Eating

How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy

I recently received this question from a Total Body Reboot member and wanted to address it because it falls into the category of “How can I get my kids to eat healthy?” It’s a question I receive almost daily at this point, so I think it’s time to address it with an article.

Kevin,
Do you have any advice on how to implement the program with children? We are thinking about just doing it all together as a family. We have six children ranging from 13 years old down to 1 year. We are thinking we should just dive in, cutting out all ANTI foods, to give our bodies a chance to heal themselves, learn about what our bodies want, and later personalizing our long term lifestyle according to what our bodies need and want. Eliminating grains and dairy and sugar will be the hardest. Is cutting all of it out at once a good idea? And with children who are going to have a rough time giving up their favorite and comfort foods? Just wondering what your advice would be in these situations.

There are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes within. If I find math interesting, then I’m intrinsically motivated to engage with math. Extrinsic motivation comes from something external. If my mom threatens to spank me if I don’t get in the car, I’m extrinsically motivated to get in the car.

Intrinsic motivation is typically viewed as the most powerful form of motivation. It’s also the most authentic motivation. The core of Authentic Parenting is recognizing your child’s intrinsic motivation and working from that starting point while trying your best not to color the relationship with the use of extrinsic motivators. That strategy holds true for eating.

The optimal way to approach healthy eating is to introduce it from day one. First breastmilk, then baby-led solids (real food-based), and then full meals. Prior to the age of two, there’s no reason for children to have much experience with processed foods.

Children are normalized to consistent environments. If you commit to real food from day one, they’ll be normalized to real food. This is both physical and psychological. Their tastebuds will be physically different. Their gut biome will be physically different. And their mindset will be programmed a certain way.

When the child turns two and starts to have more preferences, is verbal, and is exposed to a wider range of situations where processed foods are likely to be served, then I recommend switching over to the health bank account philosophy and teaching children how to create balance with eating.

Using the Five Pillars During Transition

Alas, that’s not most people’s situations. As the email says, there are six children involved and the transition to real-food is new for everyone. This scenario may seem more complicated, but it’s really not. It just requires a different strategy.

Where strategy one requires only one of the five pillars (patience), strategy two—dealing with kids whom you want to transition—requires all five.

Empathy: It’s important to understand that your children are physically different if they’ve been exposed to a diet that is predominantly processed foods. And a diet that’s predominantly real food is going to seem foreign to them. Connecting with their feelings and needs (the need for both consistency and autonomy being top of the list) here is critical.

Integrity: The only way you can authentically commit to real food as a family is if both parents are completely on board and can consistently model the behavior. Remember, “Do as I say, not as I do” represents a complete breakdown in authenticity. Real leaders lead by example, not by fiat.

Self-Awareness: It’s important to acknowledge the road you’ve led your children down thus far. Take responsibility for it in direct communication with your children. Instead of trying to sell them on the benefits of eating healthy or trying to make decisions for them, talk about how important healthy eating is to you and take responsibility for not introducing it to them sooner. Kids don’t care about their health because they don’t have enough life experience to know why it matters, so talk about your health in a way they can relate to. Perhaps tell them you want to eat healthy because you want to be around for them as long as possible.

Patience: Making big changes like this isn’t going to happen overnight. And you’re certainly not going to achieve buy-in from kids overnight. If you’re not willing to play the long game, don’t make changes at all.

Negotiation: There’s going to be some negotiating required. This is especially important to help kids retain autonomy over the transition. The more you’re willing to come to the negotiation table, the more authentic buy-in you’re going to achieve.

What Transition Might Look Like

I want to stress that every family is different. Kids have different personalities. While I can lay out some steps, it doesn’t mean it’s a hard and fast blueprint for success. It’s more of a suggestion-based strategy. The only things that can’t be changed or over-written are the five pillars above—those are values-based principles that should always be respected.

  1. Family Meeting Part 1. This is your chance to discuss your goals and some upcoming changes with the kids. Remember, this is not a meeting where you issue a decree. It’s a meeting where you lay out your thoughts and ideas. The less technical you are, the better. Focus on connecting with your children—keep the discussion focused on communicating needs and feelings.
  2. Family Meeting Part 2. Once you’ve communicated needs and feelings, you want to invite the children to give their perspective and communicate their needs and feelings. Ask them if they have any goals related to their health (or ask if they’ve ever thought about it before). Listen intently. If there are any objections, default to validation and consideration rather than argument.
  3. Family Meeting Part 3. Game plan. Talk about what steps to take, such as rebooting your kitchen and pantry (throwing away all the junk and restocking with real food) or planning DWYLT activities. Get everyone’s input on who can help with meal planning, grocery shopping, food prep, cooking, etc. See if the kids want to take part in picking out recipes. Make sure everyone is heard and included.
  4. Execute. Follow through with the plan that everyone helped make. If someone doesn’t want to be involved, don’t force them to be.
  5. Circle back. After a week or two, regroup and assess how things are going. Take time to get more feedback from everyone. Make adjustments where necessary.

Some random thoughts…

If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I may end up addressing them here.

What if some people don’t want to throw out the processed food? It’s not a problem. Let them keep what’s already in the house until it’s finished. Just be clear, as the financier, that you won’t be buying any more on a regular basis. Of course, the kids are free to use their own money on whatever they want.

What if my kids are picky eaters and don’t like any of the new foods? First, it’s important not to label kids as picky eaters. It’s also important to understand the biology behind pickiness. But this is why it’s important to invite the kids to get involved with meal planning. If they choose it, that usually means they’ll try it. Especially if they helped cook it. But go slow, be empathetic, and be inclusive.

Play the long game, commit to the process, and remember your goals. Transition isn’t easy. There’s a learning curve. It takes a big time investment on the front end until the new behaviors become habits and routine. Is it worth the work? Absolutely. Just be patient and allow for mistakes and setbacks.

