They Are What (and How) You Eat: How to Have a Positive Influence on Your Child’s Eating Habits

Image may contain: one or more people and babyI have never met a parent who does not want the best for their children. From day one, most parents have researched how to feed their new precious babies, and even if they feel prepared, it isn’t always easy. I have witnessed new moms who have persevered through initial breastfeeding struggles (having nursed three babies myself, I can tell you from experience it sure as heck is not fun in the beginning!). Some moms who choose to bottle feed instead also struggle. It’s not easy washing all those bottles right after having a baby, with little sleep, exhaustion, and all that goes with giving birth…yet, we get through it. Not to mention kids with digestive issues who struggle with reflux, constipation, you name it. Yes, feeding a newborn takes a lot of work, energy, and sometimes trial and error. But we never give up.

And then we start with foods. Baby cereal, pureed fruits and vegetables, Stage 1, Stage 2 and then finally on to table foods! We feel relieved when our child meets their goals for growth and weight gain, and happy when we see them joyfully eating a good variety of foods. Yes, getting through this stage is really important, and a giant first step towards a healthy child. Most of us tend to reflect on the types of foods we are preparing for our children. We read every label, we try to avoid foods with chemicals and sugar and food dyes because we just want our children to be healthy, right? The big mistake many parents make, though, is focusing way too much on the actual food itself and not enough on the crucial behaviors they are slowly instilling as habits around feeding. You can be feeding your children the healthiest foods you can find, but if you are neglecting to reflect on the big picture, it may not be enough. In fact, I dare say, feeding your child the perfect diet while neglecting the creation of lifelong healthy habits may be meaningless when it comes to supporting a healthy relationship with food.

I am not saying that what you feed your child does not matter, of course it does. That actually is one of the “habits” we might pass on to our children if we are not aware of what is happening. Babies and children, teenagers and we adults need a certain flow of specific nutrients on a regular basis to grow, function and feel our best. But I know you can get all the information on what your child needs hopefully from your pediatrician or a registered dietitian. Check out The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website or KidsHealth for evidenced-based information on feeding, nutrition and more.

So, instead of giving you the specifics of nutrition, I am going to give you some important tips that I not only learned from talking to and observing thousands of families, but also from the experts and research. It’s the stuff you typically don’t think of or pay attention to, but is so much more important than you think.  It is more about the “big picture”, the gigantic, complicated, intertwined factors that all influence your eating habits…..and ultimately your health (and your child’s health) in the end. The hard part is that it may involve some changes for YOU. Most parents are pretty stuck in their ways, and have fallen into their own eating habits and practices, some promoting health and some not so much. I never ever try to tell someone what to do (except “listen to your body”, the standing joke in our family). However, if there are some eating habits you have fallen into over your lifetime that you didn’t realize may be harmful to your child’s health in the future, now may be the time to reflect on those and make some changes. Also, some very typical beliefs and attitudes around feeding that have been around for decades and that we don’t tend to question but, rather repeat from generation to generation need to change (the old adage “clean you plate” for example goes totally against instilling intuitive eating). We just didn’t know then what we know now.

Ready for the challenge? Here are some scenarios that have the capacity to affect eating and health in a negative way. See if you recognize any of these in your own life:

