The other day was “International No Diet Day”. Maybe some of you missed that day or had never heard of it before. In the field of nutrition it’s a day to call attention to simply eating healthy and ditching the sole focus on losing weight – as we often put too much weight on weight. The word diet over the years has been often associated with weight loss – “Grapefruit Diet”; “Cabbage Soup Diet”, etc. But the word diet in essence simply means:
/'dīət/ - the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.
Food, your diet, is your fuel. I always teach patients to aim for high caliber fuel to help them to be happy and healthy. The key is practicing variety, balance, and moderation. I encourage patients to aim to get rid of the terminology that we often associate with food being “good” or “bad”. There is no such thing as good and bad when it comes to food. Maybe there’s a healthier choice, but the fact is that we have to include foods that ultimately bring us pleasure, without associating guilt if consuming those foods.
Mother’s Day is a time each year for us to be thankful for everything our moms have taught us. It might also be a time of year to reflect on maybe what they didn’t teach us and what maybe we wish they might have – and if you are currently a mom what you hope to instill in your own kids. It gets tougher and tougher each year to navigate the world of nutrition as there as so many mixed messages as well as this “diet” obsessed culture. Kids these days will be bombarded with many mixed messages, be it from their peers, adults, or even now from social media. So in honor of Mother’s Day here is some advice to pass on to your children:
Balance: I think my mom had a good balance in allowing us to feel like “normal” kids in the neighborhood. We had hot dogs growing up and while I know she probably cringed giving those to us she also made sure that we had a vegetable with that meal. It actually turned in to one of our favorite ways to eat hot dogs, otherwise known as “slaw dogs” (homemade coleslaw on top of our hotdog). It was the subtle message that all foods can fit, but also allowing us to be kids at the end of the day. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t eating hot dogs every time we asked for them. Hot dogs were for special occasions. The other way we were taught balance was simply by all that my mom was balancing – going to school, being a mom, cooking dinner for us. I sometimes wondered how she did all that she did in a day. She made sure to make dinner for us to make sure we were getting the proper nutrition to do well in school and be healthy. Life is truly a balancing act.
Variety: The sky is the limit when it comes to food preparation. Back to the number one complaint I get from parents: “What can I do to get my kid to eat vegetables?” This is where variety is critical. If you offer the same vegetables over and over it’s a given they’re not going to like vegetables. There are TOO many vegetables for a kid (or an adult for that matter) to tell me they don’t like ANY. Find the ones they do like and continue to build from there. Encourage them to find a new vegetable at the store and figure out how to prepare it. And always remember even with the same vegetable there can be variety in how you prepare it - Raw carrots versus cooked carrots. Some kids might prefer them raw, but the minute you cook them they might gag. I always tell parents to allow their kids to see what it is that they’re giving them. Expose the kids and make sure the vegetable is on the plate. But in the same token there are kids that aren’t going to eat it no matter what way you fix it. That’s where you simply have to outsmart them and offer them another vegetable that gives them the same vitamin. Vitamin A is in SO many other fruits and vegetables that you don’t have to get worked up if your kids aren’t eating carrots. Variety not only in the way the food is prepared but also in the foods that are offered as well.
Moderation: I was allowed to have Kool-Aid as a kid and soda. Ooohhh. Many are surprised to hear that, but it’s true. (Although now I pride myself on telling people that I haven’t had soda since the year 2000!) My parents would buy a 2-Liter of soda and it would literally go flat before we could drink it all. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, unfortunately nowadays soda is the norm and is the beverage of choice for many throughout the day (and while I’m picking on soda, you can substitute that in for coffee, tea, juice, fruit punch, etc). Kids and adults don’t drink enough water. We as a nation are consuming empty calories from sugared-drinks that are contributing to our obesity epidemic. We need to flip it around and make water the everyday norm, utilizing soda (or the drink of your choice) in moderation.
The other way that my mom taught me moderation was with desserts. My mom loves to bake and if there ever was such a thing as a sweet tooth, well she’s got one (and so do I). I have a distinct memory of including something sweet in my lunch bag every day when I was younger. Whether it was a mini-Twix or whether it was a Little Debbie cake, we were allowed things daily but in a moderate amount – it wasn’t a whole Twix candy bar, nor was it both of the Little Debbie cakes. We were allowed these things in moderation, so that we wouldn’t overdo these indulgences if we had gone without. I still to this day have a hard time counseling people about the concept of moderation. Some people are either all or none when it comes to sweets. They aren’t able to do just 1-2 cookies, rather they end up doing the whole sleeve of cookies and so they choose to not even have any at all. I try to explain to them that the deprivation can actually be worse. They’ll still tend to overdo these foods in the end, but it’s finding that balance that will allow them these foods that might be a trigger for overeating.
Food’s Power – simple basic message, food is fuel. When I teach kids nutrition I teach them that foods can help them “Go, Grow, and Glow”. We are starting to see younger and younger a fear associated with food and the possible effect of gaining weight. Instead of passing these kinds of messages along – kids really do hear everything you say (and see on television, social media, etc) – Those whole wheat pancakes can help them have energy to GO. The protein in eggs helps them not only grow stronger but also allows them to GROW. And the fruits and veggies they have throughout the day will help them GLOW, on the outside and the inside. Food is powerful – it’s a source of energy and it can also be medicinal. Help kids maintain a balance of nutritious and delicious – healthy foods definitely can taste delicious. Allow them to have those occasional treats that taste delicious too. Balance is key.
Honor Your Body – It’s important to not only pay attention to what you are eating but also how much you are eating. Really be mindful with your food – we have too many distractions nowadays and we sometimes stop paying attention to hunger cues our body readily gives us (and kids innately have). In addition to paying attention to our hunger cues, be grateful for all that your body is able to do – and that means nourishing your body with healthy food. Release the pressures to ‘diet’, ‘detox’, or ‘cleanse’ in order to look a certain way. Establishing healthy habits early on allows our kids to be able to really truly honor their body.
And so it’s on this Mother’s Day that I say, “thanks” to my mom for cooking for us when we were little and having instilled naturally in me the concepts of balance, variety, and moderation. I know I’m a better dietitian because of this.