Trigger or support intrinsic motivation. If you can trigger intrinsic motivation by getting your kids authentically interested in some part of this process, it’ll help tremendously. You can start with books geared toward real food for kids, such as Eat Like a Dinosaur. You can get your child cooking lessons if they show an interest in cooking (or just teach them yourself if you’re a good cook). You might even let your kids experiment and try to create their own recipes. Building a small garden is a fun activity for kids as well that helps them nurture their relationship with food.

Healthy living is not Dieting. There should be no talk of calories, fat, carbs, scales, weight, or anything else. Absolutely none of these tactics either. This is about nourishing everyone’s bodies, moving in ways that inspire, getting plenty of play and sleep, and connecting as a family. For more on authentic healthy living, check out the work we’re doing over at Rebooted Body.

Don’t be come a health Nazi. Don’t aim to control what your kids eat outside of the home. Even though you’re the finance department for groceries, it would be unfortunate for everyone involved if you let perfectionism drive your purchasing. Set an example for authentically healthy eating by modeling things like balance, non-obsession, and calmness.

You can transition the parents first and the kids later. There are no rules here. You don’t have to transition everyone at the same time if you don’t want to. We have a world-class program at Rebooted Body called Total Body Reboot. It’s the perfect process for rebooting mom and dad first. We’ve rebooted men and women in over 30 countries around the world now—it’s a proven blueprint.

Hopefully this helps you transition your kids and your family to healthy eating. As I mentioned before, leave questions or challenges in the comments below and I’ll address them.

What do I do if my child is a “picky eater?”

I’m writing this article because I’ve come across this question on numerous parenting forums. I empathize with it. You want your child to eat healthy. At the minimum, you just want them to eat what you cook so you don’t have to make separate meals.

Before we launch into solutions, let’s get a couple important things out of the way. First, your child is not “picky.” Not in a unique sense. Truthfully, the vast majority of human beings are “picky eaters.” There should be no special distinction for children.

Do you eat everything? Or, do you eat what you prefer? Surely you don’t enjoy ALL meats or ALL veggies or ALL nuts and seeds. Even if you do tend to eat pretty much everything, what about bugs? In some areas of the world, scorpions are a delicacy. When is the last time you had scorpion? Would you eat it if offered? How about crickets?

Why so picky?

In most cases, the question isn’t, “what do I do if my child is a picky eater?” it’s, “what do I do if my child doesn’t eat what I eat?” Labeling them as “picky” or treating them as such will only ensure that they become a truly finicky eater (one who isn’t willing to try new things, even as an adult).

There’s a second component here that may explain why children are more selective than adults, and thus seem “pickier.” It’s a reason not rooted in choice, but evolution.

Children are programmed to be neophobic starting around the age of two. As an infant, babies are willing to put almost anything in their mouth. Their parents are on guard to keep them safe. Their parents also feed them during this period, inadvertently “teaching” them what foods are safe.

Both plants and animals contain potential toxins or bacteria that are harmful to a toddler’s survival. Neophobia kicks in right when a baby becomes a walking, exploring toddler. Their programming leads them to choose only what is familiar and reject what’s not. It’s a survival mechanism.

In modern society, this state is compounded by the fact that most babies have been fed grains and sugars before the age of two. These foods light up the reward center of their brain, making them even more likely to prefer or seek out these foods when the neophobia kicks in. These foods also alter the taste buds, making healthier food more bland or bitter in comparison.

Kids’ flavor profiles are also developed based on what mom ate when they were in the womb, which is why eating real food during pregnancy is critical.

All this adds up to “pickiness” not being their fault. Unfortunately, most adults see pickiness as complete choice, demand for preference, and even “limit-pushing.” This misinterpretation can lead to many destructive tangents such as shame, blame, and coercion. What kids really need is your empathy and your patience.

With that said, here’s some suggestions for how to proceed:

  • Ditch the guilt. Your own, I mean. At times, you may feel like your child’s selectiveness is your fault. Maybe it partially is, maybe it completely isn’t. Who knows? Either way, guilt is unproductive. It can also lead to you trying to be prescriptive or corrective. That’s not what your child needs, they just need authentic leadership from this point forward.
  • Offer new foods without animation, expectations, or pressure. Don’t turn broccoli into a plane and try and land it in their mouth. Don’t make a stick man out of the asparagus. Don’t make new foods a big deal in ANY way. Put a small portion of the new food on their plate and say nothing. Don’t expect them to eat it and don’t expect them to push it away. Just “serve it and observe it.” Remove all pressure. And remember that new foods sometimes need to be introduced in this way dozens of times before they accept it. Play the long game.
  • Eat everything you serve them. Without “pointing it out,” take a few bites of what you gave them so they can see it’s edible and safe. Don’t say, “Yummy!” afterward, either. Your vocalized judgement of the food is underhanded manipulation. If children sense ANY form of manipulation around food they will immediately put up their defense.
  • Never punish or shame your child for not trying a new food. If your children feel any shame around new foods, you’ll drive them further away. You might even plant the seeds for a future eating complex.
  • Let them help you prepare new foods. When kids see new foods being prepared and see exactly what went into the preparation process, they might feel more comfortable with tasting. If it just shows up on a plate, it’s even more foreign to them. The more foreign a food is, the more it triggers their neophobia.
  • Always include one thing you know they like in all meals. Adopting the position, “you’ll eat what I make” is not compassion or empathy. Creating a false choice between compliance and starvation is manipulation. You have the ability to provide something they like and they know it. Be on their team, don’t force adaptation.
  • Don’t feed your child. Humans are already disconnected from food. This is something I talked about in Conscious Eating Part I at Rebooted Body. Don’t disconnect your child any further by doing 90% of the process of eating for them. Kids need to feel their food, mash it up, play with it, and explore it. Let them feed themselves from the time they’re able to start on solids (baby-led weaning).

If your child is currently in a period of enhanced selectiveness, it can be frustrating and stressful for both of you. But with your authentic leadership and trust, your child will shed the neophobia as they get older and begin to embrace a much wider variety of foods.

Be on their team and great things will happen. Good luck!

Kids desperately need fat (but not the kind most are eating)

The “low fat” craze has been a disaster for human health. Worse, the experts told us, “If you do eat fat, each processed vegetable oils and margarine.”

