65: Raising Intuitive Eaters
The feedback about Nutrition Matters Podcast listeners' excitement for intuitive eating has been so much fun and so encouraging! Thank you for all your support and excitement for learning about a more gentle approach to nutrition and health.
Many listeners have written in asking for more episodes around the ideas of raising kids who are able to reject the dieting mentality and tune into their own body's needs. Because of all the great questions and requests I've gotten from listeners, I wanted to bring on my friend Anna Lutz to talk about her expertise in the area of helping kids maintain their innate ability to connect with their bodies throughout their whole lives.
Anna Lutz, MPH, RDN, LD, CEDRD specializes in eating disorders and pediatric/family nutrition. Anna received her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Duke University and Master of Public Health in Nutrition from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) and an Approved Supervisor both through the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (iaedp).
I was so honored to have the chance to sit down with Anna and hash out some of the most common questions I get from listeners and clients who wonder how to help their kids become intuitive eaters for life. Parents, teachers and any other adults who have children in their life that they love: listen in! You're going to love this episode.
Links mentioned in this episode:
Anna's website: http://lutzandalexander.com/
Positive Nutrition online course coming soon!
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Paige: Hey everyone! Thank you so much for joining me for another episode Nutrition Matters Podcast. My name is Paige Smathers and I’m your host. I am so excited to share with you this episode that I have for you today with Anna Lutz who is a Registered Dietitian in private practice. She specializes in eating disorders and pediatric family nutrition. We spend our time today talking all about how to raise healthy, intuitive eaters. That word healthy gets thrown around a lot. What we mean by healthy, is healthy on a mental level, on a physical level and just with a healthy well-balanced approach to nutrition. Rather than this numbers focused or rigid obsessive focus. Really from a holistic perspective of what makes us healthy people. A lot of that has a lot to do with how we are taught, how we are shown how to eat in our childhood. We spend today talking about what parents and teachers and other adults in children's lives can do to give their kids the very best chance possible to have a healthy relationship with food and to be able to tune into their own bodies and ignore that diet culture that’s out there and consumers so many. So, as a way of introducing Anna a bit more, it is important to know just how amazing she is. She has a bachelor's degree in Psychology from Duke University and a Master in Public Health and Nutrition from the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. She is a certified eating disorder registered dietitian and an approved supervisor through the international association of eating disorders professionals. She has had many, many year of experience both professional and personally about the topic at hand here. I’m really excited to share with you this episode because I have had so many people each out and say, “hey Paige, I love this information about how adults can improve their relationship with food and their bodies.” Lots of people have requested to hear more conversation about how parents, adults, caregivers and teachers can do a little bit better about helping to foster that healthy relationship with food from the beginning in our children. Before we get into the interview with Anna, I wanted to take a minute to let you know about something exciting that is coming up that you might want to participate in. On May 18 and 19, a Thursday and Friday, I am putting on three free live webinars. The webinar topic is ending the yo-yo dieting cycle. There are three different times and you can only join these webinars live, I will not be giving out a replay, we are just doing them live so that’s why there are three different options. . One is Thursday, May 18, at 12pm MST or 7pm MST. The next day, Friday morning at 9am MST I will be doing one more. So if you are interested in joining those webinars hop onto my website, www.paigesmathersrd.com/webinar and you can signup and register. I’ll be sending out information in the confirmation email and some reminder emails with information on how to join the webinar live. I would love to see you there. Hop on the website and join me live. I am so excited to interact with you guys. Make sure to hop on and do that. Lets see if I have any other announcements from you. I’ve heard from a few listeners they are having issues with the episodes, they keep pausing and they have to press start again. Let me know. If that’s a pattern listeners are experiencing, I will need to look into that and find out why that’s happening. I know that happens to some podcast that I listen too and it tends to get better if I walk away from the episode for a bit and come back to re-listen. I’m not sure if this is something on my end, the hosting end, iTunes. If you are having that issue let me know and I am happy to look into it and see if I can fix it and make it a little bit better. Please, please, please hop onto iTunes and leave a review That is something I really want to encourage you to do if you listen to this podcast. Please take a few minutes to help me out. You can do it straight from your podcast app. Hop onto the iTunes podcast app, search Nutrition Matters, click on ratings and review and leave me a review. It’s really super, super helpful and encouraging for me to read through those. It’s really helpful for me to know this is worth it and that people are getting some things out of it. So, if you have a moment please take some time to do that. Without further ado, I want you to just sit back and enjoy this episode with Anna who is just a wonderful person. For any parents, teachers, adults who have kids in their lives that they love, this episode is for you. I really hope you enjoy it. We are planning a part two in a couple months so be on the lookout for that one as well.
Paige: Anna Lutz welcome to the Nutrition Matters Podcast. Thank you so much for being here.
Anna: I am thrilled to be here. Nutrition education and how we raise our children around food is something I am so passionate about so I am thrilled to be talking to you about it.
Paige: I’m really passionate about it too. Right up front it is important to say we both have experience as registered dietitians but we also both are mothers. So tell us about your kids, how old they are. Anything that is pertinent about your own parenting experience.
Anna: I have three kids. They span a wide range of ages. I have a 10 year old girl, Miriam, a 7 year old boy, Isaac, and an almost 2 year old little girl, Vivian. Things are quite busy here. We have a tween, I guess, and then I am running around following a toddler.
Paige: Oh yeah, that is busy because that is two different stages for sure. But, maybe more similar than you might think.
