Food is for fuel, not love.

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Parents, here is a letter wrote by one of my clients. May it be a lesson to all parents and policy makers that children are worthy and beautiful no matter what size they are. Children should not be put on diets, restricted or told they are not okay because they have a belly, thicker legs, or are hungrier than their siblings. Research and my clients prove that restriction and dieting causes binging, self-loathing and obesity. Read this letter and think what you can do to tell your children that they are special no matter what. Find words to encourage your children to internally regulate their portions based on hunger and fullness. Teach your children that success is balance, trying something, not perfecting it. Tell your children your love is unconditional.

 

Dear Mom and Dad,

At 34 years old I am finally coming to value my worth, my body and my needs. As you know I have struggled with my identity, my weight and my self worth since we did weight watchers together at age 12.

After, 11 years of therapy, and a few months of nutrition counseling, I have finally realized, food is not my problem. My problem is I have lumped food and feelings into the same pot. I used to eat for love, for protection, to feel safe, to prevent myself from failing, to comfort my loneliness every weekend, to feel I deserved.

But, now I am finally learning to separate food from feelings. I am learning to feed myself and feed myself foods based on how they physically make me feel rather than how they emotionally make me feel or not feel. I have started to exercise for enjoyment and am slowly realizing I am worthy even though I am not what you have deemed skinny.  I have started to rebuild my foundation and nurture myself.  I am learning to accept that what makes me beautiful is not the number on the scale or the size of my jeans, but how I treat myself and how I allow other people to treat me.  Mom and Dad, I know you didn’t mean to do this to me, but you never focused on what made me okay, worthy or beautiful. I need you to know the real me that I am getting to know, the woman who is funny and beautiful, who is smart and in control of her life.  You see, I never needed all of the food, I just needed your acceptance.  But now I am learning to accept myself and now I am realizing I don’t need the food anymore.

With Love,
Your Daughter

Q. Are you and your children fostering a healthy relationship with food?

Here is a quick quiz  adapted from my Healthy Habits program. You can use this quiz, to see if you and your children are adept at the non diet approach or you can use this quiz to start a conversation.

I am personally using this piece tomorrow to initiate a discussion amongst the teachers at my son’s school. The head of the school asked me to help the teachers understand how food language can be a powerful tool in fostering both positive and negative relationships with food. Obviously we want to achieve a positive and healthy relationship that aids in the development of self esteem; That means removing subjective morals and values from food.

Answer Key

Too Much Weight on BMI

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Too Much Weight on BMI
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE

A few weeks ago I was asked to share my thoughts on Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative with radio host Rita Cosby. I researched the campaign at length while watching the boys play soccer, and what I came up with is that the movement is generally positive. I do believe that a bit of tweaking is in order, however, and that certain ideas could be rephrased. (Check out the complete podcast here.) As I continue to think about America’s “obesity epidemic” I think the measurement called Body Mass Index is overrated and has the potential to misdiagnose ourselves and our kids.

At the end of the day, it always comes back to this same question: “What can we as parents do to prevent disease?” This includes obesity-related disease.

I recognize we need measurements for statistic purposes and possibly diagnostic tools. However, I think BMI should be emphasized less and instead we can focus on behaviors and a cluster of measurements. BMI is only one measure, and it’s not always reflective of a person’s state of health.

BMI is based solely on height and weight. (You can read the official definition from the NIH here.) Weight can be a funny subject though. After all, the number on the scale is not always reflective of how healthy a person is. Therefore, one’s body mass index is not going to accurately reflect a person’s health status.

As parents, healthcare facilitators and makers of change, we must remember that obesity does not always equate with overeating, high cholesterol and/or inactivity. A dear client of mind, for example, has a BMI that would qualify her as overweight, and yet she is a shining example of good health. She runs marathons, eats a balanced intake of food, and has an ideal cholesterol ratio.

Let me let you in on a little secret: I, too weigh more than the black and white number recommended for my height, otherwise known as my “ideal body weight.” Me—a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and “paragon of health (by all other measures)”!

