How to create mindful mealtimes from a health and wellness expert
Food. It provides the essential building blocks to life. Without it, we wouldn’t survive. Our bodies need nutrients to have the energy to grow and function. However, food does so much more than simply provide nutrients.
When we have a healthy relationship with food, it can relieve stress, improve social and emotional wellness, create memories, and provide a deep connection to others. On the other hand, an unhealthy relationship with food can cause poor health, strained relationships, or even life-threatening situations. Miki Eberhardt (‘04), BYU nutrition and dietetics graduate and a registered dietitian, has spent her life studying how to develop a healthy, balanced relationship with food.
CREATING A FLEXIBLE FRAMEWORK FOR FOOD Eberhardt grew up as a dancer and was always interested in health and wellness. Seeing many of her peers struggle with body image issues and eating disorders motivated Eberhardt to help people avoid that struggle. With so much pressure from the outside world telling people that they should “look” a certain way, she saw a need to teach teenagers how to use healthy habits to combat the world’s fixation on appearance.
“I want to protect our youth by making sure that they are being nourished the right way, establishing good healthy eating patterns, and recognizing that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes,” Eberhardt says.
Eberhardt has seventeen years of experience working with people and their relationship to food. She has worked as a hospital personal trainer, a health instructor at Joyce University of Nursing & Health Sciences, a manager for corporate wellness, and, most recently, the health and wellness contributor for Studio 5 on KSL, a lifestyle show on the NBC affiliate. Her goal is to help those around her become confident, competent eaters who listen to their bodies.
“People can do a lot of really crazy things to get a smaller body that aren’t helpful in any way,” says Eberhardt. “I am a huge proponent of overall, good habits that contribute to one’s overall health whether or not that leads to a certain size.”
People are constantly bombarded with the latest diets to try in order to look a certain way. “I often tell people, we could eat the exact same thing and do the exact same workout, and we will never look exactly the same. It doesn’t work like that,” says Eberhardt.
“Instead of looking outward for someone to tell me what I should do for my own body, we need to turn more inward,” she continues. “How did that make me feel? How do I feel when I move that way? How do I feel when I eat like that?”
She explains that people like diets because they provide a plan, but they hate the rigidity.
“Consistency over time is important, but you can’t be so strict for so long. It will backfire,” says Eberhardt. “We need more of a flexible framework that works with our own lives.”
TEACHING FAMILIES TO TRUST THEIR BODIES Eberhardt is passionate about helping families develop a flexible and mindful way of eating.
“The goal isn’t to raise super healthy eaters who are always going to choose salad and bananas,” Eberhardt explains. “The goal is to raise competent eaters that are confident that if they are thrown in a room with lots of different options, they can self-regulate the amount they eat.”
The trick, she says, is to help your child choose. Teach them how to trust their body and know when hunger turns into satisfaction. But it is imperative that parents don’t project their own food insecurities onto their children.
“We were taught how to use food for our emotional needs when we’re happy, sad, or stressed,” says Eberhardt. “We should own our food issues and insecurities and not put those on our kids.”
Eberhardt teaches parents to offer meals and snacks at reliable times so their children can be confident nourishment is coming.
She also understands that many parents have power struggles with their kids over eating patterns. Research shows one of the biggest things families fight over is food dynamics. “If everything is a fight or a battle, then we lose,” she says. “And we’re missing out on a great opportunity to connect at meal time.”
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE What Eberhardt enjoys most about her career as a dietitian is being able to see the impact that healthy, positive eating has on people’s lives.
“Taking somebody who has a dysfunctional relationship with food and helping them make peace with food is a total game changer,” says Eberhardt. “Helping someone improve their physical health and their mental health are rewarding beyond measure.”
Food is very personal and deeply rooted in how people were raised. Eberhardt cherishes the moments when people let her into their lives to ask for help. She explains, “It’s never too late to learn to trust yourself and how you feel as you navigate through different foods.”
THREE WAYS TO EMPOWER GOOD EATING HABITS
Parents control the supply lines When it comes to teaching kids how to eat healthy, parents are responsible for providing the food. “As the parent, I am the CEO,” says Eberhardt. “As the CEO, I decide what is being offered, when my children are being fed, and where they’re being fed—that's my job.”
A parent doesn't need to become a short-order cook. It’s all about providing the right options to help children choose good food. If kids are worried about whether or not they will have access to the food they need or want it can lead to unhealthy bingeing. Eberhardt uses the example of that one neighborhood kid who always cleared the pantry of all the snacks and sweets when they came over.
“If we’re doing our job of providing the food, [kids] can have confidence and peace knowing they are not going to go hungry,” says Eberhardt. “They know there’s going to be another meal or snack around the corner.”
Kids decide what to eat, and how much When it comes to helping a child make healthy eating choices, give the child the power to choose.
“My kid’s job is to decide whether or not to eat what is offered and then how much they are going to eat from what is offered,” explains Eberhardt.
People are naturally born with an intuitive nature regarding food. “When kids are younger, they eat when they’re hungry, and they stop when they’re not hungry anymore,” says Eberhardt. “Nobody is stress eating as a baby.”
It is normal to worry that kids won’t eat enough or they will only eat chicken nuggets. Sometimes this process is scary for parents who like to be micromanagers or maintain high control. “We want to take responsibility in the role as CEO, but we also have to be willing to give up control,” says Eberhardt. “That’s the secret to letting our kids do their job.”
Parents offer a wide variety of foods Encouraging kids to try lots of different foods may seem like an impossible task. Eberhardt says it’s important to remember that parents don’t need to introduce all new food at once. As part of the meal, offer at least one thing from the food group the child will like to help expand the child's taste buds. Eberhardt suggests having a “try-it” plate.
In addition, Eberhardt reminds parents to not restrict certain kinds of food too much. Having that flexible framework is key. She explains, “There has to be some pleasure and fun involved in our food, otherwise kids will find it in other places and they won’t know how to self-regulate.”
Eberhardt suggests offering the dessert with the meal. This way, sweets aren’t put on a pedestal as a reward for eating the other food; treats are on the same plane as green beans or peaches. This helps the child reflect inward on their own eating experience.
“It’s a process. It doesn’t happen overnight,” says Eberhardt. “If we let our kids do their job, . . . they become that competent, confident eater."
Miki Eberhardt ('04), BYU nutrition and dietetics graduate and a registered dietician, has spent her life studying how to develop a healthy, balanced relationship with food.