Anna: Very true.
Paige: Sometimes the way my three and five year old acts is very teenager-ish. It’s a little scary. And they do say “threenager” don’t they. I love that phrase
Anna: I just heard that term yesterday. Someone referring to Vivian, she was stomping her foot just like my 10 year old does. It’s fascinating.
Paige: It’s more similar than different even though such different ages. It’s just like a developmental similar thing they go through, it seems like. Very funny. Anna, tell us about the work you do as a registered dietitian and then we will get in to talking about the topic today.
Anna: That sounds great. I specialize in eating disorders. I have a private practice in Raleigh, NC. Most of the work I do, in my private practice, is individual counseling, nutrition counseling for people with eating disorders. Teenagers, young adults, adults. I am very passionate about that work but I also, as part of my practice, work with parents of young children who have feeding issues. I really see that work as important but also the way parents approach how they might help a child resolve feeding issues could be protective in the long run against eating disorders. So, I feel like both parts of my work really influence the other.
Paige: Absolutely. I completely agree. That’s been my experience too. I never went into dietetics hoping to work with parents with kids who struggle. But once you start doing this work and become a parent yourself, you realize the way we raise our kids the way we talk to them, the way to teach them about nutrition or not teach them and the words we say, the example we set makes such a difference long term. You hear people say, “well, when I was five years old my parents put me on a diet. Everyone told me I was chubby” That type of thing and you see how that affects someone in their 40s, let’s say, and it really starts to get you fired up about parenting. That’s been my experience.
Anna: That’s so true. It really makes you pause and think, as a parent myself and as someone who is supporting parents, what can we be doing differently. We are all in the same diet culture. We are all a product of of culture, but what can we be doing to not pass that along to our children.
Paige: Then seeing you little ones, who you love more than anything, it’s so scary to see them go out into the world and the influence of that diet culture on such a young innocent person that you love so much. It’s really hard. Especially when you have that foresight of what a little comment can do. That’s not to make us all afraid or that we have to walk on eggshells around each other. But, increasing our sensitivity about how these comments we make, examples we set, what that does to a young mind. I think that’s sort of the goal of what we are trying to do today. Hey, let's give some parents and adults tips, ideas, things to think about and ponder over in their own lives. How can we make that dieting culture stop here in this generation and not continue on.
Anna: I totally agree. I think what you said is so key. Children’s minds process things differently. So, something we might say to another adult may be interrupted one way but when you say that to a nine year old, who has very concrete thinking, it can be interpreted very differently. That’s kind of my biggest message when I am talking to teachers or group of parents, is to think a fourth grader will process this differently than a thirty-five year old.
Paige: I was just talking to my dad about this on the phone the other day. He reminded me of a story I vaguely remember, this is definitely applicable to our conversation and might be good way to talk about the way little kids minds work. We were walking to Orchard Supply, which is like a Home Depot where I’m from. We were getting some things for the house and I always liked to be his helper. There was a man outside Orchard Supply smoking a cigarette. I don’t remember how old I was probably 8-10, and of course in that age you’ve picked up messages at school that smoking is bad for you and your help. He reminded that I said, “dad did you see that bad man out there smoking a cigarette?’ He stopped me, looked me right in the eye, got down on my level and said, “Paige smoking cigarettes does not make you a bad person.” When he told met that story it came back to me and I remembered him saying that. It was an important mind blowing experience for such a black and white brain to say, oh, maybe it’s not our behaviors or choices always that make us bad or good people. Maybe it’s more complex than that. Maybe there is more nuance to it. When he told me that story my mind immediately went to when we use good food and bad food language when we are trying to “teach” about nutrition, that’s the exact same thing that happens in a kids mind. I am good if I eat this, I am bad if I eat that. Or, you are good or bad if you eat those things. They just can’t handle the difference between a good and bad person verses good and bad food, right?
Anna: Absolutely! We know developmental elementary age children are black and white thinkers and they can’t. I love your example, by the way. I think that is such a fabulous example that removes it from the food piece. You can see it in this way that, that was how your little mind processed it. Your young mind processed it. It took this extra clarification. I think some children even take it a step further, if a teacher teaches them this food is good and this food is bad then what does it mean if my mom is feeding me that food. This person I trust and love, how confusing that is for a child.
Paige: So true! It kind of creates this lack of trust or this angst in a young person's mind to think, why would my mom do that to me or why would my dad feed me that. That is such an important thing to think about. I think we need to say right up front, the intention of people, teachers, educators, adults in general trying to teach about nutrition is the best of intentions. There is no one out there trying to cause any type of issues for kids in that way. I’m sure there are maybe some people. But in general, I O think it’s just the best of intentions. The struggle is not really understanding how that one little interaction with that adult can build this entire narrative of shame around food that can cycle, in the worse case, into an eating disorder. These are things you and I see every day and that’s why we don’t feel extreme in saying those types of things because we see it. It’s real. It’s there in Raleigh. It’s here in Salt Lake City. It’s all over.
Anna: You got it. I absolutely agree. I always like to clarify, I don’t believe that every child that receives that message would develop an eating disorder. There are some children it would have no impact. It would wash over them, these lessons of good and bad food. There are some children that hearing those messages of “good and bad food” it may make those “bad foods” more appealing to them. Then there are other children that might become fearful. We don’t know when we are talking to a group of children the sensitivity these children come to the classroom with or to the clinical office with. I always like to clarify that, even if it’s going to help one child, as you said no teach wants to do any harm. They are only wanting to help children. That’s why they have a very, very hard profession. They’ve chosen to be in this hard profession. Most people, when they talk about nutrition, I believe, in general, they are approaching it from a place of what they’ve been taught or what their beliefs about weight and nutrition is. We have a lot of work to do to kind of educate about that. Maybe questioning your own biases about that or learning more about how ten year olds or five year olds mind’s work.
