not a behavior, it is an outcome,” she tells her clients. “Let’s focus on creating more healthy behaviors, such as eating when hungry, tasting, and enjoying the food that you eat, as well as selecting food that nourishes and nurtures the body instead of focusing on what you weigh.”
Dietitians Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, authors of Intuitive Eating, not only help clients relearn intuitive eating skills, they have an Intuitive Eating Pro course to help other dietitians do the same. The three principles of Intuitive Eating include allowing hunger and fullness to guide eating, unconditional permission to eat, and eating for physical rather than emotional reasons. In 2006, Tracy Tylka, Ph.D., created an intuitive eating scale to spearhead research in this area. Over a decade later, there is a multitude of studies showing positive effects of intuitive eating on health outcomes and well-being.
It Starts with the HOW
None of this means that what we eat doesn’t matter and there is a time and place for those discussions. But there’s an elephant in the room that, as a society, we have been completely ignoring. In our quest to eat healthy and be at an acceptable size, we have taken a huge hit in how we eat and relate to food. But here’s what dietitians know that you may not yet: how you eat is the best starting place and it’s the ideal breeding ground from which good nutrition can grow.
This is Part 10 of my series on Puberty and Growth
One of the biggest differences between feeding children in the first and second decade of childhood is how much time we spend teaching them. Much of what little ones learn about food come from everyday events – structure, food offerings and autonomy within that structure. But as kids reach double digits, teaching plays a much bigger role in feeding them then it did previously.
Problem is, no one teaches parents how to be effective teachers when it comes to food, nutrition and body image. It’s so easy to just throw your hands up and give up. But with the right tools, teaching kids can be rewarding and effective.
So we are moving on from what children need during the pubertal growth spurt, to helping them take responsibility and learn positive eating habits.
1. Light the Fire of Desire (or at least keep the possibility open)
Who hasn’t had a favorite teacher who transformed the way you thought about a subject? For me, it was my college physiology professor. He not only made human physiology interesting and personally relevant (we all have bodies, right?), he made it simple. Not only did I easily get an A, for a millisecond I considered medical school!
One mistake we all make is that we try to push our reasons for nutrition and health onto our kids instead of helping them– and giving them room — to discover their own. One key is to tune into their areas of interest instead of lecturing. For example, when a child asks a nutrition-related question, he is showing interest and it’s a great opportunity to elaborate. It’s also about helping children see how the important aspects of their life — activities they enjoy and that are meaningful to them — are impacted by nutrition.
One survey found that kids are much more interested in present benefits of feeling and looking good, clear skin, and improving sports performance. They are not concerned with preventing something that could happen down the line like getting diabetes or osteoporosis. Also, taste is number one for children of all ages, so meal satisfaction needs to go hand in hand with considerations of nutrition.
2. Don’t Forget Direct Instruction
Professor John Hattie, creator and author of Visible Learning, researches various influences on learning to figure out what works best for education. And direct instruction is one of many factors that has a significant impact on learning.
Although you don’t want to lecture, directly instructing kids plays an important role in nutrition education during puberty. Because without a base of knowledge of what kids need, it’s difficult to apply and critically think about it. But how you present the information can make the difference between whether they gloss it over or actually listen.
Instead of talking about healthy and unhealthy choices, make the focus the care and feeding of their amazing body. Go through the nutrition from head to toe and ask them to consider nutrition along with taste when making food choices. Encourage them to notice how food or combinations of food make their body feel, gives them energy or leaves them depleted. Most importantly, encourage them to become the expert on their body.
3. Practice Makes Better
An important part of direct instruction is practice. As kids get better at a skill by practicing it, they develop confidence. Allowing “food choice autonomy” guards against defensiveness. One safe way to do this is to stock the kitchen with quality food, and allow them to make certain meals and snacks.
Maybe start with one snack, showing them how to do it and then moving to certain meals like lunch on the weekend. The goal is to challenge them just enough. If they feel too challenged, they’ll want to give up but if it’s too easy they aren’t learning. Just be sure to maintain structure/limits as Jill Castle writes in her “the kitchen is closed” post.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota looked at three aspects of adolescent eating/feeding to find which had the greatest effect on fruit and vegetable intake. Out of parent modeling, restriction and availability, availability of fruits and vegetables in the home had the greatest impact on fruit and vegetable intake in children. Simply having easy access to fruits and vegetables can be a powerful way to increase consumption without having to do or say a thing.