That’s a recipe for increased inflammation, poor gut health, decreased nutrient absorption, and obesity. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing across the board in health outcomes.

Kids aren’t escaping it. While you might not be putting your child on a low fat diet (if you are, please stop immediately), they’re likely eating gobs of these processed vegetable oils that people still seem to think are good for you.

These vegetable and seed oils are in all processed foods and used for cooking in almost all restaurants. Every time you order chicken fingers for your child, they’re getting a nice serving of inflammatory soybean oil. You’re probably cooking with these fake fats at home as well. Canola anyone? Yuck.

It’s an epidemic that’s been manufactured by the perfect storm of bad research and government subsidies. Many children are eating nothing but highly processed fats, rarely coming into contact with the fats they desperately need.

This isn’t helped by the tunnel vision we seem to have with getting kids to eat vegetables because we’re usually afraid of putting fat on those vegetables (which doesn’t help the sell) or we’re putting fake fats on them. I can’t believe it’s not butter! 

Why does the discussion about kids’ health never talk about highly beneficial and very simple swaps like the fat swap? It’s one of the easiest and most beneficial changes to make as far as cooking goes because there’s no difference in the flavor of what kids are eating. You’re simply swapping out a fake ingredient for a real one. Often, the flavor improves with this swap.

The bottom line is that kids need fat. And it needs to be mostly saturated (yes, absolutely) and monounsaturated. The brain is 70% fat. Most of the key vitamins are fat soluble, meaning that they’re poorly absorbed in the absence of fat. But the fats kids are getting (when they do get some) are mostly polyunsaturated fats that drive up inflammation and markers of disease.

Quick tips

  1. Swap margarine for grass-fed butter (Kerrygold brand is available almost everywhere). Don’t bother with conventional butter. Yes, grass-fed is more expensive in the short-term, but your child’s health is worth a buck.
  2. For many things, cooking with coconut oil is preferred. Make sure it’s virgin, organic, and unrefined. Kids need to be eating coconut oil every day. It’s a very unique and beneficial fat. My daughter eats it off a spoon half the time.
  3. You can also cook in well-sourced tallow, lard (yes, lard), etc. These are good options for frying.
  4. Throw out all processed vegetable and seed oils. If it’s not listed on my Rebooted Body Complete Guide to Real Food, then toss it.
  5. Find ways to get your children to eat healthy oils like Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Making your own salad dressings with it is a great start. Be aware, though, that most store-bought versions of EVOO are cut and tainted with cheap processed vegetable oils. You need to invest in the good stuff. I prefer Kasandrinos brand. Oh, and don’t cook with it except at extremely low heat.
  6. Don’t be afraid of eggs or grass-fed beef. Incorporate them often. And with eggs, never toss the yolks!
  7. Avocado!

A not so quick tip…

It’s important that you get processed foods out of your child’s life for the most part. Don’t be a health Nazi and ban everything in the world, but don’t be a supplier either.

Processed foods are deadly because they’re hyperpalatable, meaning they contain a combination of fat (the nasty kind), sugar, and salt that doesn’t exist anywhere in nature.

This hyperpalatability desensitizes your child’s tastebuds, making real food taste bland and ensures that they’ll eat nothing but kids menu garbage and stuff out of a box for a long time to come.

Aside from that, processed foods destroy hormone regulation, damage the gut, promote obesity, and drive up disease markers. Not the direction we want to go.

And no, gluten-free, sugar-free, or low-fat processed foods are not “better options.” Gluten free and sugar-free foods still usually contain inflammatory fats, along with a bunch of other nasties. And these foods are still hyperpalatable (which is why you really hoped they were okay).

Redefine “normal.”

The normalization of processed food is one of our society’s biggest obstacles.

The goal is not to be perfect, it’s to redefine what’s normal for your child. “Normal” shouldn’t be laboratory foods and inflammatory fats. “Normal” shouldn’t be the avoidance of fat. “Normal” shouldn’t be counting calories.

Normal should be whole foods and healthy fats, including saturated fats which are highly beneficial and will not make your child’s heart explode. Pinky swear.

If you want to make a HUGE change in your child’s health without much resistance, swap the fats and start working on limiting the processed foods.

 

11 Things to Stop Saying to Your Child Around Food

Subjecting children to shame, fear, and guilt is a societal norm that I’m desperately trying to abolish. The negative outcomes are numerous. But when shame, fear, and guilt are tied to food, it creates a uniquely tragic situation.

What we say and do to children around food causes mental, emotional, and physical ripples. Depending on the frequency and severity, these ripples can become tsunamis that cause tragic destruction in a child’s life as they enter adulthood. The consequences range from minor disordered eating habits that people struggle with for decades to full blown eating disorders that lead to hospitalization or worse.

The unfortunate stories are not uncommon. I’ve talked to thousands of people about this. Most adults with disordered eating habits were regularly subjected to shame and guilt as children. And people who end up with full blown eating disorders will tell you that the eating disorder started around puberty. In the worst cases, well before that.

Disordered eating habits and clinical eating disorders don’t just happen. They’re symptoms of trauma — trauma that the vast majority of children in today’s society are subjected to routinely (not just at meal time, by the way). Some deal with it better than others, but the goal is to eradicate it.

The following is a list of 11 eating messages that are extremely common. They might seem innocent at first glance, but they have profound implications. If you want to create a better outcome for your children, cross check this list and work to make improvements.

“You didn’t eat enough. Take a few more bites and you can be done.”

Children are younger than you. They’ve been interacting with society for far fewer years than you have. Do you know what that means?

It means you’re more broken than they are. It means that their body still works in ways that yours might not. For example, they’re better able to determine when they’re hungry and when they’re full.

Telling a child, “You didn’t eat enough” is the same as telling them, “Don’t listen to your body, listen to me instead.”

Even if the child hasn’t eaten much at all, it’s not up to you. The need for food is programmed into their nature. If they’re hungry, they’ll eat. It’s perfectly normal for children to go days without eating much. That will often be followed by periods of abnormally large consumption.

