Fat is Okay

By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD

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The comedian Nicole Arbour has it wrong—as do many people. Fat shaming is not helpful. It makes people feel worse about themselves, not better! Smart people recognize that putting people down is counterproductive to self-care, which ultimately leads to wellness. Our culture needs to refocus and promote positives specifically around food and body. Moms, dads, and friends—we need to get it right. As adults who influence children and their health, it is in our hands to prevent fat shaming and, just as important, to redefine the word “FAT” and the word “DIET.”


Using the Word “FAT”

When my children were born, I avoided the word “fat,” making a rule—it was not to be used in my house and guests could not call my kids fat. I even skipped the “fat caterpillar” part in Eric Carle’s book The Hungry Caterpillar. Fat was and is demonized in the public. Most who are/were called fat internalize the word, leading to poor body image, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.


Neutralize the Word

Things are changing. I have learned with my clients that focusing on wellness instead of weight loss are without a doubt a better way to achieve health—and even weight loss if needed. The Health at Every Size (HAES) movement has introduced the concept of neutralizing the word “fat.” This means, as parents and especially as health professionals, we should be redefining “fat.” The word should connate neither a good nor bad vibe. HAES recognizes that people may be overweight but that it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Rather, size acceptance and body acceptance is most important when trying to pursue health.

With this, I have in my practice and even at home begun to change the use of this word. I use the word “fat,” and along with the HAES’s influence, I encourage others to do so as well. Let’s face it, we all eat foods with fat, all have fat on our bodies, and all need both dietary and body fat.


The Science on FAT

Body size and fat are different. Body size and body fat are partly determined by genetics—actually about 50 percent. Body fat, stress, and even the way in which we eat affect how we gain, lose, and maintain weight. Excessive body fat is part of the cause and the result of metabolic snafus. Basically, think of it like this: your car is filled with gas, but your gas tank erroneously reads it as empty. You continue to pump gas into the tank and it spills out causing a mess. This can happen to expensive cars and used cars. There is no discrimination. Rather, miscommunication between bodily systems can happen in both thin people with a high fat mass as well as larger people with a high fat mass. That’s right, even thin people can have a high fat ratio and put themselves at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and more. (1) In other words, thinner as well as larger people can hold greater amounts of fat. It is not an appearance thing, so please stop judging the book by its cover. It can be quite deceiving.

Recognize that health is not determined by the number on the scale, the size of your pants, or someone calling you fat. Health is much more complex. Fat is not bad or good. Fat is fat. Like anything else, too much of one thing can become unhealthy. And while we are on the topic of redefining “fat,” let’s also redefine the word “diet” and practice the All Foods Fit philosophy!


To support this message, start using the hashtags #HAES, #AllFoodsFit, #AllBodiesFit, #redefinediet #BodyLove…


To help create awareness, I have also created tanks and totes that voice this message:

  • for totes with the All Foods Fit and All Bodies Fit, click HERE
  • for tanks with the All Foods Fit message, “Eat Kale and Cupcakes,” and more, click HERE

10 percent of all proceeds will be donated to Project Heal NYC!



International Journal of Obesity (2006) 30, S23–S35. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803516

The thrifty ‘catch-up fat’ phenotype: its impact on insulin sensitivity during growth trajectories to obesity and metabolic syndrome

A G Dulloo1, J Jacquet2, J Seydoux2 and J-P Montani1

Eat Like A Baby

By Dina Cohen, MS, RDN, CEDRD


Photo Credit: Mait Jüriado via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Mait Jüriado via Compfight cc

My girls are confident self-feeders by now, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them eat. When I put a new food on their trays, they curiously examine it, poking and prodding with great interest, and finally cramming it into their little mouths. By the time they are done, their noses, ears, eyebrows, and hair have all had a share in the meal, and naturally, the floor is a disaster, but it’s great fun for them, and for me! The babies are fascinated by new colors, textures, and tastes. While they recognize their favorites and will grin and gurgle at each other in appreciation when I serve something that they think is fabulous, they’re still very open-minded, and I take full advantage. It’s so entertaining to see their expressions after I shock them with an entirely new texture or flavor. I love that they are so curious and will always try at least a bite or two, no matter how different a new food looks, smells, or feels. I don’t know how long this will last, but I hope it always will! I’m certainly appreciating it for the moment.

