What Kids Hear About Fat

This post is by Lizabeth Wesely-Casella, the founder of BingeBehavior.com, and was originally posted here

I’ve been hearing a lot of cranky comments lately about “…it’s for their own good” and “…they need to suck it up and get a thicker skin” as it relates to the ‘right’ to comment on the size or shape of a stranger’s body.  While I have very strong feelings about the inappropriateness of these comments, when they are made about children I find that I must swallow my anger and grip as tightly as I can to my long held belief that education and proximity can overcome reactionary convenience (read, SNARK).

Here’s the premise that I’m working off of in order to make my point.  Kids are vulnerable because they 1. Want to be accepted if not loved; 2. Have a basic understanding of the information they’ve been surrounded by, and 3. Hear more than we give them credit for.

With those tenets in place, and assuming that this is not a conversation about intentional psychological abuse, this is a good place to remind adults who are speaking about “fat kids” and the “obesity epidemic rampant in our schools” that the people who feel the most hurt when hearing scary and negative phrases like that, are our kids.  The one’s we’re talking ‘about’ thought not ‘to’.

Regardless of how you or I feel about the overall health of the younger generation, before we espouse our views, let’s (and I mean ‘let us ALL’ – myself included) make it really personal.  Instead of thinking about kids as a generic set of “others”, think of kid – your kid, your nephew, your niece, and ask yourself what they hear when they hear the words “fat” and “obese” and compound those feelings with phrases like “war on” and “outside of acceptable limits”.

My work within the world of advocacy and weight stigma has given me access to many reputable, amazing and hard working experts in the field of weight stigma and body acceptance.  During this last quarter organizing the Weight Stigma Awareness Week campaign for the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), I was lucky enough to work closely with experts specializing in the area of children and weight stigma.  Featured contributors included Marci Warhaft-Nadler, author of The Body Image Survival Guide for Parents: Helping Toddlers, Tweens and Teens ThriveDr. Rebecca Puhl, Deputy Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, Nancy Matsumoto, author of The Parent’s Guide to Eating Disorders: Supporting Self-Esteem, Healthy Eating and Positive Body Image at Home, and Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, Advocate and President of Nutrition for the Future to name a few.

One of the consistent themes that I ran across speaks to the fact that children associate some of the worst possible personality traits and social outcomes with the words “fat” and “obese”.  Today, the younger generation no longer thinks of fat as simply a descriptor for shape or a biological substance, they equate it to lazy, bad, evil, uneducated, unacceptable and unlovable.  When they hear “fat” they do not hear that a person is fat shaped, they hear that a person is unworthy of respect and acceptance, consequently if they think they are “fat, they believe those same negative things about themselves.

Many studies demonstrate just how children connect these dots, one of which is a 2008 report from the collaborative partnership between Girlguiding, the leading charity for girls and young women in the UK (similar to Girl Scouts or Brownies in the US) and Beat, the UK’s leading charity supporting people affected by eating disorders and which campaigns on their behalf.  The report was titled ‘Under 10 and Under Pressure’, and it looked at the influence of views about weight and shape on young girls aged 7, 8 and 9.

According to Susan Ringwood, Chief Executive at Beat, “Small groups of Brownies were shown line drawing of girls who represented their age, but in a range of sizes. The range wasn’t extreme, but did vary from slender to large.  The Brownies were asked to talk about these girls, and say what sort of person they were likely to be.

The drawings which depicted girls who were the most slender were unanimously described as happy, healthy, good at sports, someone to be friends with, and successful at school.  The girls who were shown as larger were described as unhappy, lazy, bullied, not someone to be friends with and no good at sports.

The Brownies were 7 years old and they already knew that the size and shape of your body alone told the world what sort of person you are. They had internalized those weight stigmatizing messages that surround us daily.”