Since nobody has insight into their current state of cellular nutrition, the current rhythm of their growth and development, or a detailed list of their activity intricately matched with the corresponding caloric need based on their height, weight, and genetics, I’d say nobody is qualified to determine how much they need to eat except them.

Trust your child and they’ll learn to trust themselves. Interfere, and they’ll lose the ability to listen to their body (like many adults have).

“Clean your plate (there are starving children in Africa).”

Even worse than egging your children on to take a few more bites is the arbitrary rule set by many families that plates must be clean before children are dismissed (always watch out for authoritarian language — it’s a symptom that someone is being manipulated) from the table.

This is a catastrophe.

First of all, the reason there’s an obesity and preventable disease epidemic is that we’re part of the first era that’s facing an evolutionary mismatch: a complete abundance of food that takes little to no effort to acquire. On top of that, 80% of the food didn’t exist 100 years ago. It’s food that’s breaking our bodies.

We’re not developmentally prepared to deal with this. Our bodies are programmed for specific types of food. On top of that, it’s programmed for dealing with famine.

Carrying that programming into a society where food is available around the clock — most of which we’re not designed to metabolize — is a dangerous proposition. Add to that the reality that movement has decreased to a level that’s pathological and what you have is a perfect storm of obesity and disease.

Instead of preparing children for this by teaching them what real food looks like, how to connect with that food, and how to listen to their bodies, we’re choosing manipulation. We’re teaching forced overconsumption and using the tragic stories of people in a country they’ve never been to as a guilt manipulator.

Waste not, want not!

No. Our kids deserve better.

“If you do/don’t do [task], you can/can’t have [treat].”

It’s popular to use food as punishment or reward. This can be for eating some other food, like vegetables, or for other tasks like cleaning your room, getting good grades, or achieving some other accomplishment.

Your goal is to get a great behavior to continue or to diminish an undesirable behavior. I get it. But there’s a better approach than using the reward/punishment system.

We have to be careful with how we try to accomplish our goals (that’s the underlying theme of this entire site, by the way). “Doing what’s best” for our children often means that we’re doing what WE think is best. When it comes to raising children, the ends do not justify the means because the means have massive consequences on developing human beings.

“…good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.” ~ Albert Camus

The punishment/reward paradigm is a form of mental and emotional manipulation that erodes intrinsic motivation wherever its employed. Using food within this strategy is just taking the damage to a whole new level.

With food, the reward mindset becomes programmed to a greater degree than other types of rewards. Food has a direct influence on the reward centers of the brain and is difficult to break free from.

Aside from that, using the strategy in the context of dessert in exchange for eating real food (“eat your veggies and you can have dessert!”) creates a warped good vs bad mentality. Nutritionally poor and metabolically destructive food becomes the prize (good) while wholesome, nourishing food becomes the chore (bad).

Lastly, you’re creating an automatic over-eating situation. If a child is full, but has “done the work” of eating the veggies, there’s no way they’ll forego dessert now because they earned it.

There’s so many negatives to this type of manipulation and no positives other than the short-term feeling of accomplishment if your child agrees to the manipulation and eats his veggies today. And it makes it harder to get them to eat healthy tomorrow, especially if there’s no prize.

You’re creating a laundry list of long-term consequences for short-term cooperation or the appearance of healthy eating. That’s a losing tradeoff.

“Your brother is eating it, why aren’t you?”

The comparison game is popular, but it’s shame and guilt city.

Really, it’s nothing more than a cop out. You don’t know how to get your child to eat something healthy (or to eat at all) so you resort to showing one child how deficient they are compared to another based on an arbitrary measure of who is eating what or how much.

That’s not your intention, but it’s how the child feels when she’s compared. It fosters sibling rivalry (something parents always complain about) and is unproductive, based purely on manipulation of emotions.

It’s also hypocritical. Are you suggesting that you love what all other adults love? Are you suggesting that you’re always hungry when other adults are hungry and full when they’re full?

Let me give you a real world example of why this is shaming and disrespectful.

My wife hates fish but my daughter loves it. I’d love for my wife to eat fish a few times a week because it’s healthy.  But I would never turn to my wife and say, “your daughter is eating fish, why aren’t you?”

A general rule of thumb is: if you wouldn’t say something to another adult, think twice before saying it to your child. It’s probably a good sign that what you’re about to say is shaming or disrespectful. If you want to raise respectful kids, disrespecting them is a surefire way to fail.

“You don’t like it? Boy, you certainly are picky!”

This statement is another lapse in understanding that children are individual people with unique preferences. But this time, we’re using the labeling game to manipulate them with shame.

Labels, by the way, tend to backfire. Badly. You think that by labeling kids, they’ll realize that they’re acting “strangely” and change their ways.

Almost always, the child becomes exactly what you label them if it’s a negative label and the opposite of what you label them if it’s a “positive” label. Probably because feeling abnormal doesn’t suddenly make you act normal. And that presupposes that “acting normal” is right, much less authentic.

If you label a child “picky,” they won’t miraculously start trying new things, they’ll get pickier. If you label them “smart,” they’ll actually reduce their effort and risk and fall short of their potential. If you label a child “shy,” they won’t suddenly gain the confidence to open up and talk to everyone, they’ll withdraw further. Get it?

Labeling is manipulation based on hoping your child will conform to your expectations. Or, it’s a tool that helps you save face in public or that helps you try to dictate other people’s reactions. “Oh, she’s a picky eater (which is why she’s not eating the food you gave her — please don’t think less of me or be upset/sad/etc. because my child didn’t eat your food!)”

Worse, the child might be picky because you’ve used other shame and guilt tactics on them in the past. So you’ve created the outcome you’re now shaming them for. Can you quantify how tragic that is?

So, it’s never about the child is it? It’s not about having the child’s best interest in mind, it’s about having the parent’s best interest in mind. Or a stranger’s best interest in mind. It takes the full weight of your baggage and drops it squarely in your child’s lap.

That’s not fair. It’s not respectful. It’s not authentic.