Paige: I think it is important to say right out in the front, as well, is that we are talking to teachers, parents, anyone who has significant interactions with little ones. Whether it’s starting at a very young age up all the way through teenage years. These messages we’re going to be talking about today really how do we raise kids who feel confident in their body, who feel comfortable eating a wide variety of foods, don’t stress too much about what they are eating. I want to make sure everyone who is listening feels they are welcome here to listen. Yes, there are teachers but also parents. Parents do the same type of thing with the best of intentions and it can really backfire, in some cases. It’s not always the best approach to hardwire this “good and bad food” language into a young child’s brain.
Anna: Absolutely. I think parents sometimes feel stuck. They might understand some of these messages can be harmful and they are hearing these other messages from doctors. Sometimes I think, not knowing what to do, parents feel stuck and often times when they are asking people like you or me, “what is the best way.” This is such a great platform for that. That parents can listen to your podcast and hear that there is a way to approach this that truly is healthy.
Paige; Yes, exactly. That is the exact goal of this. I think it would be most helpful to outline quickly some of the biggest, I don’t know if we want to call it mistakes, but some of the biggest things that make you cringe when you hear a parent talk about nutrient education with their kid or when you talk to a teacher and hear what has been said in the classroom. What are some of the biggest things that just kind of make you say, “oh, I wish you knew this other way”?
Anna: Oh, I love that question. The thing that pops into my mind first is how we talk about, as adults, parents and other adults who have interaction with children, is how we talk about our own bodies. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things. Referring to our own bodies derogatorily in front of children or talking about our own diets, needing to do this differently or [saying] “I was bad today”. I think they can have a huge influence on little listening ears.
Paige: Can I comment on that one really quick? I think one of the biggest eye-opening things about why that is a problem, is that it sends a message to a child that inevitable, at some point in my life, I will have to do this same thing. And/or it sets this… I’ll just be open here. If I can analyze where my body image issues stem from, a lot of it was from this adult fear of fat that I absorbed just observing the adults in my life talking about other people, talking about their own bodies and just really feeling in my little brain that the worst thing that could possibly happen to me is me getting fat, so I need to do everything I can to not. It wasn’t necessarily comments made directly to me. It was simply hearing those types of messages. A lot of times it’s this inevitable fear of, that’s going to happen to me and that’s the worst thing ever so I might as well start working on that now as a really young kid type of thing
Anna: I think you are exactly right. I love how you make the point it may not even be about a parent’s body or a child's body, it could just be how someone is talking about another person's body. Whether it’s just on tv or someone in your community. That can really has an influence on a sensitive child so that is something to really think about.
Paige: Are there any other things that are huge red flags or things that make you cringe?
Anna: Yes, something we’ve already talked about is the “good food, bad food”. I always like to go a step further that nowadays there are euphemisms for “good food, bad food” that people use. They might call them “Red Light, Green Light foods”. Sometimes, “Never” foods. There is so much talk about not using the terms “Good” and “Bad” that a lot of times people like us, dietitians, might come up with other terms. I think a really smart, sensitive child knows what that means. That a “Red light, Green light” food has the same message put across. I think we can teach children that there are some food we eat more often. There are some foods we eat less often. We do that through modeling. They see that day in and day out by the food we offer them. The foods we buy at the grocery store and we don't need to put words to it.
Paige: Yeah, that was actually going to be my next question because I can understand why, if someone is listening, and thinking, “wait a minute, we are not suppose to teach our kids about nutrition. What is this lady talking about?” I want to make sure we hit on that. So, anyone listening please stick around. We are going to give you some tools and ideas for actual practical things to do. Does that sound fair? Leave a bookmark right there and we will come back to that one. That’s an important one.
Anna: I agree. It’s not about not teaching them, it about teaching them age appropriate things. As they get older we build on it, just like anything we are teaching our children.
Paige: Yeah, and a lot of times they will come to you with stuff they learned and questions they have and you can then clarify too. At least, that’s been my experience with my five year old. It’s actually worked really well and I’m excited to talk about that. What are some other things? I know we could probably send a whole podcast episode talking about some of these things that make us cringe.
Anna: Another one that I have heard come home from school with my children, specifically was from my son last year, he came home really distraught that I was to make sure he was getting 60 minutes of exercise each day. And, this is a little boy that does not stop moving. He will eat his breakfast and spend the rest of the time in the morning outside shooting baskets or running around until it’s time for school. He barely stops moving when he is supposed to be sitting in his seat at school. He plays soccer and t-ball. This is someone who is moving his body much more than 60 minutes a day. But, he was so concerned that this was not something I made sure he did to stay healthy. We got to have a long talk about that. That some adults need to set aside a very specific time because what they do with their day is sitting in a chair, that’s my job as a dietitian. I’m not moving a lot while I am meeting with a client. But a child, their job is to have fun and their bodies what to move and it’s not something he needs to worry about. It’s something I make sure he has those opportunities, whether it’s in his free time or organized things he enjoys. But, that’s a message that’s a great message for adults in some ways, depending on how it’s worded, can be really confusing.
