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!”

Summer Fun Positive Food Activities: Make Your Own Muesli

Summer Fun Positive Food Activities: Make Your Own Muesli

By Nutrition Student, Deanna Ronne and Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Team

Now that the summer months are here, as a mom you’re probably lining up activities to keep your kids busy. Here’s a fun, creative, way to get your kids involved in making a nutritious breakfast or snack balanced with all three macronutrients – carbs, proteins, and fats. A trip to your grocery store, choosing their favorite ingredients, and mixing it may become a weekly pastime to cherish the entire year! Making your own muesli is affordable, easy, packable for day trip snacks, and flexible with the ingredients so perfect for picky kids and promoting the health.

Main Stream Breakfast Cereals

Many traditional breakfast cereals marketed at your children are made with refined grains, hidden sugars (like rice syrup, corn syrup, maltose and tapioca starch), and other “food additives.” Take a look at the “ready-to-eat”1 boxed cereal you have at home. Look at the Ingredients list, not the Nutrition Facts). Ingredients are listed in descending order, so if you see sugar listed as the first, second or third ingredient, just realize your cereal contains more sugar than any ingredients listed after it. This is cool with us, just use this as information. Know that this cereal is likely a low nutrient dense food (aka “Sometimes Food”) and is best eaten as a side to a sandwich at lunch or with a more filling food.

Also look to see what and how many ingredients there are. Many of the ingredients you don’t recognize, known as “food additives”, are meant to enhance the product’s texture, taste, appearance, nutritional quality or increase its shelf life.2 While fortifying cereal with vitamins and minerals improve the nutritional quality, other food additives like flavor enhancers (ex. artificial sweeteners) and preservatives (ex. sodium) generally do not. Most children’s cereals with refined grains are enriched with the vitamins and minerals lost during the refinement process.

The American Dietetic Association released a study in 2008 on the nutritional quality of children’s breakfast cereal showing that they are significantly higher energy, sodium, carbohydrate, and sugar, and significantly lower in fiber and protein than “non children’s cereal”.1

So consider buying cereal products that are for you, rather than kids! They are just as yummy but more nutrient dense. Most importantly, kids are incredibly active during the summer months, and need an energizing breakfast, that will fuel their days in the sun and keep their body clocks ticking.

Did you know?

Stronger cognitive benefits in breakfasts of oatmeal than for “ready-to-eat” breakfast cereals1.

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The “Recipe”

There really isn’t a recipe, which makes this idea so fun! You and your kids get to pick the ingredients. Go to your grocery store (preferably one with a “­­­­bulk department”, like at Whole Foods) and let your kids fill a bag with a cereal base of oats, granola, etc. Then, let your kids to find the rest of the ingredients! The set-up of most bulk food sections much resembles a candy store, so your kids will love it.

Here are some ideas:

  •  Nuts/Seeds: Walnuts, pecans, almonds, pumpkin seeds
  • Grains: Millet, Oats, Cooked Wheat-berries
  • Dried fruit: raisins, cherries, dates, cranberries, shredded coconut (no added oils or sugar)
  • Optional: dark chocolate
  • Cinnamon: add cinnamon 1 tsp to 1 cup muesli.

Let your kids be creative with this recipe, even let each kid make their own! As long as the base of oats/granola makes up most of the cereal, the added ingredients should be entirely up to them (with your direction, of course). It is important that kids have a healthy relationship with food. Show them how excited you are to pick out nutritious ingredients for your own muesli, and they will get excited with you! Happy Eating.

Breakfast and Picky Eaters

Breakfast remains to be one of the most important meals of the day. If you are dealing with a picky eater who only wants to eat, say, Frosted Flakes for breakfast, it is okay. Most important is they eat something before they walk out the door. This is the same for Mom and Dad. While it is important to try new things with your kids, force-feeding doesn’t work. Instead practice exposure therapy, let them make their muesli with the main stream cereal if that helps them expand their nutrition repertoire.

