Eating Disorders Expert & Dietitian on How to Foster a Healthy Relationship with Food for Your Kids (HPC: E25)

The very morning I did this interview, my husband was complaining about how badly he felt because of a certain number…and when I heard Heidi’s final “practical” challenge to parents, I knew we had to do it. This interview was a HUGE paradigm shift for me, and you will alternately want to turn it off as it gets challenging and find yourself cheering out loud!

Heidi Schauster is an expert on eating disorders and talks with me today about how we as parents can foster a healthy relationship with food for our kids. We cover risk factors for eating disorders, mindful eating, how to handle treats at school and elsewhere, what “rules” parents should (and should not!) have for food in the home, the quickest way to make your child into a binge eater, how we should talk about weight and body image with our kids, and so much more.

This is a MUST WATCH interview because our entire culture is disordered in how to think and talk about body image, so we have a LOT of work to do to make positive change! If you’ve ever told your kids, “Good morning! How nice you look today!” as they walk in for breakfast, you’ve got changes to make. I’m learning uncomfortably right along with you – this one’s a doozy!

Heidi and I continued to talk after I ended the recording and I kept catching myself using the wrong language about food. She said, “This is great – you’re creating new neural pathways right in front of my eyes!” So…new neural pathways aren’t easy to form, but if you want some – watch the interview! 😉

No time to watch the whole video? Here are the notes!

Fostering a Healthy Relationship with Food Video Time Stamps

  • 0:37: Heidi is a certified eating disorders registered dietitian and supervisor with over 20 years of experience in the field. Heidi is the founder of Nourishing Words Nutrition Therapy, based in the Greater Boston area, and an instructor in the Eating Disorders Institute (EDI) graduate certificate program at Plymouth State University. Heidi is also the author of Nourish: How to Heal Your Relationship with Food, Body, and Self, published earlier this year. (Find links below.) Heidi is a Health-at-Every-Size (HAES) practitioner who encourages embodied eating and living for all. In addition to individual nutrition therapy, teaching, and writing, she facilitates the No Diet Book Clubs and supervises other dietitians, locally and virtually, who treat clients with disordered eating. She is a lifelong dancer and the proud mama of two teenagers. When Heidi is not working, she can be found in the throes of a dishwashing dance party or digging around in her garden.

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  • 1:52: Heidi’s passion for food and body image comes from her own experience as a young dancer who didn’t know how to properly fuel her body. She struggled with an eating disorder in her late teens and early twenties. As she learned about nutrition in her healing process she realized she wanted to continue learning and share with others.
  • 4:32: Heidi’s brick-and-mortar clinic is called Nourishing Words Nutrition Therapy. She shares how she came to include the word “words” in the name.

Words are powerful. They’re meaningful and helpful. -Heidi Schauster

  • 6:11: No parent wants to see their child go through an eating disorder. So what can we do? We discuss risk factors of a child developing an eating disorder. There are usually multiple factors that come together.  Genetics, environment, personality traits (like competitive drive and high achieving) and cultural messages are all things that can make a  child more susceptible.
  • 7:46: Heidi shares how parents can avoid setting their kids up for an unhealthy relationship with food. Kids pick up on how we as parents talk about ourselves and they will transfer that onto themselves as they grow. Lead by example.

The best thing you can do as a parent is to not talk negatively about your own body in front of your kids. -Heidi Schauster

  • 8:54: As parents striving to feed our kids well and teach them about healthy food, we might tell them sugar is a bad food and vegetables are good foods. But are those habits steering our kids towards developing an eating disorder? We unpack how we can teach them about healthy food without undermining a healthy relationship with food. Again it comes down to modeling.

Guilt and stress around food is not healthy eating. -Heidi Schauster

  • 11:51: Hear how Heidi frames things without categorizing “good foods” and “bad foods.” Helping your kids learn how to make choices that make their bodies feel good is a long game plan, not something you can flip a switch on.