  1. Eating in Front of a Screen. We all have done it.  You just can’t get away from them. Think smartphone, IPad, laptop, computer, TV, DVD, video games. Add in the likelihood that most of us just have way too much on our plate. We have deadlines to meet, laundry to do, grocery shopping, cleaning, sports to play, people to visit, church, you get the picture. There is no time. I just retired 5 months ago, yet it is taking me weeks to finish this one blog! Where does the time go? Of course we need to eat while we are watching TV. Of course we need to eat at our desk. We need to multitask. I am sipping my coffee while eating a muffin as we speak.                               I am thankful that when my kids were little I didn’t have a computer. Truth be told, I didn’t even own a cell phone. The only screen in the house was the TV for quite awhile…..something to be said as I think about it for the good ole days. But things are different now, and young parents have an added challenge I did not have growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, and my own children did not have in the 80’s. These days I see babies just loving their parent’s cell phones. They turn into great portable devices to distract an unhappy baby, but when you pair it with food, it becomes a complicated mess. Then of course we have the TV with its on-demand features, binge-watching (which wasn’t even a word back in my days….if you missed a show, you missed it. Imagine that). Parents are eating in front of TVs all the time, and so are their kids. We all know people who own a dining or kitchen table but never use it (instead it becomes a landing place for mail, backpacks, projects, etc). No, people aren’t sitting at the table, they are sitting on the couch to eat. So what is the big deal?                                                                                                                                                   Lots. First of all, when you don’t look at your food while you eat (and enjoy it), it kind of disappears. Well at least it feels like it does. And, when you don’t actually LOOK at your food while you are consuming it you miss out on the sensory satisfaction eating is supposed to provide. The joy of eating, the appreciation of how good it tastes (depending on who cooked it I suppose), all of these factors contribute to truly feeling satisfied after eating. What happens when you simply watch the screen, and fail to look at the food you are putting into your mouth? You need more…..because it sometimes feels like you never even ate it (have you ever experienced this? I have!).                                                                                                          Secondly, when you eat in front of a screen, chances are you are not eating the healthiest of foods. Who grabs an orange they have to peel (and actually look at) when they grab a snack to have while working or watching a show? You are more likely to grab a handful of something or bowl of something dry (think of anything?) Research (see Watching TV While Eating and Diet Quality) actually shows that eating while watching TV “is associated with poorer diet quality among children, including more frequent consumption of sugar‐sweetened beverages and high‐fat, high‐sugar foods and fewer fruits and vegetables…….the cumulative effect may contribute to the positive association between eating while watching TV and childhood obesity”(the research tends to focus on “childhood obesity” because everyone is obsessed with it, I personally rather focus on health, but the information is still useful).  Even if you actually are eating as a family and eating together, it doesn’t help if the TV is on.    Consequently, research shows that intake of fruits and veggies (healthy foods) actually will be less if children eat in front of a screen (see article Screen Time and Eating Behaviors )Finally, eating if front of a screen contradicts “intuitive eating” goals. If you want to help your child achieve their own natural body, the one they are genetically born with and meant to have, then teaching them to follow their own cues of hunger and fullness is critical. We want children to stop eating when they are full, and to eat more when they feel hungrier to help them trust their little bodies and develop good intuitive eating skills. Watching a screen while eating disconnects them from what their bodies are saying just as it disconnects us. Who hasn’t finished a giant bowl of popcorn in front of a Netflix movie when they weren’t even hungry? Not that this is a big problem, it is a fun family thing to do, however repeated on a daily basis with all meals and snacks is certainly contributing to the development of an eating behavior that is not supportive of future health.
  2. Picky Eating Parents. It was always a bit hard for me to hide my chuckle when a parent would complain that their teenager did not eat vegetables…..then when asked what vegetables they ate and wanted their child to eat, they would respond “well, I don’t eat them, I don’t like them, but she needs them”.  Doesn’t that strike you as unfair? After all, parents serve as role models and eating is no exception. Children WILL eat what you eat, eventually. They just won’t buy it when you try to convince them green beans are delicious but they won’t pass YOUR lips! It is hypocritical.                                                                                                                                    So here is some advice. Let me introduce you to what we dietitians call “The Rule of 20”. This means that it actually takes AT LEAST 20 tries to truly know if you like a food. It could take more or less, depending on the person (for example, children with sensory issues may have to try 60 times). But let’s assume you are a typical parent who just does not like vegetables. You truly believe you would gag if you had to take a bite of a green bean. You don’t have to down an entire serving to expose your taste buds and your brain to the green bean experience. Just one bite. We sometimes suggest parents put out a “taste test” plate with a small amount of a vegetable or fruit that we would like our children (or ourselves) to eat. Then, have fun with it. Have dips (preferred tastes) such as ketchup, sour cream, maybe flavored yogurt if you are taste testing a fruit, melted cheese, honey, etc. Then have fun. Avoid pushing a child to try something and instead, just work on having a fun and positive experience with the food.  Even getting a child to touch and smell a food is a huge step. Increased exposure is what we are looking for, as well as creating a positive interaction with the foods (so the old “you are not leaving this table until you eat your green beans) is never appropriate as it creates a very negative (and somewhat horrifying) eating experience. It does not work.                              Another trick is to use “food chaining” to help make foods more acceptable. You can add some diced green beans to soup or pasta, or melt cheese on top (if cheese is a preferred food). This is not about “disguising” a food or “hiding” a food, since doing that will only create distrust. Instead, be open and honest with your child and say something like “let’s see how green beans taste when we melt cheese on top! Yum!” Of course you can also try vegetables prepared different ways. Some people just love raw veggies but dislike the same vegetable when it is cooked. I am not a fan of beets, however I have found that when they are roasted with olive oil in the oven I just absolutely love them. Get creative. And be a role model. This means being brave and taking a bite yourself. Remember, there are some foods that you may not like the first time, but if you continue to expose your child (and yourself) to healthy foods, eventually you develop a taste for them. It literally took me over 30 years to get to the point I am at now with beets, and that’s no lie. Also, just as we adults don’t feel like eating a food sometimes (have you ever been in the mood for eggs one morning, but the next morning the thought of eggs makes you gag?), well, kids are the same way. I have had parents offer a food once or twice and a child accepts it. Then, they offer it again, and that day the child refuses it. “They don’t like eggs any more”, and so the parent stops offering them. Remember, a young child is not able to verbalize “sorry mom, just not it the mood for eggs this morning”, but their refusal is telling you they don’t want it. Don’t force it, and don’t give up on eggs. Just offer them a few days later, or at another time, over and over and you will see, just like us adults, their preferences change day to day, meal to meal. Try to honor that.
  3. Unreasonable Expectations: Daddy’s Food. I often wanted to shake my head in disbelief when parents would come in and expect me to scold their child for sneaking “daddy’s soda” or “mommy’s chips”. The conversations would go like this:   Me: “What brings you here?”                                                                                                     Parent: “Johnny needs someone else to tell him, he needs to stop sneaking food. He needs to stop taking his father’s soda, and his sister’s cookies. She is skinny, she needs them, he doesn’t”.                                                                                                               Me (looking straight at Johnny): “So you are sneaking your sister’s cookies? (shameful head nod from Johnny). Me: ” Well, I don’t blame you, I would too! Cookies are good!”  At which point the parents would look at me as if I were crazy. Johnny would smile (he knew I was on his side). I would then ask the parents if they could tell me their very favorite food in the entire world. They would think for a minute then answer “lobster!” or “chocolate!” I would then ask how they would feel if that specific food were in the house and everyone else could eat it but them. Does that feel fair? Not when it is you. It is way too much to expect a child to resist helping themselves to a yummy food that everyone else gets. This creates a “sneak eater” and also instills lots of shame in a child. They of course don’t want to do anything wrong, they want to please their parents, yet, food is a necessary part of life, and it is unfair to expect children to resist what is in the home. So my advice was focused more on creating a healthy home for everyone, not just the child who is sneaking the cookies. If you don’t want your children drinking soda, don’t bring it home (have it at work, keep it in your car, anything but drinking it in front of your child unless you are going to share). Nothing wrong with having some soda here and there, but drinking soda on a daily basis in large quantities isn’t a great idea for anyone (if you are full on soda, not much room for other things that you need to eat to be healthy). Same goes with cookies or chips or ice cream or anything else most people typically consider “bad” foods. I don’t use that term, I just don’t believe any food is bad, especially if you like it. But we need to be smart about it. If you have cookies in the house, make them be a part of a meal (not nibbled on throughout the day where they are likely then to interfere with appetite for meals, when more nutrient-dense food is typically served. And remember, if you nibble, your child will nibble). Whatever you do, don’t discriminate on who gets what depending on their body size. This is a sure way to create a closet eater and a child who is more likely to develop a very unhealthy relationship with food.                                                                 The bottom line is that what you eat as a parent is probably one of the most important influences on what your child will eat. For a recent review, see The Influences of Parental Practices