4. Incorporate Project Based Learning
Teachers know that hands-on learning and projects are a great way to help children learn and stroke desire (#1). Research supports the idea that experiential or hands-on learning is an especially effective way to increase nutrition knowledge and a preference for a variety of food. This type of project-based learning typically involves meal planning, shopping, and cooking.
A 2016 study examining the frequency of preparing food for the family found that adolescents who were more active in food preparation had better markers on diet quality. This agrees with other studies with kids at a variety of ages.
I know this can be tough for busy families and children can be resistant. But establishing routines, dedicating one night a week (or month) to being a kid cook night, and encouraging children to make what they like can get the ball rolling. Take advantage of services that do all the work for you (except the cooking part) like Raddish Kids and Kids Cook Real Food E-Course.
5. Provide Positive Feedback
According to John Hattie’s work, providing feedback doubles the rate of learning. Consider the child going to piano lessons, getting instant feedback the second her fingers go where they shouldn’t. Same goes for food and nutrition. But you may have noticed, children can get a tad bit defensive when you try to give them feedback.
That’s why you want to be thoughtful about how you offer feedback. In the table below I list some key considerations when offering feedback such as timing, encouraging, and stressing values. How you handle feedback will also depend on your child. Giving feedback at meals can turn some children off and feel a lot like pressure. But for some kids, a reminder at meals may be helpful.
6. Up Your Credibility
Older children will notice if you do as you say and if you don’t, they’ll be less likely to take your advice. John Hattie calls this “teacher credibility” and it has a big impact on learning.
One way to increase your credibility if you feel it’s lacking is to show them how to overcome obstacles. So instead of hiding a challenge, be honest with your child and take action together. If cooking is an area you need to work on, consider taking a class with your child or go hunting for recipes on YouTube. Or if it’s exercise you need help with, consider going for bike rides on the weekend together. Show them you have a growth mindset about your own health and they’ll be more likely to develop one too.
Another way to maintain credibly is to make family meals a priority. After all, eating together as a family is consistently related to better diets among children and adolescents. It’s also one of the best teaching tools you could ask for.
7. Teach Critical Thinking
There are more ways than ever for children to consume media today than years past. According to a 2017 report by Ofcom, 95% of 8-11-year-olds watch TV for 14 hours a week while 91% of 12-15-year-olds do. Ninety-four percent of 8-11-year-olds go online for 13.5 hours a week while 99% of 12-15-year-olds go online for 21 hours a week. And 23% of 8-11-year-olds have a social media profiles which jumps to 74% at 12-to-15 years of age.
Along with this media come messages both covert and overt. It’s vital for children to receive some type of media literacy education. According to the National Association of Media Literacy Education (NAMLE): “Media Literary Education requires active inquiry and critical thinking about the messages we receive and create.”
NAMLE recommends parents consume media with their children. Watch a TV show together on a regular basis and periodically join them while they enjoy YouTube. Ask questions about advertising and messages and encourage them to do the same: How is this made? Do I know it’s true? Who will benefit from this message? Who might be harmed by this message? For more info download and read NAMLE’s Building Healthy Relationships with Media.
With media images, it’s important that children understand how much work goes into making people look perfect such as makeup, hair, and photo-shopping. Get the conversation going about unrealistic media images and the intent behind them (to sell you something!). Here are tips on how to talk to your child about body image from Media Smarts. Another site called Media Smart (without the “s”) has parent and teacher resources too (and great videos to watch).
8. Build Better Relationships
Hattie’s research shows that importance of a positive teacher-student relationship in learning. It also shows the difference between a cooperative child and a child wanting to run from whatever we say and do. In one international study, a better teacher-student relationship reduced problem behaviors for up to four years.
Most importantly, all the aforementioned strategies help parents in providing a supportive environment where real learning can take place. You may find your child coming to you more often for your feedback on what they heard a friend say or something they saw online. And that’s when you’ll know they have embraced you as their teacher.