Encourage your kids to really listen to their bodies. -Heidi Shauster

  • 13:15: Young kids need more limits and guidance than your older kids. As they get older, they have to learn self-regulation and take responsibility for their choices.
  • 14:21: We talk about Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility. It’s the parent’s role to provide balanced, healthy food options. It’s the child’s role to decide how much and when to eat it. Make it a dialogue rather than telling them what to eat and how much.
  • 15:42: We need to allow our child to listen to their bodies, learn what makes them feel good and trust their bodies. As adults many of us have lost this ability. We multi-task while we eat or suppress hunger signals until we’ve lost touch with the messages our bodies are giving us.
  • 17:36: We want to be careful even with “healthy” and “unhealthy” categories. “Unhealthy” implies “bad.” Extreme restriction at home of a given food (like sugar) can create a stronger desire. The ideal goal would be for all foods to be neutral so that when presented with a bowl of soup or a cookie, the child will not automatically choose the cookie, but choose what their body needs.

Restricted foods become more charged. -Heidi Schauster

  • 19:26: Heidi shares the surest way she’s encountered to turn your child into a binge eater. Yikes!
  • 20:02: We talk through how it can look practically to set healthy limits without using a restrictive mindset.
  • 22:36: Choosing what we’ll have for lunch doesn’t need to be as angst ridden as our culture has made it out to be. We just want our kids to understand how to make choices that take good care of their bodies when it comes to food.
  • 23:32: It’s hard to manage the onslaught of sweets our kids encounter at school, church, the bank, the dentist even! Teaching kids about how sugar works in the body, and how it makes them feel and letting them self-regulate is key with older kids. When they’re little, it’s about taking a pause and asking if they’re really hungry and if that’s what their body wants right now and then creating awareness around how that treat makes them feel. It’s an ongoing conversation.
  • 26:58: Judging a food choice with language like “I screwed up” or “I messed up” breeds negativity. Look at it with curiosity like an experiment and learning through experience.
  • 27:32: Remember that kid’s developing bodies are different from ours. They need lots of calories and more carbs than adults do. It doesn’t help for a parent to be anxious about what a child is eating when they are learning to give their body what it needs.
  • 28:18: We discuss the “War on Childhood Obesity.” Heidi doesn’t like to focus on weight as a marker of health. Looking at the research, weight is not a determinant for health: habits are. We really can’t judge the health of an individual based on the outside.

You can be fit and healthy at any body size if your habits are in line with fitness and healthy eating. -Heidi Schauster

  • 30:48: It’s not just a problem that parents need to address with kids, but our whole culture needs to adjust the way we talk about different body types.
  • 31:37: Health at Every Size is a philosophy around how we can be healthy no matter what type of body we have at any given moment. If your health is poor, you have habits that need addressing no matter what your size. If you’re making choices that support your body and taking care of yourself, then you are healthy regardless of size. The marathon runner Heidi mentions is Ragen Chastain.
  • 36:49: The stigmatization of larger people encourages disordered eating. We need to break the stigma and not create so much fear around food.
  • 37:19: Heidi uses the term “embodied eating,” another phrase that you may have heard is “mindful eating.” We discuss how we can foster mindful eating in the busy, noisy world we live in by taking time to pause and be grateful and paying attention to their senses as they experience food.

Food is a sensory experience, and I think we don’t spend those sensory moments with our food as often as we’d like. We can foster that more with kids, that appreciation of the experience of eating, as opposed to just “I’m gonna gobble and go.” -Heidi Schauster

  • 40:53: You may be wondering, “But what about food allergies or sensitives?” Helping kids understand why they can’t eat a food is key. Having substitutions will help avoid a deprivation mindset.

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  • 43:18: Heidi shares two practical steps we can all take today to help your kids build a healthy relationship with food. Number one may surprise you!
  • 45:18: Heidi’s second tip is related to how you interact with your kids. Our culture and their peers will emphasize looks more than is healthy. As parent’s we can be intentional about complimenting other aspects of our children, and letting them know that their worth is not based on appearance.

Point out the things about your child that you love about them that are not about how they look more often than any compliment about how they look. -Heidi Schauster

  • 48:10: This principle can also be applied to your friends and other relationships: it’s not just a problem for kids.

A really simple thing that we can do is to just appreciate each other on a deeper level (than appearance). -Heidi Schauster

  • 49:30: Changing our mindset to focus on things other than appearance is difficult and we can have grace for ourselves in the process.

For more incredible info, find Heidi’s book “Nourish” on her website or on Amazon. I feel like every parent, every high school teen, every grandparent needs to read this book!

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Other Resources Mentioned:

More on Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding

Health at Every Size

Kids sitting and eating at a table

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