  1. Schwartz, M. B., Vartanian, L. R., Wharton, C. M., & Brownell, K. D. (2008). Examining the nutritional quality of breakfast cereals marketed to children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(4), 702-705.
  2. “Global Food Additives Industry.” PR NewswireMar 19 2013. Web. 31 May 2015 .
  3. Bulk Foods Aisle in Grocery Store. N.d. “Photo Courtesy”, n.p.
  4. “Harvard University; Dietary Intake of Whole and Refined Grain Breakfast Cereals is Linked to Lower BMI in Men.” Lab Law Weekly (2006): 88. Web. 1 June 2015.


My Virtual FitBit Group Promotes Health, Self-Care, and Body Acceptance!

My Virtual FitBit Group Promotes Health, Self-Care, and Body Acceptance!

By Erica Leon, MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD

Changing our behavior is never easy, especially as we get older. As a former aerobics instructor, fitness was always a passion for me, and exercise was built into my workday. After a serious injury and getting tired of the gym, I began looking for new ways to move my body for both physical and emotional health. I found it in a most unlikely place—the Internet.

I received a FitBit fitness tracker as a gift. Now all the rage, fitness trackers “count” steps, miles, fitness intensity, and other data depending on the brand. To my surprise, the pride and satisfaction I felt when reaching 10,000 steps, or any other goal I set for myself, proved to be the boost I needed. I embarked on a mission to find other women who, like me, wanted support becoming healthier using their fitness trackers and setting realistic and achievable goals. I found several communities on the FitBit website and learned that members often form private Facebook groups to support one another.

I joined a few groups and recognized the flip side to using fitness trackers that are important to keep in mind. Some people can become quite obsessive about tracking their steps, much like tracking calories or points. I rejected any group with members whose focus was dieting, weight loss, or any type of obsessive behavior. I found several women my age just looking to be healthy.

Over the past few snowy months, our merry little group of “FitBit Women Warriors Over 50” has grown in size and in friendship. I have shared ups and downs with women from almost every U.S. state, as well as those from Canada, Australia, and England. We motivate each other to move more and eat in a healthy, balanced way. In short, we encourage each other to care for our bodies by eating for satisfaction and hunger and moving more because it feels good—especially seeing our step counts increase.


We have a fearless leader who took it upon her self to organize group challenges on Sundays. We all push each other to be accountable for our goals. One Sunday while shoveling show, I imagined myself walking on a sandy beach with warm ocean breezes. We cheered each other on as we spent a full week walking 35.02 virtual miles around the Cayman Islands. On another Sunday, we worked together to complete a puzzle challenge. Pieces of the puzzle would be revealed each time an individual met her own personal exercise goal. Said one group member, “the challenges have triggered my competitive side and made me get my rear in gear!!”

When asked to describe what health meant to them, here were some responses:

“Health means taking care of your body physically, nutritionally, spiritually, and emotionally! It means living each day to the fullest.”

“Finally enjoying foods that are good for me as opposed to snack foods and finding that my body responds well to them.”

“I finally feel good in my own skin.”

“Having vibrant energy to go and do all the things you want to do. Your options are limitless!!!

Women at every stage of life can benefit from discovering their own paths to improved health. We often take ourselves for granted and care for other people first. Finding time for balanced exercise, healthy and regular meals, and friendship and support is equally important.



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

Mom's Pumpkin Pancakes with Dark Chocolate Chips

*This recipe was originally published on the Big City Moms’ Blog. To see the original please click here.

Mom’s Pumpkin Pancakes with Dark Chocolate Chips

by Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, CDN, and Mom

Every week I whip up a batch of “homemade pancakes” for myself and my oldest son. Everyone loves these pancakes— including my clients who eat many meals with me. Make them Sunday morning and serve hot. Freeze or store the remainder in a Pyrex dish to serve each weekday morning. These pancakes taste so yummy that I can almost promise your kids will go to school having eaten a balanced breakfast. And while most moms don’t have to time to make everything from scratch, these pancakes are what I call “value added” or “nutrition added.” For time’s sake, I start with a basic wholesome pancake mix and then add in the nutrition.