There are many more studies available for review however; this is an especially interesting outcome as the children giving the feedback were also participants in a socially empowering organization focused on teaching children to value others by their actions rather than their appearance.  Evidently the comments we are making are overpowering the messages we are trying to send.  Children are HEARING and absorbing the message that fat is unacceptable and if a person is fat, they in turn, must have a harder life.

If the ‘takeaway’ information from our comments is that fat is negative in every possible way, what does the child who is told they are fat think?  Additionally, in a growing body, being “healthy” is more complex than size, shape or BMI.  The reality is, the random comment assessing the overall health of another person is based more in judgment than fact and those comments are harmful – not just annoying or hurtful, but that they are actual eating disorder causing, malnutrition inducing, body acceptance diminishing harmful.

Do we assume that children are capable of constructing the argument that they ‘have the substance fat on their body, which may or may not be a healthy part of their overall body composition because weight, especially in children is incredibly complex’?  Or do we find it more likely that the child thinks, ‘I AM fat.  I AM the embodiment of the negative things I associate with fat.  I am not good and I am not worthy of respect and acceptance.’?  Considering children have a limited set of experiences to work with, black and white thinking is the tendency, meaning the equation of ‘you are fat = you are bad’ is generally how their minds work and how their minds work to solve it.  Fat comes from food so I’ll stop eating a variety of healthy foods, or I’ll exert my only form of control and NOT eat.

So now, without belaboring the point, and with the hope that this is a quick reminder that ‘the fat kids’ isn’t a nebulous group that can’t hear you and whom you don’t profoundly affect, lets (again, this is not a sermon, this is encouragement for ALL of us) consider whether saying the unkind phrase or having righteous indignation toward a gathering of children is the best way to make the change you want to see.

Keeping in mind that we sell a good many programs, products and concepts by invoking “the next generation”, maybe treating them  with kindness and meeting them intellectually ‘where they’re at’  is more in line with our true feelings than waging war or causing them to develop that “thicker skin” that speaking about them carelessly can cause.

Candy, Candy, Everywhere… How to Avoid the Halloween Bellyache

Happy Halloween Eve!5 tips to a Happy, Healthy Halloween!

It’s that time of year.  You have lots of candy around.  1. The kids bring home more candy from their Halloween bounty.  2. There is leftover candy that didn’t get handed out to trick-or-treaters.  3. The stores have “great deals” on excess Halloween candy tomorrow.

You get the idea.  Candy truly is everywhere.  But, you don’t need to feel overwhelmed.  You just need a game plan.  Remember, we recommend planning to help you incorporate some fun foods ~20% of the time while fueling yourself with real food ~80% of the time. This keeps us feeling real good AND staying sane, which is the best of both worlds. :-)

So, do you have a game plan?

We recommend you avoid the Halloween Bellyache with these tips:

  1. Once the candy is sorted, store it out of site.  If you leave the candy in a bowl as a center piece, you know what happens.  1 piece, 2 pieces, 3 pieces… 10 pieces. Ahhh, you get the picture. It’s easier to make a well-informed decision about if you are hungry and want a treat when the candy is not staring you in the face.
  2. Be a foodie.  Pick out your favorites and keep them, but throw out or give away the rest.  Who said you need to eat candy that you are not crazy about? Not me. If I’m eating a “20%” food, I want to eat my favorite type of it, not something mediocre!
  3. Let yourself (and/or your kids) pick out 1-2 pieces to go in your lunches.  You can even eat the candy first as it will taste the best when you are the hungriest!  Allowing yourself to have your favorite candy in moderation will decrease your desire to overdo it later.  So plan and savor your treats!
  4. Think about Halloween as more than candy… because life IS more than food!  So, enjoy the festivities.  Think about it.  It is a great day to greet your neighbors, have fun with children, and get creative.  I’m hoping for everyone’s sake that the rain will stay away.

Hope you have a wonderful Halloween! Keep Calm and Avoid the Halloween Bellyache.  Let us know how your Halloween was in the comments section!