Paige: Yeah, can you talk about why that’s confusing? I definitely know where you are going with this, but for the listener who might not be well versed in this world they might be like, “what’s wrong with telling a kid that”. So just talk for a second why that irks you.
Anna: Because he’s a child. The last thing I want is for him to worry about checking off minutes of exercise and then it becomes a chore and something he doesn’t like to do. Since it’s something that feels forced or he has too. So instead, if I’m as the parent, making sure he has the opportunities to move his body and have fun then it’s something that he’s learning just by experience that’s it’s something that is important to him. Rather, than this very intellectual “this is what you have to do everyday”, I don’t think will foster in the long run a love for movement. Which I think the ultimate goal is. By telling a child you need 60 minutes of exercise, I think, the goal is to raise healthy, active individuals. I absolutely think the intention there is right on, but it’s the message that a six or seven year old would interpret that.
Paige: I’ve actually had my five year old say, “I need to get my exercise.” I try to just not make it a big deal by saying, “oh, don’t say that!” Instead I say, “you riding your bike, playing with friends is all moving your body. You don’t need to worry about that.” You just don’t want them to have that on their minds. There are so many more fun and important things for them to be focusing on and thinking about.
Anna: Absolutely. And, by experience they are learning it. I’m not saying let’s not teach our children that but we are just teaching them the importance of movement in a different way.
Paige: You know what I think the theme with parenting, at least for me, is to decrease the pressure around things. The more pressure, the more of a power struggle, control struggle there is going on the worse it becomes. I think that fits right in there too where we don’t want to make exercise and movement something we put pressure on. Like you said, it’s a natural thing, especially for a child, to love to move their body and to play. We don’t need to put pressure on that, it can happen naturally just fine. As long as you give your child the opportunities, like you said. Don’t have them in front of a screen all day and things like that. Anything else coming to mind Anna or should we move on to the next thing?
Anna: Those are the three that really come to mind.
Paige: I’ll say one other. Specific numbers, it’s just really inappropriate to talk about appropriate weight with a child, calories. I think the minutes of exercise fits into that category too. I actually think adults don’t do very well with specific numbers either. Here’s a silly analogy, if you are on social media, lets say professional media, you can compare how many people like you verses someone else who does your same work. I don’t think humans are meant to compare numbers in that regard. It messes with your head. Do you know what I am saying?
Anna: Absolutely! That’s so true. We act that way with adults and I think that’s natural but with a child how confusing it is….my weight is this and my friends weight is that…when so much of weight is determined by our genetics.
Paige: Absolutely. My little five year old is a solid ball of muscle. We have a neighbor down the street who she loves to play with, who is older, who just has a naturally thin body. I’ve picked them both up to smell the flowers on the tree last Spring and remember thinking, “wow, they weigh about the same” In that moment it all hit me, that’s the type of body I had as a kid. Of course I was going to weigh more than some of my friends but I totally internalized that as, “Oh no, there is something wrong with me. I’m not worthy of love. All these things.” That just gets so confusing, the whole numbers things. I would encourage it to not be about calories, weight and minutes of exercise. Instead make it about tuning into your body. What was the other thing you thought of Anna?
Anna: I’ll be curious to hear what you think of this. When I’m talking with groups of parents or teachers about how to approach meal times, a big one that comes up is should I make my child finish all their vegetables on their plate in order to have the, you name it…dessert or the next thing. This is often something that creates a lot of discussion in the things I do. My short answer is, offer the variety of foods, offer the vegetables and not make them eat it and not make them eat a certain amount. That expose, as you probably know, is what over time is going to help this child eat a variety of foods. People have different views usually coming into it, but I usually ask, “can I ask the audience, were you forced to eat something as a child?” There is always someone who has story about being forced to eat something, typically green beans or something else. Forced to stay at the table to eat all my green beans and I always ask that person, do you eat green beans now, I’ve always, so far, the answer is no because they have this very strong memory of being forced to eat that certain food. So, I really encourage people step back and think about what the goal is. Do we want the child to eat the green beans today or do we want an 18 year old that is about to go off into the world who is willing to eat a variety of foods? If we can think about our goal in the long run, then maybe we can shift how we do things.
Paige: I love that, Anna. I think this is a good segway to move on. We’ve talked about the negative things we see that make us cringe. I’ll add one more, don’t put kids on a diet. No, no, no, no, no!! I think that’s like, duh, hopefully, but incase it’s not. But for those who are listening, it’s never a good idea. By diet we mean, clean eating, paleo, any type of diet that kind of tries to disguise itself as not being a diet. Those are all diets and your kids will all pick up on negative messaging about themselves, their body, food, morality, all of this when you approach it that way. I love what you were saying about the vegetables and I get this questions a bunch. Let’s discuss it because I loved what you said. I want to add my thought and then hear your thoughts back and forth because this is a really important one for parents and teachers to hear. I think that idea of not enforcing the rule to eat certain amount of things to get a treat, I really agree with. I think it works best in the right type of environment, when there is a bunch of pressure about food and this palpable knowledge that “if you eat this, then you are a good kid and if you don’t eat this then you not or it makes mom happy or makes dad sad.” If there is all this manipulations behind vegetables that a child can pick up on, I don’t think that tends to work very well. So in order for you to give permission for your child to say no about the vegetable or whatever is on the plate, there has to be this culture setup of, “it’s okay if you don’t choose that, we don’t really care” but we are setting the example we all sit down together, you have to keep the plate in front of you while the rest of the family is finishing, you are going to see mom, dad and siblings enjoying all the foods on their plate and you are going to be the weird at the table who doesn’t like it. That in itself often encourages a child to try it. Without the right environment or culture around the permission to say no, I think it can tend to be, ‘well, I don’t have to eat it so I won’t have to try it” Am I making sense or am I just rambling?