See full recipe on the Big City Moms’ Blog.

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.

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.

“Fat Talk,” Body Image and Eating Disorders

“Fat Talk,” Body Image and Eating Disorders
By Julie Holland Faylor, MHS, CEDS


After consuming a high-calorie food, have you ever said “I need to hit the gym now!” or “I know that went straight to my thighs!”

Do you call your comfortable jeans “fat pants”?

When asked how you’re doing, have you ever responded with a quip like, “I’d be better if I didn’t have to squeeze into a bathing suit this weekend!”?


At one time or another, we have all been guilty of using disparaging self-talk related to weight, size, or shape. This tendency is so commonplace in today’s culture that there is actually a term for negative body commentary, used by the general public and clinical circles alike: “Fat talk.”

Photo Credit: Clover_1 via Compfight cc

Whether we say these comments aloud or just in our heads, “fat talk” can have a significant impact on the way we feel about our bodies and ourselves. For most people, disparaging self-talk just makes us feel inadequate or depressed. However, negative body image plays a significant role in the development and maintenance of eating disorders. For individuals that are predisposed to developing an eating disorder (in other words, if eating disorders run in their families), seemingly harmless comments about themselves—or unsolicited comments from others—can contribute to the development of anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, or trigger a relapse for those in recovery from these serious illnesses.


Because “fat talk” is pervasive in our society and has the potential to impact our—and our young loved ones’—body image and self-worth, it is important that parents understand this phenomenon. Below are five considerations to help combat “fat talk” and cultivate positive body image in our lives and homes:

Be aware. “Fat talk” is everywhere; if you pay attention, you will find that fat jokes and “fat talk” are speckled throughout movies, sitcoms and books, even those geared towards adolescents and young adults. It is the fodder of seemingly every comedian in the world, and it underscores countless ad campaigns touting products and services promising to make us thinner, prettier and more desirable. For women and girls in particular, “fat talk” has become a bonding ritual of sorts—we often connect with others over mutual dissatisfaction with our weight, shape and size. Awareness is the first step in any meaningful behavioral change, so consciously try to identify the ways you and those around you use “fat talk” in your daily lives.

Be kind—to yourself, and to others. Our body weight and shape have nothing to do with who we are as individuals, mothers, daughters, friends, and employees. When you feel the urge to insult yourself related to your body size, shape or weight, instead think about the value you bring to your family, friendships, workplace or community. Also, avoid drawing attention to others’ body and weight insecurities. Our comments may come from a good place—we may think we’re supporting or motivating others with these messages—but we can never know the true impact of our words on others. Err on the side of kindness and make it a practice to not talk about others’ bodies.

Model healthy attitudes and behaviors. The most important thing parents can do to help their children develop a healthy body image is model healthy attitudes and behaviors toward body weight, size and shape. Kids are behavioral sponges—they watch what their parents do, they listen to what they say and they develop their worldview accordingly. Rather than toning down the “fat talk” around your children, try to remove it from your vocabulary altogether. Adults in your life may benefit from this change as well—family members and friends may notice the absence of “fat talk” from your conversations and follow your lead.

Photo Credit: 27147 via Compfight cc

Normalize eating in your home. Our thoughts and behaviors around food and eating are often closely linked to how we feel about our bodies. With that in mind, don’t allow or encourage dieting in your home. Don’t stigmatize foods as “good” or “bad”—all foods are okay in moderation, and the goal should be to consume a diverse, balanced diet with as much real, unprocessed, natural foods as possible. Do help to cultivate the social aspect of meals by turning off the television, putting down cell phones and making conversation with loved ones at the table. Additionally, talk to your children about their meals outside the home—who did they eat with, what did they eat, what did they talk about—to help them think critically about their patterns.

Frame exercise as fun and healthy. “Fat talk” often paints exercise as a punishment for eating too much or the wrong kinds of foods, or as a means to “fix” a perceived body flaw. Be sure to position regular physical activity as a fun and healthy habit for children and adults alike—in fact, it can be even more fun when families get active together. Exercise doesn’t have to involve a treadmill or weights—it can be walking the dog, building a snowman or playing softball with friends, family or colleagues.