Eating with my girls is showing me how enjoyable a meal can be when you involve all your senses and approach it with a sense of discovery and adventure. Watching their active participation in their meals reinforces how valuable it is to eat mindfully. Mealtime is about more than simply filling your stomach and moving on to your next activity. Eating is a much more satisfying experience if it involves noticing and appreciating the color, texture, and flavor of your food. Is it as good as you expected? If you were brave enough to try something new, how much did you enjoy it? Is it worth going back for another bite? Not everything you eat is always going to taste super-amazing, but once you’re eating, your food should taste good to you! My girls aren’t finicky, but they don’t compromise, either. They enjoy a variety of textures and flavors, but if they aren’t impressed with a particular food, they’ll abandon it after a few bites. They listen to their stomachs and will leave over food when they are full.

I try to vary their menu to keep them curious and so that we don’t get into a Cheerio rut. It’s important to me that their meals are stimulating and fun, as well as nourishing and tasty. But I’ll admit that my own meals don’t always receive the same level of attention. As moms, even dietitian moms, it can be easy to put ourselves last and eat the same thing day after day just because it’s easy, and, well…mindless. How different might our eating look if we ensured our meals included a variety of colors and flavors? When did you last try a new ingredient or a unique recipe? How much time do you take for your meals, and how much do you enjoy them? Are your meals enjoyable? Satisfying?

Eating mindfully is something we were born knowing how to do. Noticing how food makes us feel while we’re eating it and how satisfied we are afterwards is not a special talent. We all started out with this ability. Somewhere along the way, though, most of us were socialized to focus more on external signals as opposed to what’s going on internally. We eat in a hurry. We eat past the point of fullness. Sometimes we might finish a meal barely noticing what it was we just consumed. None of this is a crime; sometimes, when life is busy, it’s a necessity. But there’s no question that it’s a less-than-ideal way to eat. The good news is that mindful eating is something that can be relearned. You’ve done it before, and you can do it again. If there’s an opportunity in your day (or even a day in your week), when you can slow down enough to enjoy a meal that’s appealing to your senses and satisfying to your body, you’ll be eating the way it’s meant to be done. So as I amusedly watch my babies’ gleeful faces as they squish and smash their way through their gloriously messy mealtime, I can’t help but think, “Hey…they’ve got a point!”

How to Grow a Healthy Eater, Naturally

By Dina Cohen, MS, RDN, CEDRD


When my friend Esther told me that her kids prefer broccoli to pizza, I knew we had to talk

some more. Esther is a mom to three children under the age of five, and she is also one of the

most relaxed, serene individuals I know. I’ve chosen her as one of my “role model moms” (I

collect them) and the way she feeds her children is just one of the many things I admire about

her. I’ve asked Esther to share her techniques for raising healthy eaters. Here are her tips!

1.    Expose kids to a wide variety of foods. Kids each have their own preferences, so by

exposing them to many different foods, you enable them to find their healthy favorites. Esther

doesn’t get stuck in a rut of serving only things she knows they’ll eat. In her house, “Kids taste

everything. After that, they can have an opinion. If they don’t like something, it’s not a big a

deal. They’ll meet their needs at another meal.” Esther finds that involving kids in meal prep is a

great way to motivate them to try new foods. She suggests saying something along the lines of

“Libby helped make the salad today. Doesn’t it look delicious? Thank you, Libby!”

2.    Know that whatever Mommy eats is exciting. There is nothing more powerful than role

modeling. “Kids pick up on your vibes,” Esther says. “Let them see you eating and enjoying

healthy foods. I love fruits and vegetables. I really think they taste good, and so do my kids. I

stocked up on of fruits and veggies at the beginning of the week and cut them up into snack

bags for my kids to take to day camp. They were ecstatic. My four-year-old ran over to me with

her veggie bag and said, ‘Mommy, smell it! Smell it! It’s so yummy!’ ” Esther shares how she

recently bought fresh cherries and her daughter was so excited she tried to climb up to the top

shelf of the fridge to get them. Her younger son loves imitating his big sister as well as his mom,

and he eats plenty of fruits and veggies too. Cherry tomatoes are a family favorite. “They enjoy

putting one in each side of their cheeks and looking weird.” Mealtime is a wonderful time for

role modeling healthy behaviors. Esther makes a point of sticking around during mealtime. “Sit

at the table with them and they will have an easier time eating. The more people at the table,

the better. I’ve noticed that whenever we have guests, they’ll do better at meals. It’s always

best if you can eat with them. You can beg them to eat a bowl of cereal and they’ll refuse, but

sit down and have one yourself and they’ll come crowding around.”

