You must read this interview with the one and only, Dr. Linda Bacon!

Health at Every Size and Body Respect—a Discussion with Dr. Linda Bacon
By Erica Leon, MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD
Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian
Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor

 

Photo Credit: Michael Newton via Compfight cc

With the ever-present discussion of the “childhood obesity epidemic,” I asked Dr. Linda Bacon[i], an internationally recognized authority on topics related to nutrition, weight, and health metabolism, to describe exactly how best to approach weight concerns among parents and practitioners alike. Dr. Bacon proposes a major paradigm shift from conventional weight management practices to what is now referred to as “Health at Every Size.”

 

Body Respect

According to Dr. Bacon, the Health at Every Size message starts from respect.

She summarized it by saying, “This respect is for our own personal lived experiences as well as those of our children, as there is no objective truth to what we are ‘supposed’ to eat or ‘how’ to eat it. What is going to work best for our bodies can be learned by developing a critical awareness of our own bodily sensations [emphasis added].”

She offered the following examples of this concept: “‘Eat your fruits and vegetables because they are ‘good for you,’ and stay away from junk foods’ is a parenting message that takes the child’s inner body trust and awareness away from him/her. Instead, allow your child to discover the positive benefits of added fiber (from fruits and veggies) such as easier digestion.”

 

Another common example of body respect that she discussed with me is insisting that your child or teen eat breakfast. “With body respect,” Bacon says, “we allow our children to discover on their own what the consequences of missed breakfasts are. They may notice difficulty concentrating in school and have low energy. Rather than nagging, we can allow our children to keep checking in with their bodies and connect eating with improved energy.”

Photo Credit: John-Morgan via Compfight cc

What Does “Healthy Weight” Actually Mean?

“‘Healthy weight’ means different things to different people,” according to Bacon. “There is natural weight diversity across the spectrum.” According to Dr. Bacon’s most recent book, Body Respect, research shows that trying to control or manage weight (through caloric restriction or dieting), may work in the short term but more often results in rebound weight gain. Our bodies can undermine efforts at weight control because the body is enormously successful at regulating its weight. It’s not something we need to “work at”—in fact, this “control” approach ends up being counterproductive.

She explained that diets affect self-esteem as we eventually blame ourselves for not being able to maintain a restrictive diet or not losing weight. Her “Health at Every Size” philosophy is based on the idea that a better way to reach a good state of health is to manage behaviors that favor health, for example, good self-care, meaning learning to eat according to hunger and fullness cues, as well as satisfaction, choosing physical activities that are pleasurable, managing our levels of stress, and getting enough sleep. With better self-care, our bodies are more likely to stabilize at their own natural healthy weight. Bacon stated, “often the parents with the best of intentions blame themselves when things go wrong. This helps no one.  Recognize that you can’t control your kids—you can only practice and model good self-care for yourself, so you can in turn support your child.”

 

Help for Big Kids

When asked how best to help bigger kids, Dr. Bacon explained that “weight tells us little about kids’ health or health habits, but it does tell us a lot about how that kid will get treated in the world. The best way to help kids is provide support: let them know that the problem is in society, not their bodies. The perpetual stereotyping of fatness affects children of all sizes with fat children as the direct targets. When fatter kids are bullied, and many of them are, there may be nobody in their lives telling them that the bully is wrong and that everyone everywhere is loveable just as they are. It takes a strong sense of self-worth to feel safe in your skin in a world where some bodies are dubbed ‘good and acceptable’ and others are dubbed ‘bad and unacceptable’.”

 

She summarized her overall philosophy: “We need to make this a world where all bodies are good bodies, where children can feel good about themselves in their own unique and precious bodies in all of their glorious diversity. We have the opportunity to stop this self/body hatred and to help kids learn to respect and celebrate body diversity.”

 


[i] Dr. Linda Bacon, author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight and Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, or Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight, is changing lives through her teaching, research, writing, public speaking, and the transformative “Passing the Message On” multi-day Health at Every Size® (HAES) workshops. Dr. Bacon combines academic expertise and compassionate clinical experience to bring together scientific research and practical application. She shifts the focus from weight to well-being, giving doctors, dietitians, therapists, and people of all shapes the tools for achieving better fitness, health, and even happiness—all without dieting.

Weight Gain in Puberty: Is It Normal and Healthy or Something Else?