Granted, there is a ten percent range above and below IBW. I fall into the range above my IBW, as many people do. That being said, you can see how easy it can be for someone above their IBW to assume they are overweight, even when it’s not true. I’m by no means overweight, rather I am the weight that is appropriate for me.. If someone were to slap a label on me based on weight alone, or to use Weight Watchers’ recommended weight, I would be over my goal number.  Well, I don’t need to lose weight, so the point is, using these means to determine a person’s health with a Body Mass Index are somewhat antiquated and inaccurate.

Remember that muscle weighs more than fat. Otherwise, most hyper-muscular football players (even Tom Brady!) would be considered overweight too, if only by their BMIs. Some people are also more densely built than others. My nephew, who is visually lean and bony, qualifies as obese according to his doctor, though if anything, he could stand to gain a few pounds.

Whether lean and dense or round and curvy, we are all decidedly beautiful. We must remember that BMI is not a measure of self-worth. Rather, it’s merely one tool that aims to measure health—and a flawed tool at that.

On the flip side, I also work with a number of clients who have extremely low BMIs. These individuals are struggling with their health.  They may use unhealthy behaviors such as skipping meals or starving themselves to keep their weight down and or BMI low. So you see, a low BMI may not be indicative of health either. What we need to be sure of is to take our focus away from the body mass index and to instead consider healthy behaviors as a whole.

So if weight isn’t the ultimate measure of health (nor is one’s appearance), then what is? Blood pressure, liver function, Total Cholesterol/ HDL ratio, endurance, energy and other daily habits are much better ways to gage a person’s physical condition. As parents, political pundits and health care professionals, we must move toward size-acceptance, promoting confidence and self-esteem in our children. I propose to start with the following:

  • Foster a positive opinion of food in the household.
  • Feed your children a balanced intake of whole grains, lean proteins and heart healthy fats.
  • Tell your children you love them. Have them look in the mirror and tell themselves they are loved. Tell them they are  more than a number.
  • Encourage healthy behaviors by setting an example.
  • Focus on your children’s efforts and behaviors, not on outcomes or measures. Praise them for trying a vegetable or sport rather than for being a veggie eater or a great baseball player.

Quick Tips For Moms on Helping Cultivate Healthy Habits

Whether it’s Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign, my friend’s talk in Westchester to the PTA or the development of a new Food and Nutrition Committee at my son’s school, Moms and Dads are advocating for positive change for health promotion. We walk a fine line while doing this as we don’t want to create more problems in regards to the already challenging job of feeding our children. Here are five simple tips to include in your “lunch box” of tools.

 

Teaching Not Preaching to Your Kids, Healthy Habits

Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE

Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services (www.LauraCipulloLLC.com)

www.MomDishesitOut.com

 

 

 

 

 

 1. Don’t preach instead lead by example:

  • Let your children know you are off to spin class or pilates
  • Plan active vacations whether it be skiing or hiking in Colorado

 

2. Practice exposure therapy

  • Try new foods with your children especially on vacation or during the holidays. St Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras offer different cuisines to tantalize your taste buds.
  • Leave the veggies on the table even if you know the kids won’t eat them.

 

3. Take your child food shopping

  • Shop at the farmer’s market or a food store that emphasizes sustainable, local agriculture and wholesome foods such as Whole Foods.
  • Limit shopping at grocery stores that offer more colorful, child focused boxed and processed foods.  There marketing sucks your kids in.

 

4. Encourage Trying, Not Winning

  • Tell your child you are proud of them for trying a new food or a new activity. It’s not whether they like the veggie or if they played the game correctly.
  • Focus on the great effort and fun your child had at trying a new sport like roller-skating not how they didn’t fall.

 

5. Practice self regulation

  • Let your child choose how much of the dinner to eat. No clean the plate the club!
  • Ask your child “Are you hungry, thirsty, bored or tired?”

 

A Therapist's Changing Body – Guest Blog

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Today’s guest blog from Psychotherapist Jessica Aronson touches on a question that many working women and expecting moms often wonder. What can we do as parents or professionals to teach others (kids and adults alike) to both respect and feel comfortable with the inevitable physical changes as they grow, from puberty to pregnancy? How can we learn to cope with our bodies through different stages of life?