Anna: I think you are making perfect sense. I think that structure, that supports is absolutely key to help a child move along and try different foods. That’s kind of what, earlier when you made that bookmark, those are the kind of things people can do. We can talk a lot about the things not to do but what a great example of the things we can do. We can create pleasant eating times, parents and children sitting at the table, having a balanced meal, children learning what a meal looks like. Like you said, people teaching we are going to have manners, we are not going to throw food on the floor or fuss about the green beans being on the plate. I think that structure is so key and that is what people say, will it work? Well, what works is, it does kind of work, meaning kids eat a variety of foods if they have this structure that is set up.
Paige: Yeah and just the other day I was talking to someone who is really newly sensitize to the whole intuitive eating approach and kind of trusting you body and really loving that approach as an adult but a little bit confused what that means for her children and trying to navigate this tricky space of, well, “I’m giving you unconditional permission to eat but there has to be some boundaries and guidelines so that I am teaching you at the same time what a balanced meal looks like and that maybe too many sweets feels like in you body.” Does that make sense? She’s actually struggling with some other people who are in the eating and feeding environment on a regular basis taunting, well not taunting, what’s the right word, encouraging, oh well,I can’t think of the word, where they are trying to get the child to eat the food and they are hanging it in front of their face and…
Paige: Yes, coercing, thank you! They are chorusing the kid through bribery, whether it’s bribery for dessert or for some type of thing they want. Again, that is a really well-intentioned behavior from adults, but what that tends to do for a people-pleasing child personality that’s like, oh, well this makes mom happy so I’m just going to do it. I’m not going to think about what my body is telling me if I’m full or whatever. For the rebellious child it’s like, well, you want me to do that, well I won’t. It just increases that pressure and makes it so hard for the child to know what I really want or what am I just doing because I am in reaction to the way the adults in my life are reacting.
Anna: I think it kind of goes back to, what is our goal and like you said well-intentioned parents really think that kind of coercing behavior helps. Like you are saying with most personalities of children, it doesn’t. How are we supposed to know that except if we really stop to think about it and meet with someone like you. I think the message we get from the general population is those tactics do work.
Paige: You know what, let me ask you this question? Let me give you a scenario and see what you would say. Let’s say you have rice, broccoli and chicken on your plate for dinner. The kid obviously loves the rice, if they are anything like my kids. They eat all the rice and have broccoli and chicken still on their plate. Then they say, “Can I have more rice?” How do you handle that?
Anna: I’m a big proponent of Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility.
Paige: Right, we actually should have said in beginning. Please go ahead and explain that. That’s an important thing.
Anna: Fabulous. Ellyn Satter is a registered dietitian and a therapist who’s done fabulous work and research about childhood feeding. She has a model called The Division of Responsibilities in Feeding, where the parents have certain jobs and the children have certain jobs. So me, as the parent I decide what is for dinner, so that’s the what. We are going to have chicken, broccoli and rice for dinner. I decide the when. Dinner is about 6pm-6:30pm. And I decide the where. We are going to have dinner at the table. Once I’ve done those jobs, which are no easy task, I get everyone to the table, I get the food to the table. Then I need to stop take a deep breath realize I’ve done my job and let the children do their job, which is to decide if they are going to eat certain foods and how much. So, I’ve set up this structure to create an environment to help them listen to their body and to try new foods and to trust their little bodies will do the rest of it. That’s a long answer to your question, but if they eat a bunch of rice and want more I would pass the rice to them and let them have more because they are deciding the how much. Always, the next question is, “What if they never try broccoli?”
Paige: That’s what I was going to say. The listeners are going to say, “well, don't you care that they get their protein and their vegetables?” So what do you say to that?
Anna: I absolutely care, but we all know that nutrition does not all have to be at one certain meal. I really know the way children’s bodies work. They are going to get what they need overtime as long as I am setting up that structure for them. So, they might only eat rice for dinner tonight, but tomorrow, if I set up the structure they are going to get the protein they need or the vitamins they need from other fruits and vegetables. And, I might not offer rice for dinner tomorrow night since I get to decide the what. So, if I know if I always serve rice for dinner that won't help them move along and try new foods so I’m going to offer different things.
Paige; Someone listening is thinking, “yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s great for your kids because you are a registered dietitian, blah, blah, blah, your kids are probably way easier than mine. Not my kid. My kid is picky. If I let my kid just eat the starch on the plate every night, that’s all they would do.” Sorry, I’m pushing you, but just one more step. What would you say to that person?
Anna: I do say, you’re right, every child is different. But, what I know is that making a child eat something is not going to help them be a varied eater or not be a picky eater. So making them eat a certain amount of food or making them eat the chicken or broccoli, in the long run, all the research shows that is not going to help them not be picky. What we do know will help a child not be picky is really setting up this structure of the Division of Responsibility. For a picky eater, it’s going to take a while. That’s what so hard. I really note that. It’s hard to sit on your hands or bit your lip when you child is not eating the vegetable you know in your mind is so important. If you can really hold that space for them and that structure and not pressure them. Even the most sensitive child, or picky eater, slowly at their own pace will move along. It’s really hard because we could be talking years.