3.    Help kids build healthy habits early on. Because her daughter refused water at a young

age, Esther began giving her juice, but she always dilutes the juice with water. “I dilute it so

much, it’s like flavored water. The other day I’d diluted the juice while it was still in the

container, and when I poured some for my daughter, she said, ‘Hey, you didn’t put in water!” I

try to give my kids whole grain products and while it doesn’t always go over successfully, it

often does. They aren’t fans of whole wheat bread, but they really like brown rice.  “Get away

with it when you can.”

4.    Provide all foods. Esther sets the stage for healthy choices but she knows when to step

back. “I do let go because I don’t want my kid to be the one eating candy under the table.”

Recently, her four-year-old has been asking for a freeze pop upon coming home from day camp

because she sees the neighborhood kids having them, and Esther has no problem allowing her

to have too. She’s ok with it because her daughter enjoys many healthy foods as well and she

does not want her to feel deprived. She knows her daughter is used to a healthy routine and

understands that all foods can be part of a balanced lifestyle.

5.    Understand that it will be challenging. Things don’t always go smoothly at Esther’s table.

“It’s hard when you put in a lot of work to prepare a meal you think they’ll really like but then

they don’t eat it.” However, Esther believes that this is because “Children are challenging! It’s

not food-specific. They don’t always do what you want, and you’ll have to readjust your

expectations. Don’t drop the whole thing, but know that you might have to rework the


6.    Don’t have an agenda. Esther feels it’s important not to get too worked up about your

children’s eating. “When they feel you are anxious for them to eat something, they won’t want

it. It’s like when you’re anxious for them to go to sleep on time because you have a babysitter

coming; they’ll sense it and won’t go to sleep.” She believes it’s best not to be overly invested in

the outcome, or at least to “pretend you don’t care!” When I asked Esther to share some

rewarding moments, she replied, “I don’t view it that way because I don’t put in intense effort. I

don’t have an agenda. We keep trying things, and when something doesn’t work, it doesn’t

work. And something that didn’t work at first might work later on. So rather than individual

rewarding moments, I get slow, gradual gratification. I’m seeing that the seeds I’ve planted

have successfully grown.”

The Power Struggle: Kickin' and Screamin' About Food

By Mommy Laura Cipullo RD, CDE, CEDRD

Now it is always a RD’s recommendation to never have a power struggle around food. But what happens when your kid is the one who is running the show? I have seen this with clients, where the kid becomes so picky with the food, the parent obliges. A few weeks ago, I was thinking to myself, was this happening in my home with my youngest son.

School was out. We moved homes on the last day of school and literally left one week later for South Carolina. Billy just seemed off. He had heat stroke one day and as a result hadn’t eaten much or well for a few days. Then when we went on a Pirate Ship tourist trap kind of cruise and the employee commented on his height. Now this is something I am sensitive about. I do wonder if his shorter stature is just him or is it because he is a picky pescatarian. He eats one fish and only some of the time. With all of the emotional change he was definitely being pickier. I got to worrying.

Billy wasn’t even willing to try any foods. I made him a veggie burger with cheese on both sides while I served Bobby his chicken. This was the Bell and Evans Chicken Tenders. Meanwhile at the restaurants, Bobby and I share steak and other normal foods. I thought a veggie burger was a very nice compromise for Billy. Of course he did not agree.

The power struggle began. But I really didn’t want to give up. I hate that it had to come to this but I was legitimately worried about his health. I was not asking him to eat the veggie burger; rather I was asking him to try it. The fact that he would not try it, really got to me and I decided I was not giving in. I was ready to sit with him until he tried the veggie burger.

At first this was a game for him, until he realized I was serious and 45 minutes later still sitting with him. He would leave the table and I would bring him back. The night before he had refused his fish sticks so I was without options. Soon Billy was crying to me. I explained I was concerned and as a parent I would irresponsible to not feed him adequately. Plus I was really worried for his health emotional and physically without proper protein. And that is when he said it!