Got a suggestion for resources to help you educate your kids? Leave them in the comments.
In this post, we are continuing on the nutritional needs during puberty. In Part 1, we covered the brain, eyes, blood, and heart. Now we are digging into muscles mass, body fat, bone, collagen, the GI Tract, and skin.
One of the key tissues to expand during puberty is muscle mass, especially in boys. As muscle mass increases so do energy requirements. Physical activity also benefits muscle development.
While protein needs are highest when growth is highest (11-14 for girls and 15-18 for boys), most adolescents get twice the protein they need. Also, protein accretion is a very efficient process during puberty unlike for people over 30 as stated in this review by Donald Layman:
In children and young adults, uneven meal distribution of protein appears not to adversely affect growth. The anabolic drive maintains high efficiency of protein use for nitrogen retention even when daily protein is consumed as a single large meal. However in older adults, the quantity and quality of protein at individual meals is important…This response appears to be determined by the essential amino acid leucine which serves as a critical signal for triggering initiation of muscle protein…In children and young adults, this signal pathway is regulated by insulin and dietary energy while leucine regulates the pathway in adults.
Basically, we have to work harder than kids…
Body fat also increases during puberty, especially in girls. Girls who do not gain enough fat may have delayed periods (primary amenorrhea) or if their periods have already started and body fat decreases they could stop (secondary amenorrhea). This is why dieting or restricting entire food groups is especially problematic during puberty. On the other hand, growth acceleration may mean periods come a bit earlier early (this association has been found in girls only)
Bottom line: Adolescents need quality carbohydrates, protein, and fat to grow up to be healthy and strong. These macronutrients provide the energy needed for growth. No need to calculate grams, just provide a good balance of the three macronutrients considering intake over a week instead of a day.
The most abundant protein found in the body, collagen, is found in bones, muscles, tendons, and skin. Because vitamin C aids the production of collagen and other connective tissues, it’s important during rapid growth and development.
Who’s at risk?
Vitamin C is falling short in many adolescents diets most likely due to a dip in fruit intake. For example, 17% of 9-13-year-old boys are below the estimated average requirement and that jumps to 39% at 14-18 years. For girls, those numbers are 23% and 35% respectively.
There’s a lot more food going through the gastrointestinal tract and that means constipation — and stomach issues — can become an issue. Most adolescents get about half the recommended amount of fiber that helps not only with bowel movements but the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
Eighty percent of teenagers will get acne at one time or another. Acne is caused by an upswing in hormones that increase the production of an oily substance called sebum. When sebum combines with dead skin cells and/or debris it can block follicles. Acne occurs when these follicles get inflamed.
Although a variety of nutrients/foods are thought to play a role in the development of acne, there’s just not enough data to say for sure. There are some trials suggesting that a high glycemic diet can be problematic and in some individuals, milk. But an overall balanced diet may be most helpful as one recent review study states: “An eating pattern that emphasizes the consumption of whole foods over highly processed foods may help in the treatment of certain skin diseases.”
Not all nutrients fit neatly into the head to toe example. Two of particular importance are vitamin E and zinc. Vitamin E, with its antioxidant properties, is important during periods of rapid growth and development. And zinc is associated with more than 100 specific enzymes and is needed for the formation of protein. Zinc blood levels tend to decline during the rapid growth and hormonal changes of puberty.
Who’s at risk?
Vitamin E is a shortfall in most children’s diet and that includes tweens and teens. According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, 87% of male 9-13 year-olds don’t meet the estimated average requirement for vitamin E. That jumps to >97% at 14. Females get even less with 93% of 9-13-year-olds falling short on vitamin E with that number jumping to >97% at 14. Zinc is better in males with <3% meeting less than the estimated average requirement at 9-13 years of age jumping to 5% at 14. For girls, those numbers are 6% and 21% respectively.
Reality and Supplements
While a food first approach is always preferred reality tells a different story. Studies suggest multivitamins with minerals help fill gaps during the adolescent growth spurt. Because multivitamins contain small amounts of key nutrients like calcium and DHA, they may need to be given separately depending on the child’s diet.
In the next post, we’ll talk about ways to make nutrition come alive for children during puberty, increasing learning, confidence, and diet quality.