Paige: You know what. I love that. That’s such a good message and I have a few thoughts. One of them is, our bodies like averages and that’s a helpful mantra for adults as it is for kids. So if you have a meal as an adult you just eat rice for dinner, okay, not a big deal, move on with life. Because, yes eventually you will get that protein and other macronutrients and food groups that you need. It’s really not about perfection at every meal for yourself or for you child.One thing that I’ve noticed in my kids that’s helpful, again this might be a personality thing, if they said, “I don’t like broccoli or I don’t want to eat the broccoli” sometimes I say stuff like, “ okay, well I understand how that goes. When I was little I didn’t like some things but as I got older I started to like more things. So, it’s important to keep trying it because when you get older sometimes you like different things.” That works well for my kids because they kind of want to be old, cool and mature. That just sets them up for, “oh, liking this is kind of a cool thing? Okay, I’ll do that”.
Another thought I had when you were talking was, this works so much better within the structure, again we have already said this, within the structure of the family sits down together for dinner, maybe at the minimum hopefully, for the meal the parents and other siblings set the example of “I like the chicken and broccoli. This is good!” You don’t necessarily need to stay that loud but you show that through the way that you act.
Anna: Absolutely, that modeling. It could be modeling of the parents or other siblings. It really makes me think about my children. My oldest is a really outgoing, gregarious person who loves new situations and loves talking to new people. I really believe our personality is reflective in how we eat. That’s a general statement. She’s never been a picky eater, she was more picky during those picky years 2-4,2-5, 2-6 years, but how she is 10 and eating a variety of foods. And then my son is a bit more reserved and more cautious of new situations. He has always been more cautious about food. He’s just turned seven. When he was four his intake, variety wise, was quite limited. He all these years has seen his older sister eating a variety of foods and I do think that has helped him. Also, time and age has really helped him come along.
Paige: That’s a great story and good for parents to hear. We are two registered dietitians and we really don’t have perfect eaters. Maybe there is no such thing as a perfect eater because his cautious nature is probably one of his most beautiful strengths and most beautiful parts of who he is. My five year old, one of the most beautiful parts of who she is, is she is super intense and sometimes that is really hard to deal with as a parent. But, when you think about that trait, that’s a really cool thing and that can’t help but come out in the feeding relationship. So, when you get frustrated with the whole parenting, feeding your kids situation I think it’s important to recognize there is no perfect eating, they will figure this out, let’s keep the stress down, let’s do what we can as a parent to do our job, let them do their job, divide up that responsibility like you were talking about, set up the structure in the environment in such a way that they know food is coming, they trust they are going to feel full and satisfied and they know they are not going to be pressured. That is sort of how I would sum up this way to foster an intuitive eater, if you want to call it that, or if you want to call it a normal eater, functional eater, happy eater. One thought I would add to the structure idea and I want to hear your ideas on this, Anna, I bet you have some really great ones. I realized quickly the importance of table rules and I don’t know if this is something I was every taught or it came to me through experience of parenting. It is so much easier to get your kids to try things, first off all when they show up hungry that is sort of a rule and part of the idea of the division of responsibility where there is regular, planned meals and snacks. You don’t offer milk and juice in between meal. You don’t offer snacks just on a grazing basis throughout the day. You really have planned, scheduled, intentional snacks and meals. So, letting them how up to the dinner table hungry is really important and having some of those table rules. Our two big ones are, you have to be polite, you can refuse to eat but you can’t be rude about it nor can you talk negatively about the food. Because we all know when the older sibling says that, what does the younger sibling do…they won’t eat it. Which is ultra annoying! You have to be polite and the next one is you have to stay in your chair throughout the whole meal until everybody else is done. The third one is you can refuse to eat but the entire plate of food, the “what”, which is my job, stays in front of you. Basically, what that means in adult translations is, they have to stare at the food they don’t “want to eat” the whole meal to be exposed to it. I believe that is part of that expose, looking at it for the entire meal. What are you table rules?
Anna: I love how you are thinking about it because what you are teaching your children is manners and that is part of that structure. Let me think, our rules are similar to yours. We are not going to complain about what we are eating, even if it’s directed towards someone else like, “I can’t believe you are eating that.” We are not going to make negative comments about food. They need to sit at the table until they are excused. Something I do talk to parents about and I’m curious about your thoughts on this, young children really can not sit through a 20-30 minute meal. It’s just not in their skill set if they are a two or three year old. For some children, each child is different. Sometimes when we talk about family meals people picture we are at this beautifully set table, we’ve used recipes to fix the meal and they all need to sit there for this long drawn-out meal. So, I would really like to clarify for people if a three year old comes to the table, does their very best with eating and you can really tell they are done, you might excuse a three year old earlier if they just can’t sit still in their seat but have followed the other rules. I think that’s important to mention.
Paige: Yes, I think that’s an important point. There are times that’s appropriate, especially if you have guest over and everyone is having this nice leisurely mean together as adults, the kids spend 15 minutes working on their food and want to go play. At least, for us that’s what tends to happy more than when it’s just our family. We tend to get in, get out, do the dishes, go to bed, hustle, hustle. We are not doing this leisurely meal every night.
Anna: And it’s not after gourmet either.
Paige: Nope, definitely not.
