What's the Dirt on Clean Eating?

What’s the Dirt on Clean Eating?

Christie Caggiani, RDN, LDN, CEDRD

The mechanics of nutrition are based on science, yet at every turn we hear new headlines and buzzwords that make it hard to distinguish the difference between true, research-based science and the latest fad. One such catchy concept is that of “clean eating’” heard regularly in gyms, on magazine covers and throughout social media. But what is it? And how do we navigate it when it’s aimed at our children?

 

The truth is, there is not a legal, objective, research-backed or even consistent definition to the term “clean eating”.   To some, it means avoiding processed foods. To others, it’s interpreted as low carb, no meat, no dairy, non-GMO or a combination of various nutritional bends.

 

There are, however, many unintended implications attached to using the word clean, leading us to feel a sense of purity, superiority, a kind of “you are what you eat” mentality that takes on a moralistic emphasis.

 

Photo Credit: Arya Ziai via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Arya Ziai via Compfight cc

There is a belief that if I eat this way:

  • I’ll be healthy, prevent diseases and have an ideal weight.
  • I’ll be okay, in fact because I’m eating ‘good’, I’m actually a good person.

And on the flip side, if I don’t eat this way:

  • I’m probably going to become ill, gain unsolicited weight, and be unhealthy.
  • I’m making ‘bad’ decisions, which means I’m probably bad.

 

For many, the path of clean eating is one that started from a positive place, where they wanted to improve their life, health or energy. This is truly an admirable thing, yet as we shift toward rigid ways of eating or behavior change, we begin a mindset and patterns that are anything but balanced. We give up experiences and social opportunities because of the need to comply with limiting eating rules.  We cut out

 

So as a nutritionist, I have had opportunities to work with individuals in the throws of self-proclaimed clean eating.  And while it’s painful to see the side effects of rigid eating rules in adults, it’s most saddening when children and teens become entrenched in it. Whether it’s through social media, friends, a coach or a parent, I’ve begun to see more young people following this good/bad food mentality and the results aren’t pretty.

 

Some of the considerations of ‘clean eating’ for kids (and adults, too!):

  1. Look at what’s missing: are certain food groups limited or completely avoided? While fruits and vegetables give us some carbohydrates, they in no way to can replace the vast benefits of grains. Kids in particular are growing and using energy and at a speedy pace, and they absolutely require regular replenishment of carbs to their body and brain.
  2. Too much of a good thing…isn’t. Focus on high fiber, for example, can be problematic for children, leading to digestive discomfort, diarrhea or potential constipation, but also interfering with the absorption of protein, fats and certain vitamins and minerals, such as iron.
  3. Limited eating patterns can not only disrupt brain function and overall energy, but also decrease our children’s ability to create hormones and progress on their normal path toward and throughout puberty.
  4. As we teach kids to eat based on rules of good / bad, they become further disconnected from their own bodies, the signals of hunger and fullness, and the awareness of their own individual preferences.   This also disengages them from the process of being an adventurous eater, and can create an overall sense of deprivation.
  5. The limited variety and over-focus on food can either set the stage for or activate a full-blown eating disorder.

 

There is certainly no perfect way of eating, much as there is no perfect body, career or person. When we label food as clean or good, unclean or bad, we’ve moralized it, and that’s a message that permeates deeply within our children’s impressionable young brains. Instead, let’s get back to food being simply food, providing a variety of enjoyable, nutrient-filled options and guiding our kid’s to trust their bodies, not a “foods allowed” list.

Growing and Changing—MDIO IS EXPANDING

Growing and Changing—MDIO IS EXPANDING
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, CDN and Mom

Like our children, adults grow and change in different ways. With my personal growth as a mother and as a professional, I have learned that bringing friends and colleagues together via networks can prove to be a valuable accomplishment. Almost two years ago, I was elected to become the president of the iaedp NY (International Association of Eating Disorders Professional, New York). My hope was to bring together a burgeoning yet independently specialized sector of professionals so that we could work together synergistically to make a greater difference. For iaedp NY the goal is to educate professionals about eating disorders. And we are doing it!! Our membership has grown to include 10 percent of national members, and we currently are hosting about ten educational events per year.