He said, “Mommy, I will eat chicken.” He whispered it. I said, “Really, you rather eat chicken than a veggie burger?” He was on board with eating Billy’s chicken. So I made him a chicken tender and he ate it. It was a small tender but he was cool with it. And guess what, her ordered chicken tenders the next night at the restaurant. And on Saturday night he ate chicken parmesan at a very fancy restaurant.

Just last week, I retuned from the South. My sister was watching my boys and gave all of the children chicken nuggets. Guess who ate them? Yeah, my Billy. My husband who had not been privy to the power struggle form the week prior told me Billy ate the nuggets without hesitation but later told my hubby that this chicken was not good like ours and was different in texture. He didn’t prefer these. But he did eat them.

Now call me crazy, but Billy grew. This could be coincidental or potentially the result of his new diet. I am grateful for both!!! The growth whatever the reason is timely, because Billy now thinks eating protein means growing tall. It is no longer mommy and daddy just saying it.

I have no idea if he will continue with the chicken. I have no idea if the chicken initiated the growth spurt. I just know that the power struggle was necessary in order to get my very strong willed child to eat something with all 8 essential amino acids. So while I hate that it had to happen, the end result seems to be okay.

I guess I won’t know until he is older and comes home to tell me that I ruined his relationship with food per his therapist. This is a joke of course, but at the same time, my worst nightmare ever. I hope my sharing of this situation can help you to set boundaries around feeding and eating with your own child. I hope you learn from my mistakes and benefit from our successes. Raising kids to have positive relationships with eating and neutral relationships with food is super hard but super necessary for our future generations.

Please let me know if you find this helpful and if you do, please share with your friends. I work with many clients who suffer from eating disorders and this is the last thing you would ever want for your child. Please spread Positive Nutrition and #AllFOODFITS!

Helping Your Large Child Thrive in a Fat-Phobic World

Helping Your Large Child Thrive in a Fat-Phobic World

by Julie Dillon, MS, RD, NCC, LDN, CEDRD

“As a parent of a larger child, the difficult challenge is the voice inside my head telling me that I am doing something wrong. It’s telling me I am ‘letting’ her get fat and not doing something about it.”  —Jennifer, mom

We live in a world where fat bodies are discriminated against, bullied, and considered unacceptable. What if your child is larger than what society deems ok? It is important for you to teach your large child how to respect his or her body since our society will not. You will be your child’s advocate for healthy ways of experiencing food, exercise, and body image. Where do you start?

Source: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity

Unconditional Acceptance

Let your child know through your words and actions you accept him or her unconditionally.  If your child comes to you upset about his/her large body, let your child know you love them as he/she is, that you love them no matter what and no matter what size. Do not suggest a diet or exercising together.  If you were to do so, the suggestion sets up a condition. It says, “No, you are not ok as you are. I will help you change.”

Meals and Snacks

Set up regular meal and snack times so your child knows when food will be served. Older children and teens may start to feel ashamed of eating enough in public. They may restrict themselves to low-calorie foods when eating with friends. This way of eating is often referred to as “eating for show.” It means that even though your son or daughter is hungry for a variety of foods, he/she may feel like he/she should be restricting in order to repent for their large body. This leads many kids (and adults!) to eat more in private and even binge eat.

If your child knows your meal and snack times and falls into this “eating for show” trap, he/she can avoid binge or secret eating by consuming enough at the next meal or snack time.

Consistent eating times also offer the opportunity for every child in your home to learn how to detect, respect, and satisfy hunger and fullness cues. Besides promoting healthy eating, this also promotes positive body image.

High-Calorie Fun Foods

By banishing certain fun foods, you may set your child up to sneak foods or binge eat. Be sure to stock your house with a wide variety of wholesome nutritious foods. This variety will include fun foods too. Fun foods include cakes, cookies, and chips.  I encourage all families (no matter what body size) to offer cookies at snack time once a week. I also encourage a few fun sides such as potato chips a couple times a week with meals. Offering fun foods alongside nutrient-dense foods helps in many ways. It satisfies cravings, models moderation, and prevents shame and binge eating high-calorie low nutrition foods.

Jennifer has found strength thanks to professionals and others who have gone through the same thing. “I have to get grounded by people who understand. While I know my family is concerned, their way of ‘shaming’ her or me because of her food choices or size and trying to manipulate her diet makes helping my daughter so hard. Having other parents to talk to that have been there, BUT also agree with the Body Positive philosophy is essential for support. I also have needed the support of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to help me let go of my anxiety about this.”