Weight Gain in Puberty: Is It Normal and Healthy or Something Else?
Written By Erica Leon, MS, RDN, CEDRD, CDN
Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor
Edited By Lindsey Reinstrom and Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD

Photo Credit: ToniVC via Compfight cc

It could have been yesterday that “Miss Chris,” my ballet teacher at age ten, told me—in front of the entire class—to “stop eating so many cakes and cookies.” She said that I was a promising dancer and I simply must “slim down.” This confused me because I ate normally and didn’t really have so many cakes and cookies!

 

What I did have was an earlier puberty than many of my friends. This powerful body-shaming message has stayed with me for more than forty years! Flash-forward to both my daughter’s and son’s puberty, and this dietitian/mom was well equipped to explain that in order for adolescents to develop normally, a little extra fat around the middle is essential and a normal part of growth and development.

 

During the middle-school years, a major growth spurt usually occurs, which can be very confusing to both kids and parents. Appetite soars in preparation of a growth spurt. Consequently, many tweens and teens get heavier before they grow taller! All parts of a child’s body change, and it is not unusual to see even a fifteen-pound weight gain over a relatively short period of time. This happens to both females and males.

 

When Should You Be Concerned? Is This Healthy Or …?

Your child’s healthcare provider will measure height and weight annually as part of his/her wellness visit. A measurement called a BMI (body mass index) can show weight and growth trends. The BMI can be used as one tool in noticing patterns in your child’s weight and height. Used correctly, it can help identify weight gain and potential correlation with your child’s natural range on the growth chart over the years. The growth chart may reflect a jump in weight range but not height in this prepubescent phase. Now, it is your job as a parent to determine if this is necessary weight gain in preparation of puberty or if the weight gain is a result of your preadolescent’s habits and/or behaviors. For example, if your daughter or son reports eating due to an increase in appetite, you can surmise that this is puberty related. However, if you notice that your tween eats when procrastinating, studying, or when he/she eats with friends even after a family dinner, this may reflect behavioral eating. Or, if your tween eats every time he/she is sad or stressed with homework, this may indicate eating for emotional reasons and not as a physical response to increase energy needs for puberty. So, if it is a true physical need, let your child enjoy his/her body and help prep him/her for more changes while experiencing puberty. If you observe a trend of behavioral and emotional eating, especially of foods low on nutrient density, you may want to have a calm and neutral conversation about self-care, coping skills, and eating for physical reasons.

If you still have concerns about your tween’s proper growth and development, it may be worth talking to his/her physician or a registered dietitian who specializes in pediatric nutrition and intuitive eating.  If you are worried that any recent changes in your household could be contributing factors to less-healthy eating behaviors, it might be helpful to consult with a mental health professional trained in disordered eating and adolescents about your concerns.

 

How you communicate about body and food choices with your tween or teen can have a significant impact on his/her self-esteem and future relationship with his/her body and food!

 

Strategies That Are NOT Helpful:

1) Do not talk about your teen’s eating habits ALL OF THE TIME.

2) Do not nag or preach to simply “eat less.”

3) Do not put your preteen or teen on a diet.

4) Do not bribe or reward your child with food.

5) Do not reward or comment on weight loss/weight gain.

6) Do not weigh your daughter/son.

7) Do not reject your child for any changes in their natural body weight.

 

These strategies can lead a vulnerable child towards disordered eating and poor body image. When parents try to restrict their child’s food intake rather than teaching him/her to listen to levels of hunger and fullness, it usually backfires! Often kids with restricted diets end up eating secretly and eat larger quantities of food than their body needs, which can lead to weight gain.

 

Strategies That Are Helpful:

1) Do not panic! Explain calmly that weight gain is normal before and during puberty.

2) Help your child to identify if a dramatic change in body weight is related to:

    • Puberty
    • Something else such as emotional eating due to school stress
    • Behavioral eating when with friends after school
    • Less physical activity than usual

3) Focus on healthy habits such as recognizing hunger and fullness, rather than focusing on external numbers such as body weight.

4) Lead by example and be a positive role model for healthy eating and exercising.

5) If your child is gaining weight due to emotional eating, help your child to develop coping skills, healthy ways to express their emotions, and provide a listening ear.

6) Prepare home-cooked meals and have family dinners as often as possible.

7) Keep your pantry and refrigerator stocked with “every day foods” that are nutrient dense, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish, and naturally lower-fat dairy products.

8) Help your tween or teen learn how to eat a variety of foods without labeling any foods as “good or bad.”

9) Help your tween or teen learn to differentiate between eating foods for fuel versus eating foods for fun.

10) Do explain that people naturally come in all shapes and sizes.

11) Teach honor and respect to our body by ways of self-care.

12) Fuel your body with nutrient-dense foods the majority of the time and less nutrient-dense foods some of the time.