Understanding how effective this model has been, I have decided to transform the website of Mom Dishes It Out from mommy RD blogger to primarily comprise a platform of mommy healthcare professionals (mostly registered dietitians and speech language pathologists) who share the same message I do—“All Foods Fit”—by promoting a positive feeding and eating philosophy. It will be a one-stop educating experience for parents, teachers, and any reader interested in the future of food and nutrition.

 

I come across numerous health sites alleging that all food is “okay” but subsequently propose that certain foods are treats or certain foods are bad/junky. Being a RD in the world of eating disorders, I know this is misinterpreted by many. I hope this new platform will bring together mommy and daddy healthcare professionals adept at using more neutral and less judgmental language. We may not be perfect at putting the message into practice, but MDIO will post blogs in an attempt to adhere to the sensitivity surrounding food and food messages.

 

So—as soon as August 2014, the blog will be expanding. Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitians such as Amanda Mellowspring and Erica Leon have already signed on to contribute. The site will now share mommy health professionals’ personal experience and knowledge relevant to raising children in a positive nutrition/weight-neutral environment. This will be the go-to site advocating nutritional health achieved through self-care instead of dieting or weight loss.

 

I truly hope you share the website with your friends and family, and be sure to tell us what you think!

 

If you or a professional you know (OTR, SLP, RD, or MD) is interested in blogging about healthy habits in your field, please contact MomDishesItOut@gmail.com to be considered as a potential contributor. Moms in the health field or those who specialize in pediatrics are welcome to apply. 

Mom Asks, MDIO Answers: Are your children hiding bites of food?

Are your children hiding bites of food?
By Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, CEDRD, CDN and Mom of Two

 

A real mom asks:

MDIO recently received a question about how to handle a young child who hides her food. The mom explained that her daughter regularly showed her empty dinner plates. Her regular response would be: “What a great job!” Later, she would find her child’s food hidden somewhere. When this mom asked her daughter why she was hiding her food rather than eating it, the child responded: “I don’t know.” I’m sure many parents can relate to this in one way or another.

 

A real mom/RD answers:

There always seem to be so many challenges when feeding our little ones! Here are some suggestions to explore…and hopefully help to resolve your “missing” food dilemmas.

Photo Credit: 27147 via Compfight cc

1. Eat meals with your children or at least sit down at the table during their meal times. Not only will this prevent your children from having easy opportunities to get up to hide their food but it may also foster valuable conversations and enjoyable family time together. Your children may be acting out…or silently asking for attention…or just trying to gain approval for dessert!

 

2. Stop giving praise for finishing all of their dinner! Yup, that’s right! Praise your children for trying foods, sitting at the table, and sharing their day’s activities with you…but definitely not for cleaning their plates! Keep in mind that your kids will typically overeat or hide their food to garner praise for eating 100% of their meal…or sometimes just to follow the table rules you mistakenly may have set!

 

3. Start talking with your children about listening to their bodies’ cues for hunger and fullness. Teach them to notice how they feel at the beginning of a meal, the middle of a meal, and at the end of a meal. Then check in with them to see how they feel an hour after. This will help your children learn to use “self talk” and check in with their own bodies as they get older—and hopefully cultivate a lifetime of  internally regulating their food intake by way of mind and body clues. And please let your children know they do not need to eat everything on their plate!

 

4. Give your children a choice of two different dinners. The act of choosing helps to give your children feelings of pride and independence. For example, you might ask: “Do you want roast chicken with sweet potatoes and green beans tonight or would you prefer rice and beans with ham and green beans?”

Photo Credit: theloushe via Compfight cc

5. Cook with your children to help identify which foods they like while also teaching them some of the fundamentals of living. Learning how to cook, set the table, clear the table, and even clean up the kitchen help children to understand the basics of nutrition, the time spent, and the constant effort required to feed a family. Your children will be more likely to respect meal times and less likely to hide their food…and then start “grazing” later.

 

6. Play detective! Observe if your children are grazing…or eating more snack foods or just some specific foods…before or after the meal. (And don’t forget to check out whether instances of food hiding have occurred.)

 

7. Finally, don’t forget that heart-to-heart talks are always helpful. Sit down with your children and let them know you will not be angry…or yelling…at them! (But you must remember to keep that promise!) Then try to explore their feelings about and behaviors during the meal and, perhaps even more revelatory, other things that may be affecting their food consumption behaviors.

 

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