As you know, this is a topic I hold near and dear to my heart. Her account is decidedly honest, and I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to join in the conversation in the comments section below.

A Therapist’s Changing Body

By: Jessica Aronson, LCSW-R, ACSW, CGP Psychotherapist http://www.wmhcnyc.org/aronson/ www.jkpassages.com

As I anxiously and joyously await the arrival of my second child, another boy, I am reminded of the process all over again. It’s no longer just my client and I sitting in the room; with my son growing inside of me, there are three of us now.

My clients in particular are heightened to these changes. Having worked with eating disorder patients for more than 10 years, I’m familiar with—and prepared for—the comments: “You look great, did you change your hair?” or “You’re so little,” or “You’re wearing colors today.”

So it wasn’t all that surprising that the comments continued as I too continued to grow and change. People have remarked on how big I’ve gotten; how my skin has broken out; how uncomfortable I must be (and am). The list goes on.

At eight months pregnant, there is no way to hide my belly. It now shares the sacred space of a therapy session, a place that’s otherwise reserved solely for my patient and myself. That being said, I nevertheless try not to talk about my pregnancy or my changing body with my patients at great length, as it leaves me exposed and vulnerable as their therapist.

When the situation seems appropriate, however, I do push myself to inquire as to what thoughts and feelings my changing body and unborn child brings up for them. Clients have shared feeling uncomfortable by the size of my belly. They’ve expressed sympathy as well as the desire to take care of me by offering me a seat on the couch. They’ve expressed fears about my maternity leave.

Of course, there is no way to avoid these changes—or the physical changes any woman experiences during the course of their pregnancy. And while I know it is so important to use my own position as an opportunity to help my clients explore their own feelings and fears about pregnancy and weight fluctuation, I am also honest when I say that, as a therapist, I feel very exposed and vulnerable in doing so. Sure, I am happy to make this sacrifice to benefit my clients. I’m just far less enthusiastic about sharing it with strangers.

Many of my clients stayed with me through my first pregnancy, but I still struggle to cope with my own discomfort (as the baby kicks and moves inside me), as well as anxieties and fears that arise while in sessions with patients. Like any transition or change in a therapist’s life, this too is major. We just can’t hide or cover this one up.

 

3 Strikes and You Are Out!!

 

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Don’t let food be your child’s voice
Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE and Mom

While in session this week, my client expressed frustration, disappointment, and anger toward her parents, in particular her mother, when recalling the holidays. My client, a vegetarian, is recovering from an eating disorder. Upon returning home for the holidays, her mother tells her, “I bought you food. It’s in the other refrigerator.” Excited, my client feels respected and goes to make lunch. But when she opens the refrigerator, she only finds one red pepper—and there’s mold growing on it.

Strike 1.

Next, her parents tell her to choose a restaurant by a famous chef they all adore, that way everyone will be satisfied.  She makes a decision and tells her mother. Mom’s response: “Oh, no one will like it there. We are going to a different restaurant.”

Strike 2.

At the restaurant, mom orders for the family even though the kids want something different. My client ends up with a dish that contains cheese. She is lactose intolerant. Now she needs to order a new meal, wait for it and eat while everyone else waits for her to finish.

Strike 3.

You’re out, mom! Thankfully, my client practiced patience and used her coping skills, and before long, she returned home to her own apartment where she reigns over the refrigerator.

In this instance, it’s clear that my client lost her voice among those of the rest of her family and developed an eating disorder to express her lack of recognition and pain. This is a perfect example of how sometimes we may not truly be listening to our children. Sure, we may hear their voices, but there are moments when we simply miss the boat.

As mothers, parents and caregivers, we are all busy and consumed. It’s not just my client’s parent; it could be any one of us. But, whether a child is 3 or 30, we all need to recognize that they have their own needs and personalities. They need to be heard, respected and acknowledged in order to build their self-esteem and prevent them from using food to numb, to cope, to ask for help, or to ask for more love.

What do you do to let your children know that you hear them? How do you acknowledge them and prevent food from becoming their voice?