Are we what we eat?

Or are our children what we eat? August is is National “Kids Eat Right” month. Because of this and being a dietitian, my inbox is filled with “back to school tips”, and tips to pack your child a healthy lunch.

Hi, I’m Sarah, and I have a cat.

On top of that I have seen Powerful Obesity PSA buzzing around on twitter and Facebook. Pat sent it to me the other day- so he gets part of the credit of this post, just for bringing it to my attention. It is a PSA that originated in Atlanta. One can assume it is in regard (in some way) to “Kids Eat Right Month”.

I highly suggest watching the video – I think it’s powerful. It even made me a little sad- I think without saying all that much- this video really makes you think, or that’s what it’s supposed to do anyways.

There is always a lot of conversation about if obesity is in fact a disease. Based on what I have learned, and seen in practice I feel obesity is both a disease and a symptom. This is my professional opinion, and you are entitled not to agree with it.

I will explain to you why I have this stance.
1) There is evidence that shows that a child is more likely to be obese coming from obese parents, I think both environmental/lifestyle factors and both genetic factors play important roles.  I do not thing they are mutually exclusive, nor is one more/less important.

2) Obesity needs to be treated in a similar fashion of other chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes. You don’t develop diabetes over night and you don’t become obese overnight. You also don’t “manage” either of them overnight as well.

3) A disease like diabetes (chronic diseases in general) has both modifiable and unmodifiable risk factors. Modifiable risks are things you can change such as diet, activity level, smoking, drinking. Unmodifiable risk factors are things you can’t change: genetics, ethnicity, sex, and age. Obesity in and of itself can be a risk factor for developing chronic disease- but it also has it’s own set of risk factors. Such as low activity, poor diet, and genetics can play a role in the sense of energetic imbalances (leading to fat accumulation), additionally it seems that genetics also predispose us to things involving inflation of fat stores, and the way our bodies use and respond to the “hunger hormones” ghrehlin, and leptin. It’s important to understand that ghrelin and leptin are hormones, and hormone imbalances can snowball very quickly into other hormone imbalances. Things like sleep, appetite, weight, carbohydrate metabolism (to name just a few) are hormone driven. And these are things that we can be predisposed to possibly have problems with.

So regardless of how we classify “obesity” as a symptom or a disease. I think one thing a majority of people can agree on is: that obesity is a problem. And taking a step away from real beauty campaigns and fat shaming – what can we do to make real constructive change?

1) Educate ourselves

I am aware that my constant harping on people like Dr. Oz and Foodbabe make it seem like only RDs are allowed to be educated in nutrition. That is simply not how I feel. I think anyone can become more educated on health and nutrition, but in terms of WHERE you get that education from: an RD is a really good place to start. Nutritionists, trainers, health coaches etc- they are not equipped to deal with someone who is not just “overweight” but has additional chronic diseases. I am all about people educating themselves to nutrition and health- but make sure your sources for education are good ones. There is a lot of misinformation out there.

2) Make changes for ourselves

I think of this in the sense of- I was once told that you shouldn’t be in a relationship until you are happy with yourself. You can’t expect to be the best version of yourself whether it be mental or physical if you aren’t happy with yourself. This leads me into my point of number 3, but how can you expect your child to have a better outcome than yourself if you pass down the same habits.

3) Be a role model

One HUGE reason (no poorly timed pun intended) I don’t work in pediatric weight loss is- I abhor the thought of advising a parent who to modify their parenting when I myself am not a parent. As a dietitian I deal with mostly adult patients- and one piece of advice I don’t mind giving, or a question I don’t mind asking is: “Knowing what you know now if your child/grandchild had the same habits- as you from watching what you do, would you go back?” Most of my patients answer yes. Many of the people I see are caretakers- and realize the habits they have, have been ingrained for a long time, and they also realize they want to set a better example.

I’m not here to tell anyone how to parent, but if you dine out more than you cook, and substitute juice as a fruit- what is to stop your child from doing the same? The changes start with ourselves- but they can have a positive outward ripple effect.

With childhood obesity on the rise, the single most important place change needs to happen is within the home.

4) Be sensible with your goals and time line

As I said before, people do not develop diabetes over night, not do people gain copious amounts of weight overnight. With that being said- don’t expect to see drastic results over night, or in only a week. Remember slow and steady- while slow and steady may not always win the race- slow and steady more times than not allows people to “finish” their race.

In practice I would rather have people take more time to grasp concepts and education and slowly incorporate long lasting change versus, try to change 10 different things at once, get burnt out, and revert.

This blog post is a good time to review why I picked the name Half RD Half Human, I’m not some crazy health psycho that thinks that everything can be solved with a diet. That I thin health and nutrition are important but it’s just as important to be realistic and to take a person’s lifestyle into consideration. And don’t think I grew up eating kale – and I am the way I am because of it. Don’t get me wrong I love my parents and they raised me to not have tastes for things like sugary cereals and pop, and juice- we just didn’t have those things in the house because they were thought of as luxury items. I come from a meat and potatoes type of family. I don’t think I ate spinach until I was in college. I didn’t grow up like vegetables. It was something I had to teach myself to enjoy, and learn to prepare. My wake up call came at the end of high school and early in college. After I saw three men who I considered healthy and fit have two heart attacks and one open heart surgery. And in college I realized I had a small issue with my heart as well. I realized at the age of 20 it would be easier to make changes then, versus trying to make changes in my 40’s and 50’s.

So no, I may not have ever wanted or felt that I needed to lose weight- but I know how difficult it can be to make changes. The sooner you start even contemplating the changes you need to make the sooner you can tackle some of those changes.

So remember people, educate yourselves, if you read this and you’re inspired to pack some vegetables in your kids lunch this year, or pack some veggies in your lunch – that’s great, then I’ve done my job.  If not, just remember no one is perfect, and I’m sure we can all agree there are things in regard to our health we could improve upon.


Sources used:

Breaking the Metabolic Code by James LaValle

1 Comment

  1. Love this post. It baffles me how you and I have very similar views on food! But it makes me happy that they are in line w/what an RD would recommend 🙂

    I have also seen that scary PSA. Like you, I’m in my 20’s and every time I’ve gone to the dr for a physical, they have mentioned about things I could change and they always said to eat better and exercise (I have somewhat elevated bp and my dad is pre diabetic) I told myself I need to make changes now- I see my dad struggle to try to change, everything gets harder as you get older.

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