  4. Double Dinners. Experts recommend sitting at a table for “family dinners” to promote healthy eating and a good relationship with food. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. I have encountered many families where parents work different shifts, mom or dad may get home at 8 pm, a few hours after the kids have had dinner. An issue I have seen is when a parent gets home and needs to eat dinner at some unseemly hour, children who have waited up to see them may end up eating another dinner. This was quite common in the outpatient nutrition office where I worked, mostly dealing with children who gained weight above their growth curves (triggering a referral to outpatient clinical nutrition).  Parents and children being on different feeding schedules can indeed cause some issues.  Parents tend to focus on their children, often neglecting themselves. They may do a wonderful job scheduling regular meals with a structured snack time in between meals (just what we recommend, 3 meals with a planned snack in between). We don’t want children nibbling all day and then being too full to eat regular meals. You may know some individuals who “graze” and it works for them as they nibble throughout the day, somehow getting what they need. But this is more risky for children, as we have learned that nibbling throughout the day often interferes with appropriate weight gain (they may not gain enough, or sometimes gain too much).  But what happens to mom or dad when they just plan for their children’s meals but don’t sit down and eat themselves? This typically leads to a need to snack, just to keep up energy. Just as when a parent gets home late and needs dinner, a child seeing you nibble is going to want some. Eating becomes chaotic and sporadic and children’s little bodies get confused. Natural hunger and fullness is difficult to detect with constant nibbling (vs 3 meals, a morning and an afternoon snack, and a bedtime snack).                                                                                                                              What is the answer? Each family is unique, but in general, I suggest parents plan ahead. They should try to plan for foods they also enjoy so they can eat at the same time as their children. Granted, feeding kids is often chaotic in itself, never mind feeding yourself. Having more than one child myself, feeding three made it more confusing than ever. But, breakfast and lunch can be simple, and even if you aren’t a fan of cheerios, you can sit down and have whatever it is you enjoy. The same with lunch, keep it simple and sit with your child. You don’t have to eat exactly what your child is eating (who really likes applesauce?), but taking a few spoonfuls of whatever counts. Sitting down and eating, even if it is towards the end of the meal (due to having to get everyone settled truly prevents parents from sitting down the entire time, unless you have a live-in helper which most of us don’t). And when it comes to dinner, perhaps save some fruit for eating with mommy or daddy when they get home to have their dinner. It is important to sit together and have that time together. If your child wants a few bites of whatever it is, that is no big deal. I have seen it become a problem only when a child is truly not hungry, but wanting to connect with the parent, they end up eating another entire meal, leading to unnatural weight gain. Another solution I have seen work for some parents is to have a snack together and then eat their dinner when their child goes to sleep. Whatever works for your family. Just be aware that eating with your child is the most important thing of all. Check out Give Peas a Chance by Kate Samela, MS, RD, CSP for some excellent information on dealing with a picky eater, ideas for menus, important nutrition information and the importance of avoiding “short order cooking”.
  5. Bad-Talking Food. Jen, our psychologist on the Feeding Team where I used to work, dealing with children with all types of feeding problems had a saying: “Don’t Yuck My Yum”. That means that no matter how horrifyingly disgusting a food appears to you, you need to keep your mouth shut. The person eating the food loves it. This is easier said than done. Trust me, down here in Florida, people eat some weird things. Gator bites. Conch fritters. Oysters. These all make me cringe, but people love them. When I have been out to eat at a restaurant and someone orders gushy oysters, I think of Jen and try not to make a face. I don’t say “eeeewwww!” because that violates the rule. So, when it comes to your dinner table, when you offer broccoli alfredo for the first time and someone makes a face and a comment, this would be a great time to introduce the rule: “Don’t Yuck My Yum!”
  6. Body Shaming  It blows me away how so many people apparently think it is A-ok to talk about someone’s body right out loud, with zero concern (or awareness) of how words can hurt. Not only hurt, but affect someone for years to come. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have heard from the eating disorder patients I have worked with in the past stories about their experiences with body shaming. I am not saying that telling your child he can’t have a second cookie because he is too fat will definitely trigger an eating disorder, but it might. Even if it doesn’t, talking about a child’s body certainly isn’t good for self-esteem. You would think we would get it by now, but lots of us don’t. I see adults joke about other adult’s bodies, about beer bellies, and weight gain, even jokes about being thin, it seems to be socially acceptable (which makes me sad).  Anyone’s body is open game it seems. The problem is we just don’t know how fragile a person may be. Besides being plain rude, it can be dangerous (this will sound ridiculously silly to some, but to others it will make sense because they have experienced it). I have seen children literally stop eating after a visit to the pediatrician’s where BMI was discussed openly in front of the child. I have seen adults binge eat in secret because of spouses commenting on their food intake. Making a big deal out of body size, or allowing any family member to talk about bodies like this is just plain wrong. And, it goes both ways. Insulting a person by calling them a name (chubby, fat, etc) is wrong, but so is calling a child skinny or whatever other name someone thin is called. Yes, I know, most people think being “skinny” is desirable, but to the child who is self-conscious, it is just as mean and hurtful (and believe it or not, thin adults don’t take it as a compliment when you praise them for being thin….it makes them uncomfortable). I have seen people praise others because of their thin body types. This is also harmful as it instills in children that being thin matters. It sends a message that body size matters, and it shouldn’t. Make a rule in your house (discuss with your spouse or partner, or any other adults in the home) that you don’t allow talking about bodies. Stress it to other family members and nip it in the bud if anyone who visits your home talks about your child’s body. I may sound a bit dramatic here, but remember, this post is about promoting a healthy relationship with food, and instilling a healthy lifestyle for your child. Focusing on body size, weight and/or shape is damaging.
  7. Toxic Food Environment.  This concept incorporates a bit of the previous points. It simply means that your family will eat what is there. Period. Therefore, if you want to promote healthy eating, there needs to be some healthy foods within reach. This does NOT mean you should not have other kinds of foods in the home (such as cookies, ice cream, chips, etc.). In fact, it is important to send the message to children that foods are not “bad” just because they might be sweet or salty, and/or may not have much to offer nutritionally (other than energy, which, by the way, is really important for all of us). The key is your attitude, and balance. Common sense. Serving only french fries and cookies for dinner every day wouldn’t be a great idea. Having fries with your fish sticks and salad sounds like a decent dinner for a kid. Only having cookies in the house and never having fruit is not a good example of balance and variety. Kids need to be offered a variety of fruits and vegetables on a regular basis since exposure contributes to acceptance. But, restricting sweets, for example, only makes them more desirable. Labeling foods as “bad” only instills guilt when kids actually do eat them (and they will, at school, at friends, at family gatherings, etc.). Making kids feel bad or guilty for eating these foods does not promote a healthy eating relationship. Research actually suggests that parents who restrict their children so they won’t gain too much weight actually make kids more focused on food, contribute to overeating and sneak eating, and may result in excessive weight gain (see review article: Food Parenting and Child SnackingI personally have seen countless examples of children gaining excessive weight once their parents started to focus on weight and limiting foods. Intentions, of course, are good. These parents love their children and want them to be healthy, so when their pediatrician informs them of a BMI that is not in a certain ranges, most parents do what they think is right, but instead it backfires. Due to the health community’s focus on “the obesity epidemic” researchers have been looking into what influences eating habits in order to know how to foster better habits that promote “healthier” weights (Note: you CANNOT look at a BMI chart to decide if a child’s weight is a healthy weight, you have to look at individual growth charts). If your child appears to be tracking somewhat normally for THEM then it is good. If, however they fall off or jump up way above what is typical for THEM it should be looked into. DON’T go by one simple number such as BMI no matter what anyone tells you. I advise parents to ask the doctor to see the growth chart and to explain it. If your child is following a certain percentile, chances are that it normal for them.        