Anna: The way our family does it is, and I have a little bit older children, but we serve it family style so that the child decides if it is going to go on their plate. This is different for every family, but it’s something for listeners out there to think about. A very sensitive child having a food on their plate that they are not ready to eat can feel like pressure. For some people it doesn’t. That definitely having the food on the table and being offered, again, it’s different approaches. Anytime I am talking about this structure I feel like it is so important to honor every family is different. People parent in different ways. I’ve had people say, I’m not going to dirty up extra bowls. I’ve going to serve from the stove top and that’s fine too. As long as you are offering it. “Hey honey, how much spaghetti sauce do you want onto of you spaghetti?”
Paige; Sometimes, letting them serve themselves too can be a game changer. For vegetables, in particular, but for food in general. When a kid feels that autonomy of, “oh, I get to put this on my plate.” or “I get to pour the milk.” It can be a little bit extra exciting and feed that need for the autonomy piece that we often fight over so much.
Anna. I totally agree. When they were younger, I loved to tell my kids even if they put it on their plate I wasn’t going to sit there and make them eat it. So they felt like they at least had that space to try something new, even if that meant it was going on their plate. Often times they would try it but if they felt, “oh if I put this on my plate my mom is going to make me eat it”, it might be another barrier.
Paige: yes, great thought. So earlier we bookmarked talking about the idea of what is this gentle balance of you want to teach your kids about nutrition and make sure they know what balance means and know how to eat a vegetable, know all these things. Parents, especially right now in our current world we are concerned about these things. We want to raise healthy eaters but we kind of said, let’s make sure to hit on that specifically later. So, what are you best tips on sticking that balance of teaching about nutrition without harming. As we have outlined, there are some tricky things kids can pick up on that maybe are not in their best interest.
Anna: Probably the biggest thing I think about is we are teaching children about nutrition everyday by our modeling. By having set meal and snack times. By offering fruits and vegetables at most of those times. We are teaching them, it’s just in a really different way than our words. So, I hope that message can be empowering for a lot of parents. They can stop and think, “yeah, I am doing that. It’s not that I need to sit down and give my child a lesson.” So much can be taught through that modeling. The next thing I think about is thinking about messages being age appropriate. A preschool, lower elementary age children, their concrete brains might not be ready to learn about every single nutrient in a food, but they can start to learn about there are fruits and vegetables. That food fits in different food groups and they give us different nutrients. We can teach these things without that value attached...these foods are better, these foods are worse because that takes that a more abstract, grown-up brain to comprehend.
Paige: Great thought. What about the things you can’t help as a parent? Maybe you are totally on board keeping the food neutral, setting the example, offering, Division of Responsibility and you are like, I am good to go, I am educated, I am doing my thing. Your kids aren’t always in your sight and sometimes pick up messages from friends, school, whatever it might be that it does assign some of that morality around food. I am just very interested to hear what you would do. Do you want me to give you a specific scenario?
Paige: What if your kid comes home from school and not that I am speaking from experience, wink, wink, and comes home with this cute little place mat with a plate glued to it. With the plate divided up into four equal parts, a starch, a protein, a fruit, a vegetable and a glass of milk on the side. To be honest, I don't’ really have a problem with that. I think that is a cool visual and great for kids to understand what could go on their plate. But, what I did struggle with was the messaging of, yeah mom I learned about healthy food and is this a healthy food, this is not a healthy food. As I was feeding her the next few meals, after that, she would ask, “Is this a healthy food, is this a healthy food?” Again, a listener might be saying, “what is wrong with a kid saying, is this a healthy food?” Well, what’s wrong with that is that morality. It’s assigning good verses bad, a right and a wrong, a should and a should not to food. When we all know if we are being reasonable, we are all going to eat cake in our lives. We all know we are going to eat ice cream. So if we are setting our kids up to think that’s bad, we are going to do it. It’s not like we are never going to do the “bad” thing, so let's not make it bad because it’s really not bad. So, I had a way that I dealt with that but I wanted to heard what your ideas are.
Anna: I have certainly been in this situation many times. I will usually say things like, “mommy has that covered. That’s not something you need to worry about.” I think if it was a young child I would say something like that. Or I might say something like, “of course this is healthy. Mommy is always feeding you a healthy food. Everything that we eat gives you energy.” Kind of that reassurance that I have this covered and it’s not something they need to stress about. The third approach I’ve tried, and honestly I’m always trying this out. I don't’ feel like I know the answer. If my daughter says, “Mommy, did you know ice cream is bad for you?” She is a little older but we talk about how it’s probably not a good idea to have ice cream all the time. If I eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner I would certainly not be getting everything I needed. But, if I did the same thing with anything. If I ate apples for dinner and apples for lunch, apples for breakfast I would be missing out on some really important nutrients. It’s not just about this certain food. It’s about our body needs all different foods. Now, that is a little bit older thing for someone to grasp. The child might need to be a bit older.