**Special thanks to Janet Zimmerman, a dietitian a Schilling Nutrition Therapy, for writing this post.

Baby-Led What? Why I chose to use Baby-Led Weaning

Jan 2013 2 004

Baby-led weaning is a process that allows your infant to lead the way while introducing solid foods. It just makes sense if you really think about it. Once upon a time, there weren’t pureed foods, mixed or sweetened foods. It seems like the human race made it just fine prior to those cute little jars. I mean, here we are…

Baby CC is approaching one year now. Shortly after she was six months old we began offering solid foods. Yep, that’s right, no squishy pureed foods that once were in their normal form. We began by offering solid foods that had been cut in a way that she could hold on to the pieces yet not so small that they would trigger choking. As most parents of infants have noticed, baby will put anything is his mouth. Once baby is at least six months old the particular reflexes needed to help baby with tongue control and swallowing are most likely developed. Until then, it’s a good idea to feed baby only breast milk or infant formula as their sole source of nutrition.

When we started offering CC complementary foods, we skipped right over the low-energy cereals and offered her foods like eggs, beef, bananas, and avocados. The only semi-solid foods she eats at the moment are those that occur in that form like Greek yogurt or applesauce. She’s eats cheese and whole apples as well. Like I said, it just makes sense to eat real food (& feel real good, right?).

Are you ready to start feeding your baby? What questions do you have for the #Born2Eat Team?

Plan now for next week’s tasty Meals! #nutrition #health

Ingredients for cooking ahead with friends!

It’s that time again… The dishes are done from the Labor Day parties and the kids are back in school. Schedules are overflowing and you may feel like you need a vacation already! In the nutrition world, there are two things lacking that usually keep people frantic and making not-so-great decisions. So what are the two words that will keep this sinking kitchen (& stomach) afloat? Well, here goes…

AWARENESS and PLANNING. In my office, I often help busy moms; dads and students realize the value in planning ahead. One of my favorite lines in the office is “if you fly by the seat of your pants, you’ll most likely end up in bigger pants.” It’s so true. Just an hour or two on the weekend can save you loads of time, stress, and energy during the week. Let’s break it down.

First, evaluate the week ahead. You can pick up a meal planner or calendar most anywhere. Feel free to print the basic one I use. Think about each night, which has soccer practices, when do I have the PTA meeting; Friday is dinner with the neighbors, etc… What days do you have the most time to get things done in the kitchen? Are there days when the kids can help you? Now you are AWARE of your schedule and the days that could force you into another drive-thru line.

We can PLAN now. Let’s say you picked Saturday morning as your shopping day. Before you go shopping, fill in your meal planner. Cooking on Sunday afternoon is typically a good time to get it done (and you may have more help). Grill or bake chicken, pork tenderloin, lean hamburgers, or whatever protein sources you like in advance. You can put them into tortillas for tacos or quesadillas; have cheeseburgers, or pork tenderloin with fruit salsa. The key is cooking what you can in advance and turning into a couple different meals. Cooking ground beef or turkey in advance to freeze for a quick chili, spaghetti sauce or taco meat is great for a quick meal. Don’t forget about that slow-cooker tucked back in the pantry. It’s time to dust it off!

Here’s a step-by-step approach for weekly meal planning.

  1. Look in your pantry and freezer to see what’s available.
  2. Think about protein sources you have and ones you need to pick up.
  3. What veggies do you have and need to use up? I have lots of salad greens so we’ll plan salad twice this week.
  4. Are there starches you’d like to include? This week I’m going to cook ahead some quinoa.
  5. Write it down!
  6. Get the items you don’t have at the grocery TODAY so you’re ready for the busy week. If you’re a coupon cutter, check the sale flyers and put those items into your plan.
  7. Plan in new/challenging foods if you need to work on variety in your diet!
  8. Repeat next week…

Not only does planning ahead help you stay in your pants, it can save you money! However, the greatest value of planning ahead is providing better fuel sources for health, work and play!