This isn’t about you. It’s not about your mom. It’s not about your boss. It’s not about your friend. It’s not about the cook at a the restaurant. Your child is your number one priority.

“You’re such a great eater!”or “Good job, you ate [new food].”

When your children do things you’re happy with or proud of, the urge to state your approval creeps in, doesn’t it?

It does for me too. But it’s important to withhold these comments because they interfere with intrinsic motivation. What’s happening is that you’re levying your own judgements and assessments on the child.

When this happens, the child is robbed of the opportunity to judge and assess themselves.  It also turns their focus to praise-seeking rather than behaving in ways they naturally enjoy or avoiding things they naturally oppose.

We already talked about reward manipulation using dessert or treats. If you offer a cookie as a reward for eating vegetables or for cleaning their plate, or anything else for that matter, that creates negative outcomes. But get this: your verbal praise is like a verbal cookie.

Soon, they’ll be eating a certain amount or certain foods simply for your approval. “If I don’t eat all of this or eat [this particular food] my mom won’t be happy with me. It won’t be a good job.” Even worse, they may fear other manipulative language that usually follows, such as the bribery and other shame tactics in this list.

Instead of focusing on food, they’re now focusing on your approval or disapproval. They’re not listening to their body, they’re aiming to please. Often, that means acting against what their body is telling them. Yet, as adults, we wish we could consistently listen to our bodies and leave food on the plate, don’t we?

So, is your goal for them to please you or to nourish and trust their body? If it’s the latter, then your assessments are interfering with your goals for them. Besides, it’s demeaning. You wouldn’t go to lunch with your coworker and then say, “Great job Dan, you ate all your food! You’re such a good eater!”

If children knew how to respond to this, they’d probably say, “Yes, I did. I was hungry. That’s what hungry people do. Can we stop talking about my eating habits now, I’m feeling really scrutinized.”

“I bet some [treat] would make that all better.”

I was at a park the other day with my daughter and a boy who was probably around two years of age tripped and fell. He mostly caught himself, but his face hit the ground a bit and he started crying.

The mom picked him up and started talking to him. The dad promptly swooped in with a bag of crackers, using the food to distract the child, hoping he’d quickly shift gears.

This is all too common. Crying children trigger adults. It’s uncomfortable and parents try everything to quiet it: “shhhhh…you’re okay,” or “here’s some [treat],” or even worse, “it’s not that bad, stop being a baby.”

Food isn’t just used to stop crying, it’s used to numb all kinds of pain. Treats are offered to children when they’re frustrated, sad, or recovering from some sort of trauma. Parents take kids for ice cream after they get a cast on a broken arm or give “boo boo treats” to “make kids feel better.”

The question is, what are the repercussions of this strategy?

One of the biggest issues facing society is emotional eating. Rather than eating when we’re hungry, we’re eating to dull pain. Where do you suppose we learned that fancy technique?

If you give a child food to distract from pain or distress, you’re creating a future adult who uses food to do the same. It may seem to help at the time and it might help you feel better, but it’s doing your child a great disservice.

Tears happen for a reason. Pain needs to be felt, not numbed. One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is a safe shoulder to cry on. And no, they don’t need to “grow up” and “get over it” anymore than you do when you’re hurting.

“Don’t eat that, it’s bad for you.”

A lot of my Total Body Reboot clients come to me stuck in the paradigm of good food and bad food. Diets are based on this paradigm as well.

While it’s true that some foods are nutritionally rich and some are nutritionally poor, that’s not the only way to measure food. Everything has to be put in context and we have to explore the why behind certain behaviors and labels.

What’s the goal of labeling a food bad? Is it to teach your child what healthy food is? Is it to program them to not eat something? What is it?

If your goal is to teach them what healthy food is, calling foods good and bad is a poor way to do it. That’s not education, it’s just labeling.

If your goal is to program them to not eat something, labeling is a poor choice here as well. Even adults can’t adhere to these labels, right? So why should we expect kids to?

What is effective?

With adults, I’ve been very effective with changing their relationship with food and then showing them how certain foods make them feel.

When humans connect the dots between how certain foods make them feel, they’re intrinsically motivated to include rich foods and shun poor foods.

That can’t happen until the connection is re-programmed. Almost everyone who is currently overweight or otherwise unhealthy is deaf to the immediate consequences of their food choices.

By the way, this doesn’t mean that you never eat candy or ice cream or gluten. It just means that you naturally limit these things in your life and don’t engage in the shaming and power struggle mindset when you do choose to enjoy a dessert or treat.

The same paradigm can be created for children. Actually, it must be created for children. I talked earlier about the evolutionary mismatch they’re facing. If your child doesn’t have a healthy relationship with food, our food supply will absolutely make them sick and eventually kill them.

“Eat properly.”

Here’s how you use a fork. Sit up straight. Put your left hand in your lap. Put your feet on the floor. Cut your food this way. Chew with your mouth closed. For heaven’s sake child, get it together.

Parents often obsess over etiquette because of an underlying fear that their children will eat like savages if never “taught” to do otherwise.

Or, the parent is embarrassed because they care so much about what other people think. “If my kid doesn’t shape up, these other restaurant patrons will think I’m raising a neanderthal.”

There’s no faster way to destroy a child’s relationship with food than through shame, rule setting, and an obsession over etiquette that no child is interested in.

Here’s the deal: your child won’t eat like a savage when they’re older unless you eat like one. They’ll learn these things through osmosis.

Besides, they probably will have enough self-respect to eat decently on their own. I don’t know any 16 year old who wants to put their hand in the soup bowl and lather tomato basil all over their face and mouth. Just because your 3 year old does that doesn’t mean they’ll still do it later without your intervention.

Eating isn’t quantum physics. No education is necessary to “get it.” Besides, there’s far more important things to account for with kids and food that DO matter.

If there are one or two things your child hasn’t picked up on by the time they’re 10 or 12 or so, you can easily guide them to make those adjustments at that time. No shame or guilt necessary.

“Eat whatever you want, whenever you want.”

I threw this one in to cover the flip side of the coin: complete permissiveness.