Source: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity


Every body is meant to move—not just fat bodies. Encourage all of your children to find activities they enjoy. If time and finances allow, let your children pick one organized physical activity per week. Maybe they will enjoy soccer, tae kwon do, salsa dancing, or ice-skating!

Do not make your large child do an activity that he/she does not feel comfortable doing. Avoid “no pain no gain” cliché philosophies. Instead of motivating, they will only shame your child more. Also do not single out any child and make him/her do an exercise while others do not. Moreover, don’t encourage more exercise in relation to foods consumed nor discuss completing a certain amount of exercise to burn off calories consumed. Thinking about food in this way is disordered and could set up genetically predisposed children to start practicing an eating disorder.

Jennifer states: “I try to listen to my daughter’s sadness and frustration about not fitting into ‘skinny jeans’ and not tell her she is wrong for feeling that way. But I also talk to her about how her body is going to change and grow forever and how learning to love it is the best gift. I talk to her a lot about how strong her legs are and how graceful she is when she is figure skating. Not about what her body looks like but the amazing things it can do.”

Your large child needs you to communicate unconditional acceptance in order to thrive in a world stereotyped against his/her body type. Avoid shame-based language, singling out, or punishment. Rather engage in modeling healthy eating, pleasurable movement, and respectful body image for all your children, no matter their size.

Expanding Kids' Autonomy with Food

Expanding Kids’ Autonomy with Food

Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

Photo Credit: Tetra Pak via Compfight cc


Parenting is all about guiding, providing, teaching with unconditional love.  And it’s also about allowing our kids the space to try, explore and figure things out so that they can eventually trust themselves to make supportive choices.  Not only these overall developmental themes, they are also completely relevant as kids personalize their own relationship with food, eating and connection with their bodies.  When our children are young, we are the gatekeepers of the food:  providing, preparing and presenting it in a reliable, and consistent manner 1.  And while we may still be paying the grocery bills and answering the age-old  question, “What’s for dinner?!” as long as our children are under our roofs , our kids pretty quickly begin to practice more and more independence and autonomy with their food.  Imagine, if you were still cutting your 15 year olds steak at the dinner table!  That seems ridiculous, yet we want to make certain that we are also giving our kids the space to explore and take charge in other ways with their eating experiences.  Particularly as our children explore the middle- and high-school years, there are endless opportunities for us to give them room to make more of their own food decisions.

Give suggestions not solutions

Our hormonal little teddy bears (often disguised as grizzly bears), typically don’t respond well when we try to solve things for them.  They may ASK us for the answers, but they really want to be able to make their own decisions, and yet know they need some input from us.

Instead of“Why don’t you ever eat breakfast in the morning? “

Try“I notice you’ve been talking a lot about how tired you are, is there anything you think might make getting up less brutal?” .   Then, rather than firing off 5 things you know would work, simply ask if he would like some suggestions.  Not only does this give you an opening to discuss simple breakfasts that can be ready crazy fast and keep his energy up, it also gives you some space to discuss time management and ways the family can work together to support each other.

Capture teachable moments

We may be acutely aware that certain patterns aren’t working well for our kids.  An extremely common pitfall is the post-school slump.  Not only do our kids come home worn out from thinking, they’re also really, really hungry.  Getting them to connect how the first half of their day plays a role in the second half is a really big deal.

Instead of:  “How come you’re raiding the pantry the second you walk in the door?” which is not only shaming, it completely cuts off communication.

Try:  “I’m not going to bombard you with questions since you seem like you don’t want to talk right now.  Do you need any help putting together a snack?”  Then once she has some food in her system, you might explore the timing of lunch and foods she could add to it or to breakfast to keep hunger from building to the tipping point after school.   Discussing food or patterns that aren’t quite helpful will NOT go well, if her brain is irritable and famished.

Give options and reinforce you trust them

If you have a child who struggles to make her own decisions, or turns to you for permission, practice turning the question back on her.  Remembering that there is no perfect eating choice can really take the pressure off.  If she asks, “Mom, can I eat something else?”….

Instead of:  And absolute “yes” or “no”

Try:  “You’re the best one to know if you’re still hungry, so go ahead and listen to what your body’s asking for.  There is absolutely more food, so help yourself.”