Let me be clear—“fat talk” can adversely impact body image and self-esteem, which is a contributing factor in the development of eating disorders, but it doesn’t cause an eating disorder. Eating disorders result from a complex interplay of biological, psychological and sociocultural factors. However, it is important to understand the connection between “fat talk,” body image and eating disorders, particularly as it pertains to helping our children develop healthy body image and attitudes toward food, eating and exercise.

Embracing Our Daughters: Supporting Them as They Enter Adolescence

Embracing Our Daughters: Supporting them as they enter adolescence
By Christie Caggiani

Photo Credit: ashley rose, via Compfight cc

Truly some of the most humbling moments as a professional come from teachable moments as a mother.  I recently had a conversation with a mom, as our nearly teen daughters were getting together for the day.  She was clearly concerned about her child’s blossoming body, and shared that she had told her daughter she was going to buy her a gym membership. That alone gave me pause, however, when my daughter later recounted that they were encouraged to go for a walk to burn off some calories, it shifted me into anger. Fortunately, the girls said they went outside because it was a beautiful evening and they had a lot of fun walking, but I realized that no matter how much I try to teach body positive attitudes, the forces in this world are challenging those messages at every turn.


It is critical that as our adolescents’ bodies begin to change, we are a solid, reliable resource and support system for them.  This is a time when they are uncertain about their physical self, how to act, and how to feel, so we as parents are key in letting them know these changes are normal and that they are exactly where they should be in their development. Our role is to help them connect with, listen to, and respond consistently to their body’s signals, whether their body is asking for food, sleep, activity, or a good cry.  Our role is NOT to control how their bodies turn out or interfere with their changing process along the way.


One of my favorite books on this topic, Like Mother, Like Daughter by nutritionist Debra Waterhouse, is one I would highly recommend to any female.  Not only does it help us understand what is happening in our daughter’s body, it gives us greater insight into how we can better equip our young women to avoid the traps of weight and food preoccupation.  To quell your fears, and give you some direction, remember the following:

What Society Wants You to Do

What Your Daughter’s Body Naturally Wants to Do (and what we can reinforce)

Mold her body into an aesthetic ideal Find a comfortable weight that is biologically and genetically right for her
Encourage dieting Eat enough food to supply her body with nourishment and fuel
Condition her taste buds Stimulate all of her taste buds and enjoy the taste of sugar starting in infancy, salt starting in toddler years, and fat starting in adolescence.
Feed her low-fat foods Consume enough fat for brain development and physical growth
Feed her by the clock Eat when her body tells her it’s time to eat
Enforce three balanced meals a day Eat small, frequent meals and snacks throughout the day
Provide a full-course dinner Eat as much as her body needs at dinner and have a snack at night if she’s hungry


Here are some other pointers that may be helpful as you assist your pre-teens and teens in their journey:

  • Just talk.  Share your memories of puberty, and use it as an opportunity to open dialogue.  Ask her if there’s anything she finds confusing, and encourage her to name her emotions.
  • Arm her with resilience to handle insensitive comments from classmates, well-meaning relatives, and friends.
  • Connect openly with other parents and ensure that they provide a similarly positive body attitude environment.
  • Avoid making comments that tell her she will be okay once she grows taller, loses some weight, or changes her body in some way.  She is exactly where she is supposed to be today.
  • Focus on the internal qualities that make up her person – her creativity, compassion, or strength of character.
  • Never, ever talk negatively about your own or anyone else’s body.  Period.
  • Enjoy food with your child.  Let her see you eat, savor, and enjoy meals and snacks.
  • Encourage movement as a way to connect with the body, unload some stress, and have some unstructured fun!  Never encourage exercise as a way to change the body, burn calories or lose weight.

Recommended reading: 

200 Ways to Raise a Girl’s Self-Esteem, by Will Glennon

Embody: Learning to Love your Unique Body, by Connie Sobczak

Like Mother, Like Daughter, by Debra Waterhouse, RD