The take-home messages is this: you have a huge impact on your child’s eating habits. You can structure meals (3 per day) and snacks (2-3 per day) and you can try to eat meals with your children as much as possible. You can insist on turning off any screens while eating (easier to start this when your kids are young, it may be a hard habit to break when they are older, but don’t give up). You can promote positive body image and a healthy relationship to foods by avoiding talking about weight and body size and by supporting your child’s natural growth. You can provide the nutrients your child needs with healthy foods (offering fruits, veggies, dairy foods, protein foods and grains) on a regular basis. But you can also “normalize” all foods by refusing to treat foods such as cookies, ice cream, chips, etc as anything special. Just don’t have them as the only option. Oh, and don’t use sweets (or any food ) as a reward…read them a book, play a game, anything but food. And yes, you might have to learn to cook, but you can still keep it simple. Most of all, remember, you know your child best. You may feel differently, and you need to do what is best for you and your family. You should never feel bad or guilty just because you may go weeks without a family meal or vegetables. We all have days (and weeks) like that. It is only important to keep trying. Check out the references and the book Give Peas A Chance. Reflect on your own eating habits and food preferences, but remember, judging yourself doesn’t help either. Simply reflect, be honest, and work on it.

Don’t forget, it took me decades to make my peace with beets. I wish I tried earlier. Just think of all those years I could have been enjoying them…….you can, too.

 

 

 

Mirrors and Your Life: Are You a Victim of This Sneaky Thief?

Image may contain: sky, twilight and outdoor
Sunset on the Connecticut River: No Make Up Needed

I wonder when it starts. When do we start caring about that image staring back at us in the mirror? I do know babies love mirrors. Pets can be interesting in front of a mirror, too. I also noticed that 7 year old girls like mirrors, at least when they are shopping at  Justice, a popular girls clothing store (however, not sure if they are looking at themselves or the cool unicorns on the leggings they are trying on).  I remember when I belonged to a gym decades ago, usually going in the early evening when my children’s father  was home from work and they were ready for bed and I could finally escape. This particular gym had mirrors everywhere! Yes, I understand that it is important to have the right “form” when lifting some heavy weights, or apparently, you can hurt yourself (hence, the heaviest thing I lift is my vacuum cleaner). I never quite understood the exercising in front of the mirror thing, though. I also always felt a bit under-dressed in my jogging shorts and long tee shirt, when all the other women had on these interesting outfits….thongs were the rage back then with tights. To each their own, but all I was there for was the rubberized track so I could jog mindlessly around in circles, and relax until I felt the tensions of the day slip away. But those mirrors. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Not sure if those girls in the thongs could see themselves from the back, but my guess is they probably already checked it out at home before presenting themselves at the gym. Clearly, they liked what they saw in the mirror and felt good about it (I hope) because they went out in public like that. Like I said, to each their own.

Anyway, I decided to write about this topic because over the course of the past few weeks I have experienced various casual discussions with individuals from different parts of my life (family, friends, co-workers, etc.) that have to do with dealing with that image. That reflection of ourselves in the mirror. It struck me how much our appearance really matters (for some more than others).  What we are judging ourselves on varies from time to time, depending on our age, and what we might be going through. The change of seasons, especially going from winter to spring and summer seems to escalate the chatter about weight and dieting. Anxiety builds as the time gets closer for us to remove the secure layers we have enjoyed over the cold dreary winter months. People complain about weight gain and how they will appear in their shorts, if they can fit into them. Often people are focused on specific body parts, such as hips and thighs and butts and tummies (of course). As we age, changes in our bodies become ridiculous, and seem to happen overnight. A friend of mine tends to wear pretty scarves to kind of hide the inevitable changes to necks that happen after a certain age. Her mom told her that trick (funny, the only tricks my mom taught me have to do with cleaning and cooking…priorities, I guess). Anyway, I have discovered that if I lift my chin up high enough, and jut my jaw out, I can miraculously be rid of those seemingly new wrinkles under my neck…..although I look kind of weird and it is really hard to maintain, so I don’t walk around that way (often). And then, of course, we have the saggy arm issue and the veins. My old high school friends and I  got together recently over drinks and appetizers, and the conversation was pretty hysterical. We actually laughed out loud at what our topics of conversation have evolved into over the years. Before it was where we were going to get the beer, and how we were going to sneak out at night (and other things) and now it was all about veins and the horror a few of my friends have gone through to get rid of them. I know it is a medical issue however it was still struck us as funny. What have we become?! The mirror does not lie.

The very sad thing to me is the way mirrors literally steal time, precious hours away from some people. I remember a woman I knew who was married to a younger man. She was truly a “spiritual” person, into yoga and art and organic everything. However, whenever she would visit relatives she would be in the bathroom for over an hour to apply her make up. Somehow, she did not feel right with her natural face or whatever, so that she had to apply foundation (that creamy stuff that is the color or your skin and is supposed to cover imperfections?), and blush (to make it look like you are rosy and healthy?) and eye make up and lip stuff…..and VOILA. She missed some meals with us, but she looked good.

I regret the amount of time I wasted when I was young and hated my curly wavy hair. I spent hours in front of the mirror devising ways to wrap it and pin it and tape it and iron it just to make it be straight. It took me until I was in college and 20 years old to finally get it layered and let it go. I felt free. It was like I retired, and left a job I no longer had to do. My time was freed! I just had to wash my head and that was it. Why had I wasted so much time trying to change something that was naturally me just because I did not like what I saw in the mirror?

Don’t get me wrong, I think checking yourself out in the mirror is pretty normal. It is great to feel like you look pretty good and presentable when you leave for work in the morning. That your clothes are kind of clean and not too wrinkled, that your hair is not a mess, there isn’t anything stuck in your teeth. It’s all good. But sometimes, spending too much time checking yourself out, especially excessive scrutinizing of particular body parts can become a problem. Sometimes referred to as “body checking”, which is a common behavior among those with disordered eating, it can be detrimental. Besides spending lots of time scrutinizing yourself in the mirror, body checking might involve squeezing fat layers, or circling wrists or arms to feel if they are the same size, and have not changed and other self-checking behaviors. For those with disordered eating, body checking often leads to more restriction and may worsen behaviors. For others, excessive checking of our bodies may lead to anxiety about our bodies and even trigger eating issues.

And although I said “the mirror doesn’t lie”, for some it actually does. My experience with individuals with eating disorders proved to me that people can look in a mirror and see a totally different image that what everyone else in the world sees. I am guessing you may know someone who always “feels fat” and complains of this and when YOU look at them it is infuriating because you see a thin person. You want to say, and probably have,”you are not fat! you are so skinny!” and find this does not help. Try not to get mad at someone who does this because to them, they see something different. Some people tend to “distort” what they see in the mirror and you will never understand or convince them otherwise. And if you experience these extreme feelings yourself, If you find that you can’t stop with some of these behaviors, and it is truly occupying too much of your day, consider seeking some support from a therapist who specializes in body image issues. Don’t let the mirror and body checking consume your life.