Photo Credit: adwriter via Compfight cc

Get curious

Encourage your kids to take an attitude of curiosity.   Since we know that calling foods good or bad creates an onslaught of judgment and distorted eating, it’s helpful to teach them to explore what’s working for them or not so much.  This can include them choosing a different / new food from the grocery store or getting curious about how long a bowl of cereal satisfies after breakfast, and how that’s different than eating an egg sandwich.  Their first-hand experience is priceless and will speak volumes over our well-intended lectures.  And this experience is precisely what helps them launch as well-adjusted, balanced and connected young adults.

1.  Division of Responsibilities, Ellyn Satter, RD

Something More Than Fish


Charlie tells his younger sister: “These are not fish sticks. These are ocean nibbles from the supermarket under the sea—mermaids eat them all of the time.”

—I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child

As you know, I’m not perfect. Rather, I’m the real deal! I am the dietitian with the picky kids. My children definitely give me much practice about what I preach. And then, thank goodness, there are other times. I continue on this long journey of exposing my children to foods and trying my best to allow them to develop positive relationships with eating and neutral relationships with food. Mind you, this is no easy task. It’s a difficult balancing act. 

Our latest feat was fish sticks. Just remember that when we talk about fish sticks, we are really referring to something of a metaphor for life. Read on to learn more.

My youngest son Billy has been picky and often frustrating about food since the day he was born. At one point he loved Dr. Praeger’s Fish Sticks; he would eat four or five of them in one sitting. Billy’s enjoyment was of brief duration and he never seemed ready to reincorporate these ocean nibbles onto his personal “I really like this!” list despite our best efforts. Well, for some reason, this week was different. Once again, we offered fish sticks to Billy. To be exact, I made both boys fish sticks—a very child-friendly food—and put them on their dinner plates. However, I put only one fish stick on Billy’s plate. My husband and I were eating kale salad, herbed pork tenderloin and roasted potatoes. I know the boys won’t eat this dinner and I don’t make a big deal about it. This frustrates my husband, especially as the boys get older. However, when we push, like I did with the sweet potato puree (Read my recent blog, The Imperfect Food Mom), the boys push back.

In recent months, I’ve seen Billy eat a fish stick. I’ve actually seen him gobble it down! I can’t remember the specific circumstances around that particular meal. The one thing I realized was that he’s been playing us with the darn fish sticks. The way he scarfed down that fish stick made it clear that he really likes the taste or, at least, doesn’t mind the taste. Lately, I’ve been telling the boys how important it is to try new things whether they are sports activities or different foods. I have also been telling them: “You don’t need to eat your favorite foods every night. Mommy and Daddy sometimes make a meal that we don’t particularly enjoy, but we eat it anyway. Every meal doesn’t have to taste great. We just need to get nutrition from eating it. Eating our favorite meals happens just some of the time.”

So Billy looked down at his fish stick and immediately said: “I don’t like fish sticks.” I don’t recall my exact response at that moment, but by the end of our conversation, Billy was expressing his desire for Smart Puffs. (Note: I’m not a fan of Smart Puffs, but I do buy them on occasion because Billy is!) So I clearly told him: “You need to eat something with nutrition. You need to meet your body’s needs for growing. You can have Smart Puffs, but you haven’t eaten enough protein today.” As you might imagine, the little gamer asked: “Can I have some Smart Puffs if I eat my fish stick?” Well, of course! And he did. He happily ate his fish stick and then his Smart Puffs.

The next night we found ourselves with the same situation. This time, however, I put two fish sticks on Billy’s plate. He asked for his Smart Puffs and he got them after eating one and then the other fish stick. Please understand that this was not a food reward. I was not rewarding Billy for eating his fish stick. Rather, I was letting him know it’s okay to have all foods some of the time. You can eat foods lower in nutrition but not at the sacrifice/cost of a more nutritious food when growing…or just on a regular basis. 

After two consecutive nights of fish sticks, Billy asked if he could have fish sticks every other night rather than every night. Sure he can. I wasn’t planning to put fish sticks on his plate every night or even every other night. But since he thought I was—and he now thinks he made the decision about when to have them—I went with it!