We all have to deal with the stresses of modern life, and so do our kids. We have more choices, distractions, and unknowns than ever before. Stress is a major health issue in the modern world linked to the increased risk of many chronic diseases. It’s normal to want to try and find an escape, but this only makes things worse.
Mindfulness has become a buzz word when talking about stress and the challenges of modern life. Today’s guest helps us understand what mindfulness actually is and how it can help families buffer daily stressors and in turn live happier and healthier lives.
Stefanie Goldstein, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who works with adolescents, adults, couples, and families. She specializes in integrating mindfulness when working with stress, anxiety, depression, addiction and trauma. Dr. Goldstein is a trauma specialist and has worked with traumatized teens and their families. She has also been trained in Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS), Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD), Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), and is a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Teacher. She is co-creator of CALM (Connecting Adolescents to Learning Mindfulness) and teaches classes in Los Angeles.
In Episode 16 of the Healthy Family Podcast, Dr. Goldstein shares her knowledge, experience, and tips for becoming a more mindful family.
Highlights from the Show
How Dr. Goldstein felt a calling for becoming a therapist as early as age 8, based on her early life challenges.
The difference between helpful and harmful stress and the role the internet/technology plays in the lives of our children
Why social media is so powerful and how intermittent reinforcement feeds a need to stay connected to our phones.
The definition of mindfulness and different types of meditation including mindfulness meditation.
Why mindfulness is simple but not easy because it connects us to discomfort.
How to be a “mindful parent” and become comfortable with your child’s suffering and managing your own discomfort
Why resisting pain makes life more difficult, and the importance of acceptance and self-compassion.
How Dr. Goldstein’s CALM program builds skills for adolescents such as helping them identifying their most basic needs and learn to advocate for what they need.
The importance of family connection in today’s world and tips on how families can stay connected in the midst of busy schedules (and the one thing every family should do at dinner).
Why being a role model is often the first step and how parents can get started using mindfulness
Why Dr. Goldstein and her husband created The Mindful Family Retreat (see link below) they host every year.
Quote from the Show
At its core the most basic definition [of mindfulness] is awareness. We add on to that without lenses of judgment. It’s as if you were a scientist, just be curious and aware about your experience without trying to judge or change it…Meditation is a way to practice mindfulness.
Remember when you put so much care and thought into your child’s first foods? After age two the crazy growth of infancy slows then it stabilizes during the school years. By age 10, early adolescence hits and the body goes through the second largest growth spurt. But this one is longer: 4-6 years!
Now instead of being in control of what your child eats, you have a kid with likes and dislikes making eating decisions in the real world. The same care that you put into your child’s eating needs to be revisited but in a different way.
So in two posts, we’ll be reviewing the unique needs of early adolescence from head to toe, followed by a third post about how to talk to children regarding the care and feeding of their growing body.
The adolescent brain is like a house that is being remodeled. The foundation stays the same but improvements are made so all the pieces can work together more efficiently. This “brain remodel” occurs between the ages of 12 and 25. This remodel couldn’t occur without myelination, which increases processing speed, and the pruning of unused synapses. Two key nutrient players in this remodel are DHA and vitamin B12.
DHA continues to increase in the brain during adolescence to reach about 15% of fatty acids. This increase occurs during an important time: frontal cortex synaptic pruning, increased white matter, and overall brain maturation. Emerging research shows a link between DHA status and depression and other psychiatric disorders, behavior/attention and learning. According to one review in the journal Nutrients:
The brain’s frontal lobes are particularly responsive to the supply of DHA during development. Decades of work have clearly established the responsibilities of the frontal lobes for executive and higher-order cognitive activities including sustained attention, planning and problem solving, and the prefrontal lobe in particular for social, emotional and behavioral development. Therefore, maintaining optimal lipid composition in these brain regions, and specifically DHA levels, is not only important during the development and maturation of the brain from gestation through childhood and adolescence but such maintenance is also critical for successful aging of the adult brain.
Vitamin B12 is also needed for proper brain development. B12 is involved in myelination and the making of red blood cells. Vitamin B6 helps increase the absorption of B12.
Who’s at risk?
