We interviewed Marci Evans, RD, who has worked with adolescents across the spectrum of eating disorders. Her passion is helping people develop a healthy and peaceful relationship to food and she is passionate about coaching parents on how to raise healthy humans. Below are her comments.
In the United States and other westernized countries, nutrition has become less about food and more about minutiae (like calories and vitamins). This is such a disservice! The one thing I wish parents knew is that it’s big picture patterns that really matter and that nutrition is one of many things (not the only thing) that contribute to health.
Becoming preoccupied and obsessed with food and health can be far more damaging than not eating enough fruits and veggies in a given day. So practically speaking, I would offer 3 basic tips for parents who feel overwhelmed with the topic of nutrition and feeding their families well:
Have family meals as often as you can
Talking and listening to your kids (and no electronic devices allowed!) is far more important than the nutrient quality of the meal that is being served. Family meals can be very simple. But let the focus be on conversation and building relationships. Use meal timing and structure each day. Having consistent meals allows the mind and body to fall into a healthful rhythm of hunger and fullness.
Model healthy behaviors without talking about it
As you fill your plate with a variety of foods and snack on both apples and ice cream, your children will see this. Demonstrating that you enjoy lots of different foods in moderation will have a major impact on your child’s health over time. And if you are struggling with your own relationship to food, fake it as best as you can and get some added support if you are able to. Here are some specific tips about modeling healthy eating behaviors:
- Slow down, taste your food, truly enjoy what you’re eating.
- Pay attention to what your body is saying- is it asking for something fresh, warm, light, hearty, more, less? Your body, if you truly listen, won’t let you down. Food rules get in the way of that!
- Have fun with eating!
Believe in the body
It’s natural to feel anxious if you feel your child is drawn to less nutritious foods and seems to have a hard time regulating their intake. Begin discussing with your child how their body works. Our bodies are miraculous and give us very reliable cues on whether we are hungry and full. Do they know how their body talks to them? Do they notice how they feel when they eat a lot of one type of food and leave other types of food out? Teach them curiosity and respect for their bodies. I promise it will go a long way! Additionally, disconnect what they are eating from their size. It’s not size that matters, it’s about fueling our bodies so we can be healthy and strong. And healthy and strong comes in all different shapes and sizes.
Stop worrying about health headlines
The media likes to grab headlines. The unfortunate consequence is that results from a single study are incorrectly turned into a new diet or scare tactic which makes it seem that nutritional science is unreliable. In my opinion, it is the interpretation and improper dissemination that is unreliable. This is why it’s important to rely on well-educated nutrition professionals, like registered dietitians, who are trained to be aware of the research but know how to apply it where appropriate to the general public. I know that this is easier said than done because MDs in particular love to turn nutritional sensation into a diet.
Forget the nutritional villains
Western culture loves a nutritional villain. Through the years it’s been fat, salt, MSG, and today it’s carbohydrates. Do not fall victim to this very old trope! Eat a variety of foods (without cutting out food groups) with mindfulness and pleasure. You will do just fine! If a diet book is telling you to cut out foods and food groups, stop reading it no matter how persuasive it sounds. In fact, stop reading diet books altogether because we have decades of evidence that diets don’t work!
Marci Evans, MS, CEDRD, LDN, has dedicated her career to counseling, supervising, and teaching in the field of eating disorders. She is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian and Supervisor, certified Intuitive Eating Counselor and Certified ACSM personal trainer. In addition to her private practice and three adjunct teaching positions, Marci launched an online eating disorders training for dietitians in 2015 and is co-developing a specialized eating disorder internship at Simmons College. Website