I realize fish sticks are not the most nutritious nor desirable food one would want their children to eat. But when you have a picky eater, you must start somewhere. Knowing whether your child is playing you, knowing when to push, and knowing when a child is truly revolted by a food is a hard task to tackle. I choose to walk this line very carefully…and without any rush factor. I choose to do so because I clearly see the negative effects of creating power struggles around food between parents and children in my office. I successfully used this approach with my oldest son Bobby. He has become the best intuitive eater—slowly but surely reincorporating familiar foods and trying new foods almost daily now that he has turned six.

I do believe in the process of food exposure and sometimes even giving a little push. I remember my personal pickiness when I was a child. I actually think my vegetarianism and then veganism in high school and college were in part to send a direct message to my family. My message said: “You made me eat meat…and I didn’t like it!” It also said I am different from you because I eat different foods than you. The same things happen with my clients. I have teenagers either refusing to eat anything at all, or eating only certain foods. And they’re doing this partly to control their parents or get their attention. 

I don’t want to have power struggles about food with my children, so perhaps I am a bit more relaxed with food than others would think. As a parent, this is your decision too. Just recognize that feeding and eating isn’t simply a straight forward matter. Ultimately, it’s how individuals identify, label and communicate their inner selves to the world. This is the metaphor: What happens with food typically represents what’s happening with life at that time!




The Truth About Eating Disorders: Common Myths Debunked

The Truth About Eating Disorders: Common Myths Debunked

by Julie Holland, MHS, CEDS


Because most eating disorders (approximately 95 percent) surface between the ages of 12 and 25, parents are often a first line of defense against the development of these illnesses in their children.* Despite increased prevalence of eating disorders in the United States, widespread misconceptions about eating disorders remain that challenge identification, diagnosis and early intervention. To truly protect and advocate for their children, it is important that parents understand the truth behind common eating disorder myths.

Myth: Eating disorders aren’t serious illnesses.

Truth: Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) are very real and very serious mental illnesses. Each disorder has clear diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the go-to diagnostic reference for mental healthcare professionals. Another reason to take eating disorders seriously is that they can be deadly. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. In fact, women ages 15 to 24 years of age who suffer from anorexia nervosa are 12 times more likely to die from the illness than any other cause of death.**

Myth: Eating disorders are just about food.

Truth: While eating disorders generally involve obsession with calories, weight or shape, these illnesses are rooted in biological, psychological and sociocultural aspects. Restriction, bingeing, purging or over-exercise behaviors usually signify an attempt to control something of substance in the individual’s life. Because friends and family mistakenly believe that eating disorders are just about food, they will often encourage their loved ones to “just eat more,” “just eat less,” or “just eat healthier” to be “cured” of this illness. In reality, eating disorders often require some combination of medical, psychiatric, therapeutic and dietary intervention to achieve full recovery.

Myth: Eating disorders are a women’s illness.

Truth: While research shows that eating disorders affect significantly more women than men, these illnesses occur in men and boys as well. While males used to represent about 10 percent of individuals with eating disorders, a recent Harvard study found that closer to 25 percent of individuals presenting for eating disorder treatment are male. The widespread belief that eating disorders only affect women and girls can prevent accurate diagnosis of an eating disorder in a man or boy, even among healthcare experts.

Myth: Eating disorders don’t develop until the teenage years.

Truth: Consider this—research found that up to 60 percent of girls between the ages of 6 and 12 are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat, and that this concern endures through life.*** Not surprisingly, the incidence of eating disorders in children is on the rise. Between 1999 and 2006, hospitalizations for eating disorders in children 12 and younger rose 119 percent, according to a 2010 study by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Myth: Only very thin people have an eating disorder.

Truth: While anorexia is characterized by extreme low weight, many individuals struggling with bulimia, binge eating disorder and EDNOS are normal-weighted. The misconception that an eating disorder can only occur if someone is very thin contributes to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis in many cases, even among those patients seeking support from medical and mental healthcare professionals. Unfortunately, many healthcare experts lack eating disorder exposure and training, which highlights the important role of eating disorder specialists to ensure effective diagnosis and early intervention.

Photo Credit: churl via Compfight cc


In addition to educating themselves about basic eating disorder information and understanding myth from fact, parents should also trust their instincts when it comes to eating disorders in their children. Eating disorders can thrive in secrecy, but parents often intuitively know if something is wrong with their children. While parents may feel terrified of saying the wrong thing, but also not want to stay silent, they are an important champion for diagnosis and effective treatment. If concern arises, consult with an eating disorder specialist sooner rather than later—early intervention is critical to lasting eating disorder recovery.