Even if you can’t relate to excessive body checking, and you are just a typical person who wants to be sure they are presentable, it is still important to be aware of how you feel when you look in the mirror. Ask yourself, how much of my time to I give to judging my appearance? Am I trying too hard to change the real me? Is it worth it? Am I accepting of the natural changes that occur with age? Remember, there is no right answer to any of these questions. Only YOU can judge what is important to you. It may well be worth it to take the time to wrap that scarf around your neck to cover what you may feel are imperfections that you have not gotten used to yet. If if makes you feel better, why not? Scarves are lovely, and even young women who have nothing to hide wear them all the time. And by all means, apply that make up if you like it! I love my under eye stuff which takes 10 seconds to apply but is magical and prevents me from having to answer people who ask “are you tired? you look so tired!” when I forget to put it on. Some women just love makeup, and if that is you, then have at it. But if putting on makeup is an hour long ordeal and feels like a job, then why let the mirror steal those hours from your life?

And when it comes to your body, ask yourself, how many minutes am I scrutinizing my body in the mirror? If it is a quick check after you get dressed to walk out the door, then no big deal. If you got a new outfit for a wedding, and you can’t help admiring yourself for a bit longer than a minute before you walk out the door, oh well. It is fun to dress up sometimes.  If you have a new purchase you aren’t sure about and have to check yourself out ten times before deciding to return it, no big deal. But, if you find yourself spending an hour glaring at your body with negative thought running through your mind that just make you feel awful, well, that is a different story. Try to give up some of that time in front of the mirror. Work on the words you are saying to yourself (that “self-talk” always going on in your brain). Try to make it more complimentary, (you look pretty good for an old lady!) even if you don’t believe it at first. Fake it till you make it, they say. But, if you are struggling with feeling good about yourself then maybe it is time to seek out some help.

Finally, ask yourself what YOU notice in other people. Do you really notice if someone has makeup on or not? Do you notice the veins in anyone’s legs? Do you really care about anyone’s saggy arms or chin? The first thing I notice about a person is the expression on their face. Are they smiling and happy? Are they kind? Are they genuine? Are they unique? Do they make me laugh? That is what is important to me, and I am guessing that is what is important to you, too. Then why judge yourself in ways you would never judge others? Two of my favorite people often dress up as chickens and a moose outfit just to entertain kids at our school. And everyone loves them. Does it really matter what you wear or how you look?

Don’t let the mirror steal your life away.

Weight verses Health

scaleYesterday a co-worker told me about her husband who just found out he had high cholesterol as well as high blood pressure. She said he had gained about 20 pounds over the past 2 years and she wondered if that was the reason he was now having health issues. The stigma against body size verses health is one that can be very confusing. When we talk about a “health at every size” approach to weight, people often react and think we are crazy. Of course weight affects health, they say. To help clarify this confusion, I wanted to share this great post from Dare Not To Diet (dietitian GlenysO). As for my friend’s husband, he was told to start to exercise and to eat more fruits and vegetables. It sounded like his lifestyle was not too healthy, and the bottom line is even if his weight had not changed at all, he probably would have had his health issues due to the way he was living his life. If you are working toward being the healthiest you can be, but confused about the weight issue, be sure to check out this post! See link below:

What exactly does Health at Every Size® mean for my weight?

Source: Am I Healthy at Any Weight?

Should You Care About Your BMI?

hips-don-t-lie-1324351Friday morning as I was having my coffee, doing my usual multi-tasking, kind of listening to the news from my bedroom, something I heard made me stop what I was doing and run to the TV. “Indiana Teen refuses to calculate BMI”. What? I am a huge anti-fan of BMI. I was dying to hear this story. In case you have not heard, this young eighth grade athlete has received national attention after her Facebook Post about refusing to calculate her BMI in a class at school. She had been shamed in the past when she was told she was “obese” according to her BMI. Although she says she knows she is a bigger girl, it never had bothered her before but after that incident she felt bad and so the next time, she refused. Instead she wrote an essay about why BMI should not be used to determine health, especially in a middle school where girls are already super body conscious and insecure. Check out just one article  Indiana Teen Refuses to Calculate BMI to read more. She went to her doctor who did a complete physical with labs and let her know she was fit and healthy. Her message is simple yet powerful: BMI has nothing to do with health.

An eighth grade kid understands perfectly, yet unfortunately, the medical community still does not get it. Besides falsely labeling larger sized people as unhealthy, people who are very ill but have a “healthy BMI” fall through the cracks. I have story after story of eating disorder patients I have worked with in the past who have been starving themselves, purging in all kinds of dangerous ways, yet when they go for their yearly check up, the doctor responds: “You look great! You lost weight!” Which leaves the poor patient who is suffering in a confused and sometimes angry state. Most of the time the health care provider never asks how the weight was lost. It seems assumptions are made that the weight loss was a result of some healthy eating and exercise, but in these situations it is not the case. As long as that number is where it should be, it seems it does not matter.

The reality is that having a healthy  body  is not a simple task. Eating a perfect diet or having the correct BMI does not result in a healthy body, and does not negate unhealthy behaviors such as smoking or starving yourself or being stressed out. Genetics play a gigantic role (we all joke about the old man who smokes a pack a day and drinks whiskey and lives to 100). How it is that we have come to rely on some number based on a calculation using height and weight to tell us anything about someone’s health is beyond me. I believe part of the reason could be because it saves time. It is so much quicker to get a height and weight measurement and calculate BMI than it is to ask someone about all of the details of their lifestyle. Most health care practitioners don’t have time for this. In the hospital where I worked as an outpatient dietitian, we moved into a “productivity” based practice, so instead of an hour with a new patient, I was now expected to assess and counsel a patient and family in 30 minutes. If they were 10 minutes late, I was in trouble. It was heartbreaking to me. How could I even start to help a family with so little time to even find out about who they were? I left that job because of it, but I imagine that office is not unlike many others. Time is money.

So, it you ask me, you definitely should NOT worry about your BMI. Instead, you should worry if your health care providers give you advice without ever asking you about your lifestyle. Oh boy, does it make my blood boil when I hear stories from both friends and patients alike about the assumptions made based on weight or body size. It is prejudice, plain and simple, and it is wrong.

Forget the numbers, and keep it simple. How do you feel? What things run in your family that you need to be aware of? Look at all aspects of your life, both physical and mental (which is why I left that job, the stress was affecting my health). What you eat does matter but just to a degree. For instance, if you don’t drink enough to stay hydrated, you just won’t feel good and it can hurt you, especially in hot weather. If you live on sweets, you will likely not feel good either. If you don’t consume any calcium your bones may eventually be at risk. If you don’t eat any fruits or veggies, you may experience constipation which is not fun. So yes, nutrition matters, over time. You can eat brown foods for a week with no repercussions. You can eat sugar every day and have no ill effects. It is all in the big picture, with all aspects of your life having an impact on your health. Food, sleep, stress, movement, fun, family, friends, all of it.

