A Guide for Parents
When it comes to kids and nutrition, we parents have a long road ahead of us. Nevertheless, the more we share our experiences and what we learn, the more we are able to make changes. Proper nutrition for babies and kids is not usually one of the areas we learn enough about after the delivery of our children. Maybe we do learn it, but we get distracted by life. Some of us are focusing more on simply keeping our babies happy and alive. Can anyone else relate? We already have so much to juggle that nutrition for ourselves and our children does not always take priority. That is ok. It was the same for me being in the military as a new mom. I learned as I went. My hope is that sharing my experiences helps other parents. It is important we continue to navigate our picky eaters and help them feel more empowered and encouraged to make healthier choices.
Mental Health Barriers (Labeling Food “good & bad”)
Have you ever caught yourself calling foods “good” or “bad?” According to the American Council of Science and Health, “The labeling of a food as good or bad is usually justified on the basis of the nutritional quality of that particular food and/or how the components of that food contribute to or detract from our health. While at first glance this may seem quite reasonable, upon closer inspection, there are important problems with this approach” (ACSH, 2004). As a health coach and someone who studies human development, I learned how labeling foods could affect people’s psyche. I found that labeling foods “good” or “bad” created a downward spiral in the overall success of some. What I found over the years is adults and children inherently have a desire to feel “good” about themselves. If I made them feel “bad” by labeling a food they really liked “bad,” it caused lower self-esteem and could eventually lead to them quitting. So, I change my words and voice inflection in order to help them change their thought processes.
Instead of labeling foods good or bad, I began saying things like, “let’s work together on eating foods that ‘serve’ you better.’” Over the last couple of years, this notion has not only allowed me to have more successful adult clients, but has also allowed me to help kids and parents learn how to implement the same practices into their own lives. When children learn how to feel better about the choices they make, they ultimately feel better about themselves.
Intuitive Eating and Habit Change
What is Intuitive Eating?
Sarah Remmer is a pediatric dietitian and nutritionist who teaches parents how to “roll with the punches.” As someone who encourages my clients to prepare for the unexpected and learn how to “go with the flow,” I naturally wanted to learn more about Sarah’s approach. In her article, “The A-B-C Approach to Teaching Kids About Intuitive Eating,” Sarah informs us that “Intuitive Eating an evidenced-based, mind-body health approach, [comprising] 10 Principles and was created by two dietitians, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It’s a weight-neutral and non-diet approach to eating that helps to create more body awareness, and teaches people to truly listen to and honour their physical hunger cues” (Remmer, 2020.)
Children are naturally curious and intuitive. They do not create labels until society comes in and places these labels. . They form their own habits on their environment mimicking what they see and hear.
So, stop referring to healthier foods as “dieting.” If you feel restricted when you decide to become healthier, the chances of your kids feeling the same is going to be higher. The 10 principles of intuitive eating are: reject the diet mentality, honor the hunger, make peace with food, challenge the food police (the good or bad labels we place on the foods), discover the satisfaction factor, feel your fullness, heal through your emotions with kindness (some resources say cope, but coping and healing are two different things – one is temporary and the other is lasting), respect your body, implement movement, and honor your health (implement small changes over time that make a larger impact in life). Keep these things in mind not only for yourselves, but also for your children. As a mom, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to become more aware of literally everything we do, but children are more receptive to guiding over forcing.
Guiding Without Forcing
We sometimes operate in a robotic manner wondering, “how did we get here?” If we have nutritional habits that are not serving us, we will naturally pass those same habits to our children. If we eat healthier foods and instill choices into our children earlier on, the chances of them making choices that serve them better later in life will be higher according to the studies and what I have personally learned in my own life. This is what I thought anyway. However, it is not so simple, is it?
I had no idea that I would eventually push my child away from eating healthier due to my passionate journey with nutrition that I forced onto her. As sh began school, candy and sweets were thrown at her all the time, I thought explaining to her why I was encouraging her to eat healthier would help. However, I was actually pushing her away. While I know I cannot go back in time, I now implement intuitive eating with her.
I asked my daughter if I could interview her to help other parents. She became the best resource and I wanted to share what can happen when instead of forcing, we guide, empower, and bring in gentle reminders (instead of impatient, out of control reminders because we are frustrated – yep, that was me for a little bit and you will find out why as you continue reading). I don’t know about your kid(s), but mine loves it when she feels listened to. She loved that I was curious about her and answered my questions without hesitation. I asked her if she understood why I wanted her to eat better. She said yes. That was a good start, right? I asked her if she remembered being diagnosed with ADHD. She replied yes. I then asked her if she remembers when we tried the medications. She said yes. I asked her if she remembered me doing the research and finding that we needed to limit some foods and add in more protein. She replied yes to that. I then said, “well, if you remember all these things, you remember how horrible you felt when you had to take the medication, and you remember the research I did and shared with you, why are you still so rebellious.” She said, “because Mom…you don’t listen to me. You don’t let me choose.” When she said this, I was floored. So all these years of me trying to get her to eat better was actually pushing her further from wanting to eat healthier. I wasn’t making her feel good, and I needed to change that. I thought about what I read on intuitive eating. She knows how to cook, so I asked her if it would be more beneficial to have a list of foods and allow her to choose foods from different sections of the menu. I also asked her to choose two recipes she would like to try and we would buy the foods to prepare them. She was happy to do so. What changed in all this? Instead of me being the “I am your mom and I said so” parent, I had to transition to the “I am your mom and I care” parent.