Permissive parenting is just as damaging as authoritarian parenting. Instead of manipulative, ineffective leadership it’s absent, ineffective leadership.

Your child desperately wants an authentic leader to show them around this strange, scary, and crazy world. They don’t want you to train them the way you’d train your dog and they don’t want you to completely cut them loose and allow them to walk all over you and everyone else.

This is important to mention because alternative parenting methods are always attacked with this false dichotomy. “If you don’t show kids who’s boss, they’ll walk all over you!”

The truth is that you can — and should — reject both authoritarian parenting and permissive parenting. Neither serve you (in the long run) or the child. Authenticity is the third option and authentic leadership means having clear boundaries and limits.

Just because you’ve decided not to manipulate a child in order to get them to eat healthy (or do whatever), doesn’t mean you’re going to watch them eat cake and ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Exploring your options further for achieving a win-win is beyond the scope of this article, so for now realize that permissiveness is not a viable option, much less the goal.

“Wow, I was bad tonight. I’m going to have to workout extra tomorrow.”

This isn’t something you say to your child is it? It’s on the list because it’s critical that you realize that you’re always teaching, even if you’re not speaking directly to your child.

Dozens of my Total Body Reboot clients have recounted how they watched their mom or dad look at themselves in the mirror with disgust, step on the scale and immediately tear themselves down, or talk incessantly about their body at meal time. This is partially why they’re struggling with their own weight and body image issues decades later.

How you talk to yourself is just as important as how you talk to your kids. So this quote is representative of all of the negative things you say about your eating and your body in front of them.

You’re a parent that cares deeply about doing the absolute best you can. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this. So realize that you can change how you speak to your children and make great progress, but if you don’t change how you speak to yourself it’s still going to leave a deep scar on them.

Okay, I’m guilty. So, what do I do now?

If you’ve used some of the phrases and tactics in this list, my first recommendation would be to take a deep breath and avoid shaming yourself. As I’ve said before and I’m sure I’ll say again, all that matters is what you’re willing to do to change the future.

The second thing I’d recommend is to apologize to your children. Yes, seriously.

You’re not perfect. Nobody is. And when you make a mistake with your children, you owe them an apology just the same as when you make a mistake with another adult.

Side note: by apologizing to them, you’re teaching them how to apologize when they’re wrong in the future. You’re modeling healthy behavior. That’s a giant leap forward.

Third, explain to them why you now realize that what you said was a mistake and vow to use healthier language and leadership in the future. Then take baby steps toward making those changes.

If you tend to say these things without thinking them through, it might help to set an audio recorder on the table or in the kitchen to record yourself and then play it back later. This way, you can really hear what you sound like when you interact with your children.

If you need help or if I was unclear at any point, I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions in the comments section below.

Healthy eating for kids starts during pregnancy

This article originally appeared at Rebooted Body.

There’s a disconnect in our society right now. The idea that pregnant women can eat whatever they want simply because they’re in a 9 month period where they can’t control their body composition is preposterous. Not only does this attitude not respect the baby, it doesn’t respect mom either.

I always cringe when I see pregnant women on my Facebook feed bragging about sending their husband out to Taco Bell at 11pm at night to feed those “crazy pregnancy cravings.”

Many women (and men) are realizing that this probably isn’t the best strategy. And they’re absolutely right, considering that even what you eat (and how you eat) leading up to pregnancy has an influence on the baby through epigenetics. And what you eat during and after is extremely important.

Having a cavalier attitude toward food and lifestyle before, during, and after pregnancy can alter the stress response in baby, change her gut flora, predispose her to obesity or Diabetes, change her brain, and cause countless other negative consequences.

Women will quit smoking and drinking during pregnancy because they’re afraid of causing birth defects in the short-term, but when it comes to slaughtering baby’s gut flora with Taco Hell, it’s game on. That doesn’t include basically injecting both mom and baby with sugar ad nauseum, causing total hormonal derangement.

If this is you, you’re not under attack. I’m being a little harsh with the message because I want to drive home the severity of the subject. At the same time, I want to change the landscape of how pregnancy is viewed in this country, so let’s start being constructive.

The human body and it’s ability to adapt is more amazing than we realize. The problem, of course, is that being naive to this causes us to adapt in bad ways.

I’ve had numerous pregnant women come to me and ask, “can I Reboot while I’m pregnant?” My response is usually, “please, please do.” Men who Reboot will say, “my wife wants to join me, but she’s going to wait until after she gives birth to our son.” So, I plead my case to get her on board immediately.

The majority of people come to me for help changing their body composition and their health markers. They want to lose excess fat, be healthier, and perform better. That doesn’t mean Reboot is a weight loss program — it absolutely isn’t.

Reboot is where you start working with your body instead of against it when it comes to food, fitness, and lifestyle. The side-effect of that is fat loss (if your body has fat to lose, because that’s how a body reacts to healthy circumstances). If you don’t have fat to lose, Reboot is still essential if you care about your body, your health, your performance, your mobility, and your mental and emotional health. Or, in this case, the health of your baby.

Remember, the core nutritional foundation of Reboot is eating real food and avoiding foods that break your body (and your baby’s body). How is that ever the wrong answer?

The absolute wrong answer for pregnancy is what many doctors and clueless government suits recommend: the food pyramid. Eating low fat, low calories, whole grains (and grains in general), vegetable/seed oils, and a bunch of chemicals is an unmitigated disaster for both mom and baby.

Worse, they want to feed baby more grain-based sugar products — via formula — right after birth (“as a supplement,” they say). Oh, and don’t forget to start feeding them sugar rice cereal as soon as possible! It’s so unfortuante. The current advice for how to feed mom and baby is not just wrong, it’s delusional and destructive.

We don’t have an obesity and preventable disease epidemic in this country simply because people are eating processed food and being sedentary. We’re seeing it in large part because we’re set up for that outcome from pregnancy (and pre-pregnancy in many cases). I detailed this in It’s Not Your Fault, one of the first articles I ever wrote for this blog.