When it comes to DHA, everyone! That’s because of the weekly 8-10 ounces recommended of seafood, 9 to 13-year-olds only get an average of less than 3 ounces. Vitamin B12 is not a nutrient of concern unless the child doesn’t eat animal products (vegan).
Adolescents need vitamin A for proper eye health. In particular, vitamin A helps ensure there is a barrier (mucous) between the eye and viruses, decreasing the risk of eye infections. It also aids night vision. Vitamin A not only plays an important role in vision, it helps the immune system and bones grow too.
Who’s at risk?
Because intake of red/orange and dark green veggies is well below recommended levels, so is vitamin A. About 15% of meals age 9-13 have intakes below the estimated average requirement and that jumps to 49% at age 14. Twenty-four percent of 9-13-year-old girls aren’t getting enough and that jumps to 53% at 14.
When a restaurant gets an unexpected surge of customers you need enough food servers to meet this demand. You can think of the rapid tissue expansion in bone, muscle, and brain during puberty the same way. More blood volume, including red blood cells (RBCs), is needed to meet growth demands. RBCs contain hemoglobin, a protein that holds oxygen. Just like food servers carry out food to hungry customers, RBC’s carry oxygen to growing tissues. And because RBC’s live for only about four months they continually need to be renewed.
Three nutrients of particular importance to this process are iron, folic acid, and vitamin B12. To make enough hemoglobin the body needs adequate iron stores. Folic acid works closely with vitamin B12 in making red blood cells and ensuring iron is working properly. When RBCs cannot be produced in amounts that match the body’s need, anemia occurs. The most common type of anemia is iron deficiency anemia.
Who’s at risk?
Females are at higher risk than males, especially when there is blood loss from menstruation. About 9-16 percent of female adolescents are iron deficient while 2-5% are anemic. Vegetarians are also at increased risk for anemia. But all children growing through puberty need to be sure they are getting enough iron, folic acid, and B12.
Adolescence is a good time to lay the foundation for heart-healthy habits as these behaviors tend to track into adulthood. Beneficial heart-healthy habits include a nutritious diet, physical activity, adequate sleep, and stress management. Also, it’s not just what kids do but the habits they don’t develop. For example, ninety percent of adult smokers started before they graduated high school. It’s important to still manage sweets and keep soda intake to occasional. And keeping the family meals coming so fast food doesn’t take over.
Two key nutrients involved in the heart are potassium and magnesium. Adequate potassium is important for muscle function and helps the walls of blood vessels relax, helping maintain a healthy blood pressure. The mineral magnesium also helps blood vessels relax, transports potassium and calcium, and regulates hundreds of other body systems.
Who is at risk?
Due to low fruit and vegetable intake, most adolescents get about half the recommended amount of potassium. Twenty-two percent of 9-13-year-old males get below the recommended average requirement for magnesium. That jumps to 75% at 14-18 year of age. For girls, those numbers are 36 to 87% respectively.
Part 2 Coming Up
Well, hat’s enough nutrition talk for now. In our next post we’ll discuss muscle mass and body fat, bone, the GI tract, and skin. If you haven’t already, check out my other posts on child nutrition:
BK (before kids), and when I first started cooking, I favored mixed dishes. You know, items that include all the food groups in them. Just throw it all in the slow cooker and dinner’s ready.
That doesn’t mean AK (after kids) I don’t make mixed dishes, it’s just that I do it less often. But now that my kids are older, I’m making them more often. I’m also moving beyond my side strategy of serving mixed dishes with bread and fruit. Instead, I ask them how they want to eat it. This is especially true for chili.
I have two favorite chili dishes: turkey chili and white chicken chili. Little D prefers his wrapped up in a tortilla with added cheese, and Big A likes to use tortilla chips to eat chili (replace “chip” with “spoon”).
Now, do I wish they would just spoon up the chili? Yes! But you know, they are eating the chili — getting used to its flavors and textures — and that’s what counts. It’s the next step to eventually eating the chili straight from the bowl with a real utensil. And I’m all for that.
It’s not every day I get to watch a TV show that chronicles how a child is fed and then also shows how that translates to adult eating habits. But that show is here and if you haven’t heard about it it’s, This is Us. It follows a twin brother and sister and their adopted same-age brother. They are in their late thirties living their complicated lives and the episodes include extensive flashbacks to their childhood.