*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), The Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), offices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

**American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 152 (7), July 1995, p. 1073-1074, Sullivan, Patrick F.

***T.F. Cash & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body Image: A Handbook of Science, Practice, and Prevention. New York: Guilford Press. 2011.

The Harmful Happy Plate

The Harmful Happy Plate

by Julie Dillon, MS, RD, NCC, LDN, CEDRD

My everyday mealtime chaos includes my six-year-old daughter singing at the top of her lungs while my two-year-old son eats one bite then jets from the table. I think that it would be much easier if he still used his high chair, yet he rejected that contraption as soon as he could walk. This makes mealtime a bit messier and acrobatic in nature. In the blink of an eye, he goes from noshing on dinner to dancing in the living room. “We sit to eat” crosses my lips throughout the meal, and I lead him back to the table. Toddlers are distracted by nature, so we try to keep distractions to a minimum (no TV) and give him a high five when he sits safely at the table. We are clear about when meal time is over so he can get his fill, and he will sign “All done!” when his body communicates fullness. Sometimes this happens with a bite or three helpings.

Recently I received a text from a dear friend. She is raising her children to be intuitive eaters and modeling healthy ways of relating to food. With intention, this family neutrally represents food and teaches kids to eat when their tummies have the amount they need.

Luckily, our children are born intuitive eaters—yet our world is not. My friend and I often lament about how hard we need to work in order to shield our children from learning body distrust and body hate.

So imagine her surprise when my friend’s daughter finished dinner and announced that it was now a “happy plate.” I felt sadness when she texted the details. After getting clarification, my friend learned the Happy Plate practice exists at her daughter’s childcare center.

What is the Happy Plate? Often at daycare and family dinner tables, “Make it a happy plate!” can be heard when a child wants to leave the meal with food remaining. I have been told that it is done to encourage children to eat enough and be sure they won’t ask for more food shortly thereafter.

As a pediatric dietitian and eating disorder specialist, I strongly discourage this Happy Plate nonsense. My top three reasons include:

  1. The Happy Plate mantra encourages children to discount hunger and fullness cues. When we plate a child’s food or pack his/her lunch, we are not in his/her body nor are we able to predict with 100 percent accuracy the exact amount of energy he/she will need at that meal. If a child is full, do we really need to encourage him/her to eat more? What’s more, teaching a child to ignore hunger and fullness cues lays a foundation of negative body image and body distrust.
  2. “Make It a Happy Plate” cajoling teaches a child to eat to please rather than fueling his/her body. Eating to make another person happy normalizes disordered eating while omitting innate hunger and fullness wisdom.
  3. Happiness feels good and easy, so of course we prefer it. On the other hand, the human experience includes sadness, frustration, boredom, loneliness, anger, and a myriad of other emotions. Some feel comfortable while others do not. Discounting the fullness experience in favor of a Happy Plate transforms the eating relationship—and not in a good way. It spells out that eating past fullness can make us feel happy. It also makes our loved ones happy. Do we want to teach children to eat in order to make happiness?

What’s the alternative to the ease of the Happy Plate? Here are things to consider:

  1. Be sure to structure consistent meal and snack times. This helps a child respect hunger and fullness while tolerating hunger if he/she is hungry a bit before an eating time. When a child says he/she is all done, kindly remind her when the next eating time will occur. Do not provide between-meal handouts besides planned snacks.
  2. Children make mistakes when plating their own food. In order for a child to become a competent eater, you will have food waste. Save the starving children comments and acknowledge when a child listens to his/her body. An example: “You served yourself, and you decided you didn’t need all of it.” Keep it neutral because food decisions are not good or bad.
  3. If a child eats little at a meal and requests food outside of mealtime, kindly remind him/her of the next meal or snack time. If the child says he/she is hungry, teach him/her what to do. Say “Your tummy is hungry, so remind it that food will be available soon. It is just not time to eat.” NOTE: Need to consider child’s age and time until next meal. 
  4. Hold back the praise when a child eats everything on her plate. A child who ate all of her food and another child who ate half of the food served did an equally good job at that meal. This may feel unnatural, but it is the way to promote healthy ways of relating to food and positive body image.