But, I’ll tell you this (prepare for cold hard truth): If you continue the cycle with yourself and your children, it will be your fault. You have the opportunity to completely change the health outcome of your family. You, right now, have the power to not only ensure that you and your children thrive, but to start a cycle that helps future generations thrive — you can change your entire family tree!

My core mission isn’t just to help people Reboot themselves. It’s to then help them Reboot their family, their kids, and their children’s children. That’s how we truly change the landscape of health in this country.

All that’s required is simple adjustments to how we define food, how we deal with stress, and how we view activity and exercise. It starts with understanding the importance for mom and baby and ends with taking forward action.

The questions is, are you ready to do it?

Recommended Listening: Reboot Your Pregnancy With Dr. Kelly Brogan

What questions do you have? What’s holding you back? What are you concerned about? What are you struggling with? Leave a comment and let’s start a discussion on this very important topic.

Babies need breast milk for this one critical reason

There’s a lot of “reasons to breastfeed your baby” articles out there, but most of them miss the single most important point…

If you care at all about your baby’s physical and mental wellbeing, this one argument should be enough to convince you (if you need convincing). If you’re already convinced, it’ll be a great resource to share with people who need convincing. No need for anymore “101 reasons” articles.

First, a quick primer on one of the most important aspects of human health (and for children: physical and mental development):

The gut biome is everything.

Science and our understanding of the gut biome is relatively new. Of course, way back in the day Hippocrates ran around saying things like, “all disease begins in the gut” but I don’t think anyone took him seriously until now.

Let me put the importance of gut flora in perspective for you: there’s 100 trillion microbes in the human gut with over 1000 different species represented. In terms of complexity of function, the gut is second only to the human brain.

So what’s the big deal? Well, there’s a few big deals. The gut biome — the collective interaction of all of these microbes — has three main responsibilities that have implications in the function of the entire body. The two most important for our discussion today are metabolic function and protection.

It turns out that it’s very easy to alter your gut flora through diet and lifestyle factors. In adults, a weak gut biome is a leading factor in disease, excessive weight gain, and poor mental health. It’s unlikely that anyone has ever told you that, but it’s an important connection to make for both you and your babies.

The only reason you need to breastfeed.

Breast milk greatly influences healthy gut bacteria and formula contains ingredients that harm beneficial bacteria and promote pathogenic bacteria.

Swapping breastfeeding for formula feeding significantly alters the gut biome in babies at precisely the time they need breast milk to establish a healthy one.

If you don’t understand the implications of that statement, then you’re likely to dismiss it at first glance. After all, who cares about some stupid bacteria?

Well, let’s discuss, because there’s a lot of compelling sub-points.

An altered gut biome has immune implications.

80% of the immune system is housed in the gut. Negatively altering the gut flora depresses immune function, leaving baby more susceptible to preventable illness both now and in the future.

But that’s just the beginning — the tip of the gut flora iceberg, if you will.

An altered gut biome has autoimmune implications.

The gut behaves like a screen door, letting vital nutrients through and stopping everything else. When the gut biome malfunctions, typically due to food and lifestyle factors, the screen door can allow unapproved items to pass through that cause all sorts of problems.

Preventable malfunctions of the gut lead to autoimmune conditions, asthma, chronic sinusitis, eczema, urticaria, migraine, irritable bowel, fungal disorders, fibromyalgia, inflammatory joint disorders, and food sensitivities that can last for years — and in some cases, for life.

An altered gut biome alters gene expression and creates a less favorable outcome for future beneficial gut flora.

When you negatively alter baby’s gut flora by taking him off breastmilk and putting him on formula (removing healthy bacteria and replacing with ingredients that damage gut function), you can actually alter his ability to have a healthy gut going forward.

Most people think that genetics are set in stone — they’re not. Genes are like light switches that can be turned on and off. Food and lifestyle factors, especially at keys points in life, influence how genes are expressed.

The human body, even in the womb, is constantly scanning its surroundings and working to make adjustments that increase survivability. If a pregnant mother is constantly stressed, the baby feels the world is a stressful place and gene expression is altered to prepare for that. If a pregnant mother fails to eat enough calories, baby may sense that food is scarce and gene expression is altered to store more body fat.

The same is true for adapting to the food that’s available. Baby’s gut is attempting to make sense of the food she’s receiving and all contributing factors matter: diet of the mother during pregnancy and breastfeeding and diet of the baby after birth.

The introduction of formula sends baby’s gut on a tangential adaptation route that should never have occurred. This is a scenario that has widespread implications in gene expression.

An altered gut biome alters brain function.

Dr. Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine and psychiatry at the University of California has studied the connection between gut flora and brain function and has concluded that “gut microbes affect what goes on in our brains.”

He specifically thinks gut flora is a contributing factor to brain function and wiring during childhood.

Mayer found that the connections between brain regions differed depending on which species of bacteria dominated a person’s gut. That suggests that the specific mix of microbes in our guts might help determine what kinds of brains we have — how our brain circuits develop and how they’re wired. ~ Dr. Mayer

How is this so? It’s not completely known as of yet, but scientists know that gut flora greatly affects anxiety, mood, cognition, and pain as well as learning and memory (at least in mice).

One theory is that the vagus nerve, the main communication line between the brain and gut, is the mechanism for all of this. In mice, when the vagus nerve is cut, the brain stops responding to gut flora changes.

Mark Lyte of Texas Tech University has also offered a theory that certain gut bacteria can produce their own neurotransmitters.

And the connection between gut flora and Autism is being thoroughly explored as well.

The point is that we currently have no idea how widespread the implications in altering infant gut flora may be.

In my unprofessional estimation, formula feeding babies should not be seen as safe, much less acceptable.

But, what about just supplementing with formula?

Some people claim to breastfeed, but they’re engaging in a supplementation pattern born out of convenience (in most cases). This presents implications mom may not realize.

Relatively small amounts of formula supplementation of breastfed infants (one supplement per 24 hours) will result in shifts from a breastfed to a formula-fed gut flora pattern.

