Helping Kids Have Healthier Habits
In response to the current epidemic of obesity and a disturbing increase in eating disorders among children, registered dietitian Laura Cipullo has created a new healthy eating and exercise book called Healthy Habits. In the book, Cipullo aims to teach children how to develop positive relationships with eating and neutral relationships with food. Designed as a guidebook for parents or child educators, Healthy Habits provides lesson plans with hands-on activities with positive rather than good-or-bad messages—something I think is terrific and very useful. After all, shouldn’t we teach our children to enjoy just enough (but not too much) food with enjoyment instead of guilt or shame?
I interviewed Cipullo to learn more about her timely book and philosophy. Below are some highlights from our conversation.
EZ: What are some of the benefits Healthy Habits can provide for parents, coaches, teachers and others who work with children?
LC: Because not everyone can afford to personally employ a registered dietitian or nutritionist, purchasing a book or downloading a PDF can be a much more financially reasonable solution. As such, I wanted to create a user-friendly program that would be accessible and understandable to a wide audience. I also sought to spread the message (as I do in my private practice) that nutrition information should be shared in a positive tone—and relate specifically to health promotion, not weight loss! So, beginning with a program that I’d originally created for registered dietitians and once taught to my clients, I created Healthy Habits. I adapted it to appeal to parents and educators alike who could easily teach the program to one or more children (or even just read it). An individual simply reading Healthy Habits gains a greater understanding of what to say, what not say, and how to talk about nutrition with children from birth through adulthood. The 8 nutrition lessons are meant to be neutral in tone and to aid in learning/teaching about eating all types of foods since all types of foods are available.
EZ: You describe Healthy Habits as a “how-to” book for parents and teachers. Please describe what they should expect to find in the book based on your experiences working with families and individuals.
LC: Healthy Habits is designed to give adults the tools they need to teach nutrition to their children and/or students using encouraging tones and encouraging frameworks. The positive and empowering lessons were developed as an outgrowth of my 15 years of work with clients in the areas of family nutrition, eating disorders, weight management and diabetes. When I started my career, I knew diets didn’t work: deprivation caused binging and external weight emphasis resulted in yoyo weight cycling. Healthy Habits features “how-to” nutritional guidelines that do work; it’s based on real science, my knowledge as a diabetes educator, my experience as a certified eating disorder specialist and what has truly worked for my clients…and even my own family. Lessons discussing internal regulation, using an “everyday”/“sometimes” determination for food choices, and ridding food of moral or value labels form the learning foundation of Healthy Habits.
EZ: How do you suggest parents and educators use the 8 nutrition lessons that make up Healthy Habits most effectively?
LC: There’s no one simple answer to this. I personally prefer using books as references rather than reading them from cover to cover. And that’s why Healthy Habits keeps everything short and simple in an easy, usable format. A parent can choose a lesson and then perhaps just read about what carbohydrates are. Or he or she can actually complete the lesson handout with their children to learn and teach what carbohydrates are. A teacher can gather a group of students after school and implement an 8-week-long health program using the facilitator guides, handouts and child/parent homework assignments. Or a coach can combine Healthy Habits’ 8 lessons with exercise classes. The “how-to” guides are self-explanatory within the setup of the program—there are actual lesson plans to follow and even a free video tutorial.
EZ: What do you think sets Healthy Habits apart from other family and/or child nutrition books?
LC: Healthy Habits was created to prevent eating issues as well as eating disorders before they happen! The nutrition education offered is unbiased—it’s not focused on “good” or “bad” labels. Concentration is placed on how children feel when they eat or when they exercise. Many people use a 90%/10% approach to eating but I personally find this to be too restrictive for my clients. I prefer using a 75%/25% approach to healthy eating utilizing an “everyday”/“sometimes” determination for food selection. As parents, we definitely do not want our children creating food hierarchies or thinking of foods as treats or rewards. So many moms email me about their kids sneaking food and even hiding cookie and candy wrappers. And I have so many adult clients who remember feeling the need to do this when they were children because they weren’t allowed to have the “junk” food or “bad” food. We need to create an open and honest food environment. Our kids need the tools to learn how to eat all foods because, even if you don’t buy a particular food for your home consumption, I can guarantee it will be available to your children somewhere else! I’m especially proud of the video tutorial that now comes free with the purchase of the book. It provides a valuable extra benefit via its concise introduction to the entire program—easing the reader into this new positive food philosophy.
Image of a smiling girl eating apple via shutterstock.
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