Kids Eat Right

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

Photo Credit: adwriter via Compfight cc

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

For more information on Healthy Habits, click here.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mom, I don’t want to be fat.

As I was walking home from Chelsea Piers last week, my 5-year-old son said, “Mom, I don’t want to be fat.”

I thought about how to answer this. “Why do you say that?” I asked. “Were you talking about this at school last week or holiday camp?” He said no to the above, so I asked him what he thought it meant to be fat and how he thought someone could get that way. “You get fat from eating too much food all the time,” he replied, to which I responded, “Right, so just eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Keep active and you will be fine.”

Meanwhile, I was pushing Bobby and his brother in the single stroller—Bobby who was standing on the stroller frame and leaning against me rather than walking as his brother slept inside. I assumed he couldn’t be all that worried if he let me push him home despite what his new concern.

As we walked along the city streets, my thoughts swirled. I began to wonder whether I should have explained to Bobby that bodies come in different shapes and sizes. Should I differentiate between healthy and fat? Should I take advantage of the moment and give him a reason to eat more fruits and veggies, which he tends to veer away from? Should I stress that some people are just destined to be larger due to genetics?

As parents, we need to think about how to answer these questions before they come up—something that would make addressing them when put on the spot a whole lot easier. I’m not sure that I ever considered that Bobby would make such a statement, especially since we don’t allow words like ‘fat’ in my household—but he did.

While we’ve discussed that it’s not nice to call someone fat, especially to his or her face, I know that both my boys are exposed to the word all the time; we even heard it used in the Muppets movie. He hears his cousins and friends use it all the time. And just, the other day, his friend called our cat fat. (Bobby made sure the child knew we don’t identify things by that term in our house.)

It’s both funny and frustrating, because sometimes, even when we try to raise our children one way, the world around us doesn’t necessarily let us. Ban certain kinds of language in your home, and they’ll pick it up in the park, in the supermarket or on a play date. But whatever we decide to allow (or not allow), I encourage all caregivers and parents to think about this: What message do you want to send to your child?

Have you ever had to discuss weight issues with your child? How do you view the word “fat” in your family, and what words do you use to facilitate a positive body image in your household?