This is not surprising when you look at the ingredients of infant formula. Similac Advance is the formula I chose to highlight here:

Nonfat Milk, Lactose, Whey Protein Concentrate, High Oleic Safflower Oil, Soy Oil, Coconut Oil, Galactooligosaccharides. Less than 2% of the Following: C. Cohnii Oil, M. Alpina Oil, Beta-Carotene, Lutein, Lycopene, Potassium Citrate, Calcium Carbonate, Ascorbic Acid, Soy Lecithin, Potassium Chloride, Magnesium Chloride, Ferrous Sulfate, Choline Bitartrate, Choline Chloride, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Salt, Taurine, m-Inositol, Zinc Sulfate, Mixed Tocopherols, d-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, L-Carnitine, Vitamin A Palmitate, Cupric Sulfate, Thiamine Chloride Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Manganese Sulfate, Phylloquinone, Biotin, Sodium Selenate, Vitamin D3, Cyanocobalamin, Calcium Phosphate, Potassium Phosphate, Potassium Hydroxide, and Nucleotides (Adenosine 5’-Monophosphate, Cytidine 5’-Monophosphate, Disodium Guanosine 5’-Monophosphate, Disodium Uridine 5’-Monophosphate).

Rather than getting completely natural ingredients and probiotics from mom, baby’s gut is having to respond to the introduction of soy, processed seed oils (which are the leading cause of disease in adult humans), whey, and synthetic ingredients designed to mimic breast milk. And Similac is one of the better brands — many contain GMO corn syrup and other fake sugars.

Those are the same ingredients that are destroying adult gut flora and aiding the obesity and preventable disease epidemic. So why are we feeding these things to infants and babies?

What do you think?

There’s a lot of emotion in these discussions because people tend to defend the position they’ve taken in the past. If you’ve formula fed a baby, you’re not under attack. This is simply an attempt to influence future behavior.

So what are your thoughts? Is this a compelling reason? If not, what’s your take on it?

Starting solid foods the right way

firstfoods

My wife and I had our first child 10 months ago as of this writing (this article originally appeared at Rebooted Body) — our beautiful daughter Noelle. We both agreed that we would shun the majority of advice offered by conventional wisdom and mainstream sources as they just don’t align with raising a happy, healthy, rebooted baby.

Childhood obesity, adult diseases finding their way to children’s bodies, kids with no mobility or agility, broken spirits, tiny minds programmed by television and electronic games, piss poor education maligned with government babysitting, and a continuing laundry list: that’s the definition of what it means to be a child in today’s world.

Not us. Not her.

How the mainstream does weaning.

Even though eating at a restaurant isn’t optimal, my wife and I love to go out. And we enjoy taking our daughter with us. What we don’t enjoy is seeing all the babies eating baby cereal.

That’s the #1 go to food for parents starting their babies on solids and it’s mind blowing. Have you read the ingredients on this stuff? It’s gluten, GMOs, chemicals, sugar, and unhealthy oils pressed into little pellets.

So, from the start we’re saying: here, let me predispose you to sugar addiction, disease, and a busted metabolism.

Is that really what’s best?

The second thing we see a lot of is babies being fed with a spoon from a jar. While baby food is far healthier than baby cereal, it’s the process of eating that’s actually in question here. More on that later.

What do babies need from food?

Babies need what adults need: vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. There is a dietary requirement for these things. Baby cereal has precisely none of those things (no matter how many vitamins it says baby cereal is “fortified” with).

You know what babies (and all humans) have no dietary requirement for? You guessed it: wheat, chemicals, added sugars, and corn. You know what baby cereal is made of? All of those things.

What percentage of babies do you think eat these processed foods? I haven’t done any studies but based on observation I’d say the vast majority. And then — just like with our grown human population — we prescribe them medications to deal with the ailments that are likely caused by these eating habits.

Babies are crawling around with eczema, constipation, reflux, and more. In most cases, these ailments are completely preventable. So the obvious question is: are we doing what’s best for children or what’s best for the agricultural industry?

What should babies be eating?

Babies should be eating what we eat (and we should be eating the right things).

This is really important. A constant theme is going to run through everything I talk about: modeling. If you want your children to behave a certain way, you must first behave that way yourself. Got it?

We feed Noelle grass fed ground beef, sweet potato, mango, avocado, blueberries, apple, carrots, and similar. It’s just cut up pieces from whatever we’re eating. It’s not processed and it’s not from a jar.

Is it convenient? No. Is it what’s best for her? Yes.

How they’re eating is just as important as what they’re eating.

Part of raising and leading healthy, happy children is letting them explore the world around them. And since, by nature, they don’t have much control over their lives at this stage, we need to offer them as much control as possible.

Baby led weaning is an important part of all of this.

It starts by offering food in front of them (preferably when they’re not restrained by a device like a high chair) and just observing. The picture at the top of this post is my daughter on the floor exploring avocado.

If the baby hasn’t yet developed a pincher grasp and coordination that’s adequate enough to get the food to their own mouth, they’re not ready to eat yet so stick to the breast milk. If they’ve already developed those skills, sit back and let them experience the empowerment of feeding themselves.

That’s what we’re after here: babies learning about the world and succeeding on their own. Shoving a spoon in their mouth while making airplane noises is akin to a food dictatorship where baby is treated like both an idiot and a toy. That’s no way for a rebooted baby to grow up.

If you’ve done the spoon thing before and all the antics that go along with it, you don’t have to feel guilty. Nobody is sentencing you to bad parent land. Just commit to doing better in the future. That’s all we’re about because it’s all we can do.

Commit to what’s best for the baby.

If you’re choosing what to feed and a method of feeding based on what’s convenient and least messy, I want to challenge you to take a few steps back.

Our goal as parents is to do what’s best, not what’s easiest. You made the choice to make a baby, now meet their needs wholeheartedly rather than haphazardly.

Action plan: Choose real food, don’t over-prepare it for them (for example, a banana doesn’t need to be cut into pieces — just let them pick the thing up and figure it out), and then let them eat it on their own.

Have you tried baby led weaning before? Are you interested, but have questions? Let us know in the comments section below…

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