I think there is so much to glean from this show in terms of raising children, especially how we learn to relate to food at early ages. We can also see the emotional dynamics and how children can come to view things very differently from their parents. Parents may have one intention, but all that matters are the beliefs children internalize.
About Kate Then and Now
Growing up, Kate was bigger than average and loved to eat. Afraid she would develop a weight problem, her mom often fed her differently from her brothers. There’s one scene where Kate is eating fruit for breakfast while her brothers get Fruit Loops. In other scenes, her mom tries to steer her to healthier choices like the time Kate asks for more cookies and her mom says “we already had two, why don’t we cut up an apple?” (Kate doesn’t look pleased). On the other hand, Kate’s dad is more indulgent taking her for daily ice cream trips and is never able to say no to her where food is concerned.
Kate is also bullied about her weight from other kids. She doesn’t talk to her mom about this but she does ask her dad about how she looks. Her dad always says she’s beautiful and perfect. She is secretly jealous of her thin mom as she looks at the size of clothing she wears (large) versus her mom’s (small).
Although her parents don’t mention her weight, being fed differently, getting bullied, and being nagged about food sends a message that she’s not okay the way she is. Kate is developing shame about her body and doesn’t have anyone to talk to. While her father is sweet and obviously loves her unconditionally, he never asks her how she feels about her body.
As an adult, Kate has food issues and struggles with her weight. To be quite honest, her weight and what she does or doesn’t eat is the focal point of her life.
My Advice to Kate’s Parents
First off, I don’t mean at all to blame these parents. Most of us would not know what to do in this situation (plus this was in the 70-80s!). The first thing I would say is that the whole family would benefit from structured eating. Eating regular meals at the table and regular times without eating in between. There is no need to feed Kate differently or have her stop before she’s full. All children benefit from being encouraged to follow their hunger and fullness.
Next would be how to handle goodies. Kate and her brothers would benefit from knowing when sweets will happen. Instead of daily ice cream trips maybe the whole family could go on Fridays. Sweets can be served at other predictable times, so they lose the luster and power. And bonding time between Dad and Kate can be nonfood related (maybe food sometimes but not all the time). This would help Kate focus less on sweets and learn how to eat them as part of a balanced diet.
Research suggests that eating problems are more likely to occur when there is a strain in the mother-daughter relationship (Kate and her mom are not close). With food structure in place, there is no need to nag Kate about food. The mom could take that energy and instead spend quality time with Kate, working hard to keep the doors of communication open. Practicing active listening — and not just saying she’s beautiful or fine– could help Kate get her feelings out. This would give her mom the chance to talk about her own childhood struggles, making Kate feel less alone. I would also ask the mom to discuss how people come in all shapes and sizes, emphasizing the importance of being healthy, not thin. As a result, Kate would feel like she could go to her mom — instead of food — to help her when she struggles.
Last but not least are Kate’s interests. Both her brothers are involved in activities such as football and school. Kate likes to sing but feels inferior to her mom who is an amazing singer (she’s played by Mandy Moore after all). Spending time exploring Kate’s passions could help her develop a sense purpose and a more holistic way of viewing herself.
I can’t say for sure how things would be different if her parents took my advice. But what I do know — and what this show illustrates — is that trying to fix a child’s body with food only makes food and weight more of an issue. But focusing on developing a healthy relationship with food and one’s body helps children accept themselves, learn a balanced way of eating, and realize there is more to life than weight and food. As a result, children who eventually become adults, are more likely to grow into a size that’s right for them as well as take care of themselves both emotionally and physically.
We learn a lot about what it takes to be healthy throughout a lifetime. But strangely when it comes to our brain we know very little. We have these complicated machines that are talking to us constantly. And they don’t always make life easy. They tell us we can’t do this, or that we don’t have time for that. That’s because the mind’s goal isn’t to make us happier or more peaceful. It only wants to keep us alive which is why it creates so much darn resistance.