While we are not able to place her in a bubble, we can at least empower her and encourage her to make healthier choices with foods that serve her better.
The Body and Nutrition
When I began learning about nutrition, it was to help clear my mom’s medicine cabinet a bit. This was around 2008. My mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2003. I was deployed at the time and never heard of this disease before. She also was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and due to all the medications she was on, was eventually told she was bipolar. She was depressed at the time as well and suicidal. Seeing her suffer sparked a flame and I dove into nutrtional research.
In 2017, my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD. We tried three different medications and her body was not adjusting well. She was miserable. Once again, it was time to research and find out how nutrition could play a part in my daughter’s condition.
I took courses and began reading medical studies on autism, Asperger’s, and ADHD. If you take a look at some of the medications prescribed they can usually be categorized as a stimulant, anti-depressant, or if coexisting conditions are apparent, other medications that could cause headaches, sleep problems, and/or weight loss/decrease in appetite. I have an active kid. The increase in stomach aches and headaches combined with the decrease in appetite was enough to drive me to learn more.
I thought about protein and how malnutrition or lack of certain nutrients can cause a lot more problems in the body. While I never found anything conclusive on how protein impacted these diseases in children, I did find some theories I wanted to explore further. For my daughter’s case, I began thinking about some of the courses I had taken in the past. I also thought about the information I found when learning how to help my mom. I thought if protein uptake was able to help my mom and myself, why not look into how it could help my daughter?
Protein is used for horomone maintenance and repair of bodily tissues (from daily wear and tear), energy production (the breakdown of protein yields amino acids, which can then be built back into energy), and is a key transporter for nutrients in the brain and other areas of the body (hemoglobin is an example of this – it transports oxygen throughout the body), and is also important for immunity (forms antibodies that help fight infection and disease). Protein also forms enzymes, which help with chemical reactions in the body and forms DNA (the body’s entire makeup). Therefore, as you can see, if there is not enough protein, the body will be destined for all types of problems.
I began researching types of protein supplements and realized the one I was taking was safe for my daughter. I also implemented a BCAA (branched chain amino acid) supplement for a little while, but she got tired of it. I decided to do what I could to simply raise her protein intake. BCAA’s provide our body with amino acids our bodies are unable to make. Therefore, our picky eaters may not be getting these through their foods. The three essential amino acids are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. “Leucine is thought to have the biggest impact on your body’s capacity to build muscle proteins. Meanwhile, isoleucine and valine seem more effective at producing energy and regulating your blood sugar levels” (Petre, 2016).
Here is one important thing to note: I learned a lot about supplements in a certification I took a few years back which only covered supplements, how to research them, conflicts, and anything else we needed to know as nutrition coaches/specialists. I research my supplements thoroughly because they are NOT regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). I knew this when I began implementing them into my daughter’s regiment. It had to be something I would feel comfortable with giving my child. Therefore, I am NOT telling you to purchase supplements for your kids and it will cure them. What I am saying is, for our case, it was a more efficient option and it did not make her feel horrible at the end of the day. We also incorporated counseling. I learned about time management and also realized that having an agenda and sticking to timers (my focus only goes for about 20 minutes so you should have seen me trying to finish this article).
I will continue to empower her and allow her to keep circling foods on the food list. I will continue to support her as she continues to make recipes and learn foods she may like more than others. I will keep well-researched, organic, holistic supplements on hand to aid in her overall daily nutrient intake. Additionally, I limited her overall sugar intake even though research has yet to prove that is part of the problem. I chose to do this because I know the impact high consumption of sucrose can have on the human body over time, including diabetes. I guide her to intake sugar moderately.
In conclusion, Clinical and Medical psychologist Dr. Patricia Barreto explains “a person’s relationship with food is a reflection of a person’s relationship with themselves.” That’s why Ashley Sobolewski (registered dietitian nutritionist) explains that it’s important that parents be empowered to heal their own relationship with food, which will then be modeled by their children. Working in combination with a clinical psychologist and dietitian is a great way to learn the process of intuitive eating and healing from the inside out.
Remember, we can’t go back in time and that’s ok. In everything we do, all that matters is we continue to place one foot in front of the other taking it day by day with learning how to empowerhttps://healthlifemagazine.com/2021/04/23/suns-out-screens-out/ your kids so they feel more in control of their nutritional decisions.
Article by Jodi Watkins, CPT/CNC/CHC, Speaker, Writer, and Founder of 2BEpic Fitness and Nutrition, LLC
Please note: The information in this article is not to be used to diagnose or treat any diseases. I advise you to consult with your pediatrician.
To learn more about my nutritinal journey with my daughter visit https://linktr.ee/jodiwatkins.
ACSH. (2004). American Council of Science and Health: Are There Good Foods and Bad Foods? Retrieved from https://www.acsh.org/news/2004/02/26/are-there-good-foods-and-bad-foods.
Petre, A. (2016). BCAA Benefits: A Review of Branched-Chain Amino Acids. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/bcaa.
Remmer, S. (2020). The A-B-C Approach to Teaching Kids About Intuitive Eating. Retrieved from https://www.sarahremmer.com/teaching-kids-intuitive-eating/#intuitive-eating.
The Original Intuitive Eating Pros. (2019). 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating. Retrieved from https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/.