I am amazed that I still remember my ballet teacher embarrassing me in front of my peers, despite the fact that I was at a healthy body weight for my stage of puberty.  Whether your child is gaining weight in preparation of puberty, by emotional/behavioral eating, or through problems with regulating his/her sense of hunger and fullness, please make home a safe haven of love and support. Offer hope and guidance, and, of course, speak to a health professional about how you as a family can best support your child.

Kids Eat Right

On Teaching Healthy Lifestyle Habits to Families
Erica Leon, MS, RDN, CEDRD, CDN
Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian
Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor

Photo Credit: adwriter via Compfight cc

Hardly a day goes by without a headline warning of the dire consequences of our kids’ increasing weights and BMIs (body mass indices). Yes, we know that obesity leads to many chronic health conditions, from diabetes and heart disease to joint and breathing problems. All too often, however, I have seen the negative consequences of focusing exclusively on a child or adolescent’s weight and body mass index. I am seeing an increase in the number of kids and teens on diets, and I am also seeing an increase in eating disorders and disordered eating as a result. I believe there must be a middle ground—and a different way of reacting to expanding waistlines.

 

I believe this middle ground is a philosophy called Health at Every Size (HAES) and a way of eating called “Intuitive Eating.” Simply put, we change the focus from the number on the scale to healthy behaviors from the inside out. We must educate families to take an active role in preventing weight issues in kids. Embracing a healthy lifestyle means honoring and respecting our genetic body types, fueling them with health-promoting, satisfying foods, learning to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger, and moving our bodies because it just feels good!

 

Having taught weight management programs for overweight children in the past, I have seen the stress levels caused by frequent weight checks on a scale. I am excited to implement a wonderful program called Healthy Habits, written by Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, into my practice to teach families how to eat in this healthy, balanced way using a system of “everyday” and “sometimes” foods. This eight-week curriculum is grounded in the health at every size philosophy, teaches parents and kids how to make healthy but non-depriving food choices, and promotes movement and exercise for pleasure. There are no good foods or bad foods. Parents learn limit-setting skills while kids learn portion control, honoring hunger and fullness and coping with challenging situations around food. I believe our best hope at preventing health problems associated with overweight and obesity is involving and educating the entire family about a healthy lifestyle.

 

I would like to share part of an essay that my nineteen-year-old daughter, Rebecca Leon, wrote:

I have what my family calls the “round genes,” which basically means that due to good old-fashioned genetics, I’m destined to have curvier hips and a slightly fuller figure than most. Throughout my 19 years, I’ve struggled with accepting this fact and have fallen in and out of love with my body more times than Justin Bieber has gotten into trouble with the law! Although I’ve never had an eating disorder myself, admittedly, I’ve grappled with some dangerous dieting habits. Last year I auditioned for very competitive musical theater college programs where looks are as important as skill.

“My solution was to eat less (way less) and exercise a lot more, even though I was already dancing 3 hours a day. I won’t go into any more detail, but to make a long story short, for a few months, I wasn’t eating nearly enough food for the amount of calories I was burning. Although happy with my looks and feedback I was getting, to put it mildly, I felt like crap. I felt cranky all the time, had no energy, wasn’t satisfied with the way I was performing, and I would freak out at any sign of bloating. Luckily I have a supportive, nutritionist mother who has been teaching me about healthy eating since the day I was born. The truth is, your body needs fuel in order to perform at its best. I soon realized that by depriving my body of its needs, I was, in turn, putting myself at a disadvantage. When it came time for my auditions, I went back to eating more regularly. Thankfully, I was accepted into many programs, which would have been impossible had I not given my body the energy it needed to perform well.

 “The best way to feel good is to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Living in this manner is the key to honoring and accepting your body. Let’s face it…human beings are lazy. Most of the time we look for shortcuts and the easy way out. Well, unfortunately there is no shortcut or easy way out when it comes to health. Depriving your body of food may seem like the quickest way to lose weight, but in reality, it’s not at all worth the emotional or physical stress, not to mention putting yourself in danger. Even though maintaining a healthy lifestyle is difficult, the hard work pays off. Personally, I feel the happiest when I have a daily exercise routine planned out and stick to a balanced, healthy diet that allows me to indulge in a yummy dessert every other night.”

 

August is “Kids Eat Right Month,” an initiative from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to educate and empower our children towards a healthier lifestyle. I believe Healthy Habits enables families to do just that.

 

For more information on Healthy Habits, click here.

For additional free resources on “Kids Eat Right,” click here.