Today’s’ guest is Dr. Shawn Smith author The User’s Guide to the Human Mind: Why Our Brains Makes Us Unhappy, Anxious, and Neurotic and What We Can Do About It. He is a licensed psychologist in Denver, Colorado working mainly in the area of anxiety treatment and relationship repair. He is a mindfulness-based psychologist specializing in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. He has been in private practices since 2006.
On Episode 15 of The Healthy Family Podcast, Dr. Shawn Smith helps us understand our mind so we don’t fall into the modern-day traps that make us unwell and unhappy.
Highlights from the Show
Why this massively complicated machine’s (brain) main goal is to keep you safe (hint: it has to do with evolution).
What the different components of the brain are and why our desire for short-term rewards feels like it’s at odds with our long-term goals.
Why the brain is a history-gathering machine and learns from bad experiences wanting to avoid them at all costs. It’s at the core of why Dr. Smith repeatedly hears the same thing from 20 and 70-year olds (“I should be over this by now”).
Why people need people and rejection is one of the worst fears of the mind.
Why thought suppression doesn’t work and covering up unpleasant thoughts with short-term pleasures makes things worse.
Why thoughts are not facts and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
Other ways to understand/observe the mind besides meditation and why getting better at this practice can help you take control and feel better.
The importance of values and how to use your most cherished values to live the life you want.
Why learning to sit with the mind’s discomfort and resistance as you follow through with your values is an important part of the process.
Tips on how to raise a psychologically flexible child (and what psychological flexibility means).
Rather than trying to suppress the mind, we can fight a different battle. We can fight for the flexibility to live our lives as we wish, recognizing that the mind hopes to constrain us but knowing that we need not be constrained. — Shawn Smith, The User’s Guide to the Human Mind
My stomach wasn’t feeling well but I promised to take Big A Christmas shopping. Halfway through I felt worse. And when we got home, I collapsed on my bed. So many thoughts running through my head:
How am I going to get it all done before Christmas?
I’m so behind in my writing goals for the end of the year!
We really need to plan that winter trip.
My stomach pains were increasing when I had a flashback of the last 11 years. Since having my first child, I’ve been in striving mode. Striving to be the organized mom. Striving to always be there for my kids and husband. Striving to be an excellent meal provider. Striving to exercise and stay in shape. Striving to build my own author business. Striving to have time for hobbies and friends.
Even with all this striving, I feel like I never quite reach satisfied, with constant reminders (like the stomachache) that I’m just not measuring up.
I started asking myself some important questions. Why am I putting so much pressure on myself? And what happens if I could do and be all the things I think I should do and be? Am I going to be happy or just keep striving for some better version of myself?
So in that moment I strangely let it all go. I told myself that I’m a great mom, not because of what I do or may or may not accomplish, but because of who I am. I do what I do both personally and professionally because it’s important to me, not to win some race. And I’ve made progress although it never seems to match the image I have in my mind of how it’s all supposed to turn out.
I gave myself a kindness that instantly felt healing. Instead of fighting myself and the reality of life, I accepted it all. Maybe I’m okay just the way I am, and things are just the way they should be. My stomach started to feel better and I rejoined my family watching Christmas shows, laughing and cuddling with what felt more joyful than usual. The next day I felt lighter.
I think I’m done, guys. Done with unrealistic expectations that I can be everything to everybody. Done with comparing myself to others. Done with trying to be someone I’m not even sure I want to be. Done with thinking that if I only did things differently, everything would be better.
So this New Year, I’m going to take time to reflect on what I need, instead of adding, even more, to-dos. I’m going to make time to just chill and refill my cup, even if that means things are left undone. I’m going to keep being kind to myself because it feels really good. I’m going to write down my values and check them every day to be sure I’m doing what is most important to me. I’m going to keep learning and trying to do things better, but not beat myself up when I take an unexpected turn. Because sometimes those turns bring wonderful things.
This feels “anti-resolution” because I’m giving up all the unrealistic goals I typically would set this time of year, only to feel discouraged when they don’t materialize. Instead, I want to become more comfortable with me and this life — not some imaginary one — spending time doing what I love and being with those I love. Instead of planning it all out, I’m going to stay open to all that can happen letting the element of adventure and surprise lead the way (that being said, I have jotted down some realistic writing plans for 2018 which I will communicate in my next newsletter).