So when someone brings up your BMI, tell them you want to talk about your health, not some dumb number that is meaningless.

 

Can YOU Make the Pledge? No Diet Talk for the Next 2 Weeks

IMG_3720The month of December is typically a time of joyful craziness. Young parents are scrambling to get everything on a child’s Christmas list, co-workers are organizing cookie swaps, friends are wanting to get together to make a holiday toast, toy drives and food drives are happening, the malls are insane, and on and on.

But something else is also occurring at this time of year. People are thinking about their “New Year’s Resolution”and at the top of the list is anything to do with losing weight and/or getting fit. Besides all the energy given to the fun stuff, some people are spending a lot of time thinking about and talking about how they want to change their bodies. Sometimes, the talk occurs because of a recent medical diagnosis, such as newly discovered diabetes or hypertension, or even elevated liver enzymes where it is important to make dietary changes. This is not what I am referring to. I am talking about those people who have spent much of their lives focusing on their weight and body size.

The things I hear come out of people’s mouths at social gatherings probably irritate me more than most (such as my husband) because of my work experience with individuals suffering from eating disorders, especially teenagers. Our culture’s focus on bodies has made it acceptable to promote disordered behavior around eating and exercise. Conversations  abound regarding how to lose weight, diet products, and even how to supposedly mold specific body parts into your dream “whatever”.  When young people hear adults (especially parents) discussing these things,  it becomes clear that trying to achieve weight loss and a certain body size is a good life goal indeed. Is this really what we want our children to grow up with as an ideal that is important enough to take up all that time and energy?  It makes me so uncomfortable when an adult is talking about their own body or dieting in front of young adults or children. I typically change the subject, or at lest try to. And it is not just children who are affected by this type of talk. Adults struggling with eating issues and weight are also affected in ways you may not be able to understand. One of the big struggles some of my patients experienced was having to convince themselves to stay on track with their recovery despite what felt like the entire world was doing around them. Why was it important for them to continue eating their meals and snacks when clearly it was alright for everyone else in their lives to restrict and diet? It would take a lot of work to help a patient get grounded again and fight the eating disorder voice that tortured them.

Besides focusing on their own dieting and weight goals, another topic of discussion is OTHER people’s bodies. My husband does not get it (he is an engineer and not at all familiar with a non-diet approach or the great divide in the professional world of weight management). Why would you not tell someone how great they look if you have not seen them in a long time and they lost a lot of weight? Won’t that make them feel good?

The problem is, you don’t know what they did to lose that weight. I have known countless patients who dread the holidays because of the focus on them and their bodies. Again, it gets confusing. For example, a young woman I worked with had finally been successful with gaining enough weight to stay out of an inpatient facility. She had stopped purging for several months but did not gain enough weight yet to restore herself back to her normal weight and was not menstruating. At her holiday family party, those who did not know what she had been through (and was continuing to work on) made the usual comments about how great she looked. Those who knew she had gained weight with much hard work complimented her on that too (also not good as this almost always makes someone who is recovering feel “fat”). Those who knew nothing of her ordeal told her she looked great with all that weight loss and “how did you do it?!”. Ugh. After the holidays and all of these conflicting messages, the work is never easy to get back on track.

With that said, you may know someone who you know for sure had been working hard to change habits and get healthy. Doing things like quitting smoking, taking up physical activity, eating more vegetables and learning how to cook healthier does result in weight loss for some. Instead of focusing too much on their bodies, giving praise or positive feedback for the healthy changes is different (“You must feel so good! You have so much more energy, that is great! Your blood sugar is back to normal, yay!)

So this is what I am asking you to do: Make a pledge.

  • Please pledge to try to recognize dieting and body talk.
  • Pledge to catch yourself doing it.
  • Pledge to stop doing it in front of children or young people.
  • Pledge to try to stop doing it constantly even with close friends.
  • Pledge to (try to) change the topic when others are doing it.
  • Pledge to avoid commenting on anyone’s body, especially someone you don’t know well because you will never know what they are going through and how it will affect them.

Thank you! Here’s to a wonderful holiday season and remembering what the season is about……

 

 

 

Are You a Constant Nibbler?Questions to Ask Yourself…

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Snack time in Italy

At one of my consulting jobs it struck me that one of my co-workers is constantly eating. I have no problem with people eating on the job, sometimes you just need to have lunch at your desk because you do not have a designated break. In the afternoon when your blood sugar drops a bit, sometimes a snack helps perk you up. This is not what I am talking about. I am talking about the person who is constantly chewing.

I decided to do a search of research on snacking behavior as well as emotional eating. I found out that research into snacking has been going on for years. The questions still remain: How do we define a “snack”? Is snacking helpful to promote a better diet? Does snacking affect our weight? and on and on….in other words, we really do not have any conclusive answers because snacking, believe it or not, is complicated. I thought snacking was a good topic to write about because so many of us do it and wonder if it is a good idea or not.

If you are a someone who snacks, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. what are you snacking on?
  2. how often are you snacking? are you a constant nibbler or do you have just one snack in between your three meals a day?
  3. are you skipping meals and only snacking?
  4. where are you eating your snacks?
  5. what are you feeling when you are snacking? or NOT feeling?
  6. who are you with? or are you alone?
  7. what are you doing when you are snacking?
  8. how hungry are you when you are snacking?
  9. how do you feel after your snack?

Being an intuitive eater, listening to, and taking care of your body may take some work for those who have been dieting. It is really important to NOT be judgmental as you are working on being the healthiest you can be and instead, just allowing yourself to reflect on your behaviors. Snacking is just one of those behaviors that for some take no thinking at all. For others who have not found peace yet with eating or their weight, it is important to not judge but just reflect and try to understand your habits so that you can make decisions that make you happy and feel good. So, when it comes to snacking, this sometimes can take some work and some experimentation, and this is okay.

When I see that person in my office who is constantly chewing, it reminds me of when I used to smoke cigarettes. Way back in college, I remember clearly the way having a cigarette filled in some kind of space that I did not know how to fill. It was hard for some reason, to just do nothing. I remember clearly after I quit smoking that I had to learn to just sit there. Now of course, I love just sitting and thinking (not a lot of time anymore!). But back then, it was a skill I needed to learn. For some people, munching on something serves the same purpose: filling in space that they do not know how to deal with. Maybe it is boredom. Maybe it is avoiding having to think about something else, something that is not fun to think about. Emotional eating, very common and very normal on occasion, however when it is a daily, 24 hour behavior then there may be unhealthy consequences.  Some people are happy and content with nibbling constantly while others are upset at themselves.  If you find yourself unable to stop nibbling and you are not happy about it, then seeking help is important. If, on the other hand, you are happy and healthy, and are fine with your nibbling, then whatever works for you is what matters.