Paige: You know what though, that’s actually what I did and she was 4 and she loved that. I actually heard her repeat that to a friend later. I heard her say, “our bodies need all kinds of foods for us to be healthy.” The way I explained it was, to be healthy, it’s really silly to call a food healthy or a food not healthy because any food we eat all the time wouldn’t be healthy for us. It would hurt our stomachs.” I had this example where I was feeding her grapes for lunch and she asked for more, I said no, she asked why and I said too many grapes will hurt your stomach. She said, “oh, okay, i get that”. Then I gave her a piece of halloween candy and she said can I have more and I said no, I think you’re good. Again she asked why and I said, “Too many halloween candies can hurt your stomach.” This happened two minutes apart and this moment of, “oh that’s exactly how you teach kids and that’s exactly how you teach adults.” Your body will communicate to you if you’ve had too much but the truth is, it’s a little bit easier to eat too many halloween candies than it is to eat too many grapes or too many carrots. It’s kind of a natural thing to say, “I'm done eating carrots.” It’s easy to keep going and going with things like chips and cake. That doesn’t make chips and cake bad, it just makes them a little bit easier to eat enough that it hurts your stomach. That’s sort of how I explained it to her. We are healthy, food isn’t necessarily healthy or not. We are healthy as a result of what we eat over time. Our bodies need all different kinds of food to be healthy. So when we try to say one food is healthy and one food isn't, that's not really the way it is. She said, yeah that makes sense. I loved it. It was nice to hear her tell someone else, maybe it was our younger daughter. She absorbed that message and that helped me because at first my blood started to boil, ahhh, all my hard work of being so neutral is being undone. But, I think as parents we don’t need to be afraid of having some of those conversations with our kids and saying, “I know how that goes, I can see why your teacher said that. Let’s talk about what’s going to be the most helpful thing for us and why we approach it this way.” I even told my little one this is what I do for work. This is what I help people with. Anyway, i’ve rambled a lot. Hopefully some of that made sense.
Anna: It’s all so true. I think having this open, honest conversation is the way to go. Our children are going to hear all different messages but about anything, right, not just nutrition. But, if they are hearing a pretty set way at home, comforting philosophy they are going to be able to sort it out.
Paige: Right, I think it’s nice to not feel this pressure to never have someone apply good and bad language to food. It’s not terrible when that happens, when a child can come home and feel comfortable to ask you about it. That’s true for everything in parenting. You teach them one way and then they go out into the world,learn other things, bring it back and say let’s talk about that. I think they are really smart, really resilient and we can do that. We can talk to them about it.
Paige: How do you feel like we have done trying to talk about this whole idea of raising intuitive eaters who are connected to their bodies and not all wrapped up in the diet culture. What else would you want to say that we haven’t touched on?
Anna: I think we’ve done a great job giving an overview. I would say more than anything I would love for listeners to hear, is that there’s truly not a wrong or right way. A lot of times, I get concerned, as I am talking about this, that it can be perceived as, I have to have family meals every night. The thought, really thinking about these things and how it might apply to your family in your life, that’s where the value is. I think where we are right now with weight and nutrition sometimes we just take the diet message and feel like that’s what we should be doing. So just stopping and thinking, is that what I should be doing with my children. If I’m not going to do that, what would work in my family? More than anything, I would love to say to the listeners there isn't one way to do it.
Paige: Anna that is so important. Here we are talking about basically trying to help your kids grow up to be intuitive eaters, reject the dieting mentality, love themselves and connect to their body. Now, if we are trying to teach that in a very rule based format we are not really setting the example of tapping into your own intuition. I think of all things, parenting is equal parts knowledge with intuition. Listeners do need to feel free to take a minute, close your eyes, go inside and determine what’s working, what’s not. What do you viscerally feel good about and what do you viscerally feel is not good? Maybe that is a little different than what we have talk about today. Maybe something feels the right thing for your family is different from what we’ve said. That does not mean that’s wrong. We are just trying to speak from professional, personal, research, experience and talk about, in general, what might be good things to think about. What might be areas to steer clear from. Definitely, the message of empowering the parent or the adult to really do what’s right in their own particular situation is so,so important. I am glad you brought that up.
Anna: It can be highlighted as the way I approach food at my house in North Carolina is different from your house in Utah. And neither one is right or wrong. It’s unique to the children that we have and the family structure that we have. Or even between two dietitians that feel really strongly about intuitive eating and raising children that can tune in. We probably do things differently and that’s absolutely okay.
Paige: Yes, so anyone listening don’t get too caught up in feeling like this is rigid or rules or anything along those lines. Don’t fall into that perfectionist mindset that we try to walk away when we are talking about these things. Really listen in, experiment, see what different things do in terms of behavior in your family and structure. See what works. I love that message. I think that’s a good place to end on, Anna. Thank you so much for bringing that up.
Anna: I really appreciate you having me here today.
Paige: Thank you so much for all of this. I wanted to talk about other topics too and bring in more things, but I think even with all that we’ve said today, we could keep going for six more hours. There is so much nuance and so many different situation that people have ran into that are tricky with feeding relationships. Hopefully, we have done a good job scratching the surface and helping to empower parents to feel really confident in approaching food and the feeding situation. I think the body image piece is something I was hoping we would talk about, but we didn't have time today. I think maybe you should come on again, if you are willing to do a part two, and talk about how to raise body positive kids. So much of what we eat is dependent on how we feel about our bodies and I think that’s a really important thing to include in our equation of creating a healthy happy eater.
Anna: I would love that! That’s a great part 2.
Paige: Anna, let the listeners know how they can get in touch with you.
Anna: You can go to our website, www.lutzandalexander.com . You can see our other contact information there. I’ve available, even if you just have questions about what we’ve talked about today.
Paige: Perfect! I will add a link to that [in the show notes] so it’s easier for people to head on over to your website. Thanks Anna, this was lovely to connect with you. Thanks so much for your help in joining me today on this podcast
Anna: Thank you, Paige. It was an honor to talk with you and share this passion.
Paige: I sincerely hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you haven't already, please leave a review on iTunes. Thanks again so much for listening. We’ll see you soon for another episode.