Thanks for all your support in 2017. And here’s to an amazing 2018! Who knows what it will bring?
In this series, we’ve already talked about the incredible growth that happens during puberty. Now, we need to tap into something that goes along with this crazy growth: hunger. Adolescence spans the second decade of childhood (10-18) and the changes kids go through pose unique challenges in the area of eating.
So after reviewing the research, I thought it was best to look at each point from the view of the child going through puberty. Because how children and parents handle this surge in hunger and development, can make a huge difference not just with how children grow, but in their future relationship with food.
1. I don’t always know what to eat
When I’m hungry, I grab whatever is available. When I’m busy with homework it’s usually crackers or another quick snack. When you find out what I ate, you’re never happy but I’m not sure what else to do.
What to do? Kids need to understand the filling factor of foods, Constantly snacking makes hunger go away but it comes back sooner. Choosing filling foods with protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber, along with healthy fat may be helpful.
The key is to have balanced options easily accessible at home, and talking to your child about which food combinations fill them up is key. In one study, availability, modeling and encouragement were all linked to increased fruit and vegetable intake during adolescence.
2. I forget about nutrition when I’m hangry
I’ve heard about what foods are healthy and not since preschool. But when it comes time to eat, I want something that will satisfy me which always seems to be unhealthy.
Even children with a great deal of nutrition knowledge find it difficult to follow nutrition advice. In fact, various studies have failed to find a link between nutrition knowledge and BMI, food preferences, and nutrition behaviors at this age range. In other words, knowing about nutrition doesn’t always translate into action.
What to do? The question adolescents need to ask themselves during these times is not what should I eat? but How do I feel (or want to feel?). This helps children discover how a variety of foods can be nutritious and satisfying. At no other point has mindful and intuitive eating become more important. Encourage children to slow down, honor hunger and fullness, and make food a priority so they can avoid “hangry” episodes.
These bodily changes are affecting me
3. (girl) My body is changing and I worry that I’m gaining too much weight. I never had this extra fat in the middle before. I don’t like what’s happening to my body.
4. (boy) I want puberty to hurry on up and finish so I can be tall, muscular and strong: I don’t want to be the smallest kid in class. I want to grow and don’t know why it is taking so long. Is there anything I can do to hurry it along?
A positive body image, or what researchers call “body esteem,” is vital to health and wellness during puberty and beyond. Again and again, research points towards an advantage for children who have a positive body image: healthier diets, stable weights, better self-esteem and more robust emotional health. But feelings about one’s body differ between girls and boys. Researchers at the Catholic University of Milan surveyed adolescents and made this conclusion:
…the visibility of physical changes in male adolescents’ bodies was an aspect that made them more satisfied with their bodies and, consequently, with themselves. However, the opposite happened in female individuals. For female adolescents, in fact, pubertal changes such as menarche, weight increases, and larger hips led to constantly decreasing satisfaction with their bodies. The final outcome of this body dissatisfaction was low self-esteem.
What to do? In addition to discussing changes with kids, is helping them see that trying to change the genetic blueprint of their body, is not helpful (i.e., dieting and skipping meals to manage weight or trying to become more muscular before the body’s ready). In episode 14 of The Healthy Family Podcast, Dr. Neumark Sztainer offers four keys to helping children develop a positive body image: being a role model, family meals, a focus on health versus weight, and listening more and talking less.
5. It’s not okay that rules apply to kids only
It’s not fair that I have limits on screen time, when and what food is eaten and checking my phone, and you don’t. I want some say in these rules too because my needs have changed and I’m growing up.
During adolescence, kids are changing fast and need more autonomy. Unlike toddlers, they notice when there are separate rules for kids and adults. In one survey, children were twice as likely to report that adults should follow the same rules on technology as children. While we need different rules sometimes (like drinking because you’re over 21), it’s always better when health-related rules/guidelines/routines are followed by the entire family.
What to do? Bring children into the equation whether it’s formulating a family media plan or creating the weekly menu. Respecting autonomy while providing limits is key. Since adolescence is the gradual transition to adulthood, more responsibility should gradually be given as well.
So there you have it. Some keys to help your hungry adolescent child thrive. If you are in the thick of it, what challenges are you experiencing?