So does this mean we should not snack? Does it mean we need to only eat “healthy” snacks? Not at all. Everyone is different, but we all have certain nutritional needs, as well as foods we love and do not like. To be healthy and happy, personally, I do not know how anyone can last from lunch until dinner without a snack. But that may not be you. Some people love having a large lunch and really do not get hungry until dinner time. Other people can’t eat a large lunch and so have that drop in the afternoon and feel better after a snack. A snack may sometimes be “healthy” and contribute to your daily nutritional needs (like a yogurt with fruit, or crackers and cheese). Some studies actually found that people who have snacks do have better nutrition.

But then again, sometimes you may want to have one of those brownies someone brought in with a cup of tea. Does that matter? Not at all. The question is, how do you feel? If you are a dieter or someone who confines themselves to only “good” food, then eating a brownie instead of the yogurt and fruit can play head games on you. You may feel as if you have broken out of your “diet jail” and then go on to overeat the rest of the day (what some researchers refer to as the “what the hell” effect). Or, you may restrict at your next meal because you feel guilty. Both behaviors are not a healthy response. The reality check is that eating a brownie instead of your usual yogurt and fruit is likely the same amount of calories, maybe less protein and unlikely to hold you as long, but no huge effect at all on your weight or your health. As long as you are eating balanced meals most of the time, your choice does not matter that much. The question is how you feel. Satisfied? Happy? Listen to your body. Of course, if you are on a special diet because of some medical condition, that is a different story. Talk to your dietitian about how to fit in foods you love.

Besides hunger, or emotional eating to fill in the time, why else would you grab a snack? Sometimes, it is simply an environmental trigger. Maybe that person in my office has been snacking at her desk for so long, she just needs to sit down and see her computer, and it triggers her to munch. It may not be emotional eating or boredom eating at all. It may simply be a habit. If you find yourself grabbing the same kind of food (or drink) in the same place day after day, it could simply be habit. How do you break it? Substituting a different habit, one that is healthier, such as having a bottle of seltzer or water, or herbal tea instead of the usual snack food that you really are not hungry for. Or getting up for a walk around the office to stretch.  Or not keeping the snack foods at your desk and putting them in the break room or kitchen so that when you actually truly are hungry, you go get it. This is not about restricting, but all about listening to your body and hunger and taking care of it. Mindless munching is not intuitive eating.

My recommendations?

  • take time to pay attention to your habits
  • take time to plan your meals and your snacks
  • take time to enjoy your snacks…..catch yourself mindless munching
  • create a healthy environment-have snacks that are healthy and that you also enjoy available
  • allow yourself to enjoy any snack you truly want as long as you listen to your fullness and feel satisfied, not stuffed and regretful-remember, when you constantly restrict yourself, food becomes more important, so instead, if you are hungry for a snack, have one, the one you really want

OK, time for some popcorn………….

 

 

 

 

 

Humming, Beckoning or Phantom Food: Why You Need to Know the Difference

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Our last meal in Italy started (as usual) with some great Italian bread, olives and salami……….

What do you do when you go out to eat, and the waiter or waitress bring a nice basket of hot rolls to the table? What do you do when you walk into your office and someone brought a box of donuts from your favorite bakery? What about when it is 9 pm at night and you just can’t get chocolate off of your mind? Or you have planned a nice healthy dinner for your family, but you are not in the mood for it at all?

We have to make so many decisions every single day about what to eat. It is complicated and stressful even to those who don’t think about their eating or weight. We all have to eat. Unfortunately, most of us are not millionaires, and so there will be no cook preparing our favorite meal every night (getting tired of the joke “if I was Oprah, I would be healthy because I would be able to hire a chef!”). Unless you love to cook, planning and preparing meals can be a pain. Add to that a concern about weight and you have a recipe for anything but intuitive eating. What I mean is that for those who are always dieting or dissatisfied with their weight, there seems to be a constant war going on when it comes to food choices. It is not about what is available and what tastes good or you are in the mood for, it is about what is on your diet plan. The food rules are in full force and the food police loud and clear in some people’s thinking.

Although I am a big believer in “intuitive eating” and “listening to your hunger and fullness” I also know that most people are not that aware of the forces that pull them in all directions when it comes to eating and food. What made a lot of sense to me was from a book I may have mentioned before that I read way back in the 70’s. It was written by two psychologists (“The Psychologist’s Eat Anything Diet” by Pearson, et al) and had an approach that was not founded in science at the time, yet years later, we now know they were right. The book was one of the first to advise us to “listen” to your food cravings because your body innately knew what it needed. Now we know that there are numerous neurochemicals, or messengers that tell our brains what to eat based on what we need. For example, if you go without adequate carbohydrates for a period of time, your brain serotonin levels will drop and this will trigger you to want something sweet. There are many more, but the bottom line is there is a physiological reason we sometimes really crave something. Also, the authors of the book were the first to coin the term “beckoning” food verses “humming” food. I love those terms because if you understand them, it really can help you to become a more intuitive eater (and less susceptible to environmental triggers).

So what about those humming, beckoning and phantom foods and why do I think it is smart to know the difference?

First,let’s talk about “beckoning” foods. These are the foods you were not thinking about at all until you saw them or smelled them. For instance, you are at the mall, you ate before you went and you are not hungry at all, but you walk by that Grandma’s Cookie place and the aroma overwhelms you.  Or, you wander past the McDonald’s in the mall, and the smell of french fries permeates the air (your favorite fries of all, nobody can make them like the Ronald). Maybe you are in the grocery store after work, a bit hungry and you see the pizza counter with a great looking meat lover’s pizza. That, my friend, is a beckoning food. It is the food you really don’t crave at all at the time, but you see it, smell it, and then want it. The fact is that a beckoning food is probably not what your body wants or needs. It is a trigger in your environment that if you manage to ignore, you will forget about it in short time. But what if you are at a party or social gathering, and someone made something you absolutely love, and even if you were not craving it, you hate to miss out? For example, yesterday I had to teach a class to a group of nutrition students. They had put together a smorgasbord of snacks such as veggies and hummus, fruit and also some very yummy homemade cookies. I was hungry for food, not sweets, but I don’t often get a chance to have good cookies like that (I hate baking, it is way too specific). So I took a plate home because I always want something sweet in the morning (yes, a cookie and coffee makes me happy at 6:30 am-and I am prepared for the crash at 10 am). So the message is, you don’t have to miss out when there are beckoning foods around, but you should not eat them at the time when you really did not want them. Save them for when you really do. That is intuitive eating.