Check out these recipes for Crockpot Chicken, Nostalgia Soup and Fish Tacos to get you started!

#Diet IS a Four-Letter Word! Poor Maggie

Let me start by saying I recognize that obesity (another horrible word)  is major issue we are facing with adults and children. Are we going about it all wrong? If diets and diet products worked, would we be in this mess? If we ALL felt worthy of REAL FOOD, I think things could be very different. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Just the other day I was talking to a friend who has a two-year old daughter. One day last week her daughter came home from her two-year old class room having heard the word “diet.” Yes, friends–A TWO-YEAR OLD!! My friend was horrified and knew the child did not hear that word in her home. Did she hear it from the teacher or other students? The word “diet” could be used harmlessly like as description of how one eats. However, in the world I work in, it means not good enough. Diet, when you get to the root means I am not okay as I am. So what’s a two-year old to do, ask mom if she should diet? What does mom say then? Well, my friend did exactly what she should have. She ignored it even though she had a million questions in her mind about where, who, why, how. She didn’t give the word or situation any power instead, she chose to discuss it with the teacher in hopes that if the children or adults were using this word, they could stop it. In our culture, “diet” has become a common, expected and even welcomed word to some. Is this happening around you? Could you help stop it or change the conversation? “Diet,” the four-letter word, can be damaging especially when translated as not good enough…

I’m guessing you already know my opinion on the new children’s book Maggie Goes on a Diet. Maggie should NEVER have to hear the word diet…

Parental Influence in Eating Disorders…

Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN

A few weeks ago you may have seen an article titled, Children with Eating Disorders: Are Parents to Blame? by Judith Brisman, PhD. In the world of eating disorders, treatment professionals remain divided on this issue. I think the answer is… it depends. Fellow registered dietitian, Jill Castle, owner of Pediatric Nutrition of Green Hills in Nashville responds.

The environment a parent creates is the environment a child grows up in. This includes what kids eat, how they view food and their body, as well as how they deal with problems. As you know, research shows when it comes to food and attitudes about food and eating, parents are the strongest influence over a child, even in the face of growing outside influencers. If a parent diets, a child is more likely to diet; if a parent struggles with weight, a child is more likely to struggle with weight; and if a parent has a poor or negative relationship with food or his/her body, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This is the unspoken (or maybe spoken) environment a child is growing in.

While parental influence becomes diluted as a child ages, parents still wield a powerful influence, more than other outside factors. So how can we not assess/weigh the role of the parent and/or the environment created by the parent in the evolution of an eating disorder? This is not to say a parent causes an ED, but the environment and the interactions in that environment weigh in to form the child’s attitudes, beliefs and actions around food and eating (as well as other lifestyle behaviors). Even if a parent feels afraid or powerless to address suspicions or concerns for their child, isn’t that a contribution in and of itself?

I feel a great empathy for parents in today’s world—there is a lot of pressure to be a great parent, to raise smart achievers, and bring up healthy, great eaters who are at a healthy body weight (oh, and with no hang-ups about food)—those are some big shoes to fill. Meanwhile, our society does a very poor job of preparing parents for the job of parenthood, especially with regard to feeding kids (and I am not just talking about food here—but how to interact around feeding and food, what to say/how to answer and approach questions/concerns, why kids behave the way they do around food, and so on). And our society perseverates the thin ideal and “healthy” mantra, leaving parents to struggle with how to get their kids there. We expect great things from parents but we give them few tools; and parents are trying to achieve more and more in the world everyday, which takes away from their time to connect and interact with their kids.

While I don’t think it is useful to blame parents, parents are part of the puzzle—and if you don’t assemble all the pieces of the puzzle, you never get the complete picture/masterpiece.

Just my .02…

Jill

Thank you Jill for a very thoughtful response! If you’d like to read more from Jill, check out her wonderful blog, Just the Right Byte and follow @PediRD tweets on Twitter.