Secondly, what do I mean by “Humming foods”? Have you ever, out of the blue, had a very specific food craving? Once in awhile, maybe every three months or so, while I am at work, getting hungry later in the day, I get an intense craving for some very specific buffalo wings. It does not matter if I had a meal already planned, I change it. I call my husband and tell him “I am stopping at Buffalo Wild Wings, what do you want?” I just save whatever I planned for the next day. No, half my plate is not “colors” the way we dietitians like to teach. Most of the plate is brown that night (well, they do give you carrot and celery sticks).  I figure my body knows what it is telling me. Maybe I need more fat or protein or whatever. Maybe it is a need to treat myself. Whatever it is, if we listen to our cravings (remember, a true craving comes from your body, not from the smell of french fries or the visual trigger of a giant cookie in a store window), we will likely be so much more satisfied without overeating. So pay attention to specific food cravings, a feeling of needing a specific food without ever seeing or smelling it.

Finally, we have “phantom foods”. I do not remember where I first heard this term, but I think it was when I was working at a college with college students who were restrained eaters. The dietitian I worked with was very used to working with these “sub-clinical” eating disorders but I was new to it. I remember her using that word and it made a lot of sense to me with what I was seeing. A great example is a student I saw back then who was binge eating on healthy snacks at night. It was funny because she was somewhat of a “health nut”. She did not eat much meat or any unhealthy foods. Her dorm room was stocked with rice cakes, sugar free jello, and fat free granola bars. She would eat just a salad for lunch, and then again for dinner, and after dinner she would have an apple, then a fat free granola bar, and then another, and another, and then some sugar free jello, and then another apple….and on and on. When I asked if she craved anything, she said she craved cheese burgers. I asked her to experiment just one week with eating what she wanted instead of making herself eat the foods she was making herself eat because the were healthy (also know as Phantom Food). She came back a week later and said “I can’t believe it! I have been having cheeseburgers for dinner, and I am not eating all those snacks anymore! I am actually satisfied and feel so much better!”. That student was able to eat what her body really wanted, and she was no longer forcing herself to eat just the “healthy” snacks-the phantom food that does not satisfy, but that the “diet mentality” says is the only thing that is not bad. Unfortunately, what I have seen in my years of working with people with eating and weight issues is that trying to eat only phantom foods-foods that you think are safe and ok but that really do not satisfy you-leads to overeating, weight gain, and dissatisfaction.

So there you have it. Can you take that chance and really let yourself eat what your body is telling you? Can  you satisfy your hunger and then move on to all the more interesting and fun things in your life to do? Can you stop forcing yourself to eat those phantom foods that you really don’t want? Can you walk past those good smelling food places, and tell yourself that when you really want that, you will go get it? Can you ask for a doggie bag and take those cookies to go so that when you really want them, they will be there? (You can freeze stuff too, you know).

Some people may find this very hard or impossible-that is ok! My goal is to help you be reflective and think about yourself, not to turn you into an intuitive eater overnight. I just hope to open your eyes to a different way of looking at eating and food, with the hopes that you will take just one more step to being happier with your relationship to food. Or at least understand yourself a little bit better.

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My husband’s last meal in Italy, same restaurant with the bread in the bag

So that picture of the bread and salami and olives? Totally beckoning foods before an amazing dinner in Milan. Of course I tried that bread. Sometimes, if  you are in Italy for example, you know you won’t get to have that again for who knows how long. And we had no freezer.  So Joie de vivre ! Enjoy life : )

IMG_5681The Italian Restaurant outside of Milan, Italy

Dieting and Weight: A New Way to Think

healthy lifeI struggled with what to title this post even though I know exactly what I want to say. Sometimes I notice things or patterns or trends about people, eating, food, or whatever and say to myself “I need to write about that”. Especially when it is something I see over and over again. To me it may be glaringly obvious how ridiculous it is yet so many wise and wonderful people are still doing the same dumb things (I don’t mean to be insulting to anyone as they are not “dumb” at all, which is why it is so baffling they might make the same mistakes over and over, even after many years).

I am referring to dieting, specifically spending money to go on the same diet program they may have been “successful” on 2 years ago. Lately I have bumped into old friends or acquaintances who last time I saw them looked a whole lot different. It could go either way, either they may have gained a lot of weight or lost a lot of weight. Following the same “program”. Or not.

It seems they have so much faith in their diet program because after all, it did “work”. If only they could have stayed with it, had more willpower. So this next time should be the last. But it never is and the reason is because nothing has really changed except the number on the scale (down, then up). You have heard it before, from me and others, why dieting and focusing on your weight is not the answer to feeling good or being healthy…..you know that any new diet book hooks you in because it gives a false sense of hope.

Instead, my hope is you might be open to stopping for just a few minutes to reflect on this. Do you have a goal stuck in your brain that you absolutely will not give up until you reach a certain size or weight? Then I am asking you for just a few minutes to let go of that thought and think about all of the things you have done over the past months or years to change your body. If you have spent months or years working on this and are still in the same place, would you consider something different? You could go another few years repeating the cycle and many people do. And you should not be hard on yourself if you have, because that is the only way to learn (and learning what does not work is equally important as learning what does work). Just like with dating, you have to kiss a lot of frogs!

Anyway, my suggestion is putting on a “detective” hat instead. Instead of judging and commanding yourself, could you first of all try to stay neutral and nonjudgmental? What are some of the unhealthy habits you may have fallen into that you wish you could change? For instance, are you stopping for fast food on the way home from work on a daily basis? Do you plop on the couch the minute you get home? Do you notice you drink too much when you go out with certain friends or overeat when you have sweets in your house? How about considering some simple “health” goals and making a mental list of some of the healthy things you would like to incorporate in your life? Someone once told me, or maybe I read it somewhere, that you are either moving forward, backward, or staying still. It is ok to stay still sometimes. And we learn from going backwards too. But why not take some simple steps to “move forward” instead of starting that same old diet plan or program (or a new one) that will leave you in the same place a year from now? You may decide to pick just one day where you don’t stop for fast food and cook instead. You may just decide to collect some of those healthy recipes you actually did enjoy from that diet plan and cook dinner (even if you are not “on” the diet, if you found healthy meals you liked, that could be useful!). Or maybe you may decide to take just ten minutes after work to walk before you settled in to watch TV. Even just one day a week. It is all positive action and all with a good goal: to move into a healthier lifestyle. Yes, you can stop for fast food, overeat with your friends, drink too much sometimes, and decide to spend the entire day on the couch if that is what you need. It is finding the balance that leads to a healthy body and mind. In the end, you will probably find that a year from now, for once, you will be in a better place, both physically and mentally (and financially!).

So consider putting on that detective hat, think about YOUR unique lifestyle and habits, and YOU decide what you may want to start with to move FORWARD. One step at a time…..