Tag Archives: obesity

Feeding the Whole Family: An Interview with Cynthia Lair of Cookus Interruptus

By Rita Brhel, API’s publications coordinator, managing editor of Attached Family magazine and an API Leader (Hastings, Nebraska, USA). Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.

Cynthia LairMy mother has a PhD in nutrition, and my father recently retired after 35 years in food production research. In addition to their food-oriented careers, we lived on a sustainable farm, meaning that we grew food for our own use, as well as to sell to others, in an environmentally and socially responsible way. So I was raised with an appreciation of food—both for the work that goes into growing it and for its capabilities in keeping our bodies healthy.

I carried on this family legacy of responsibility in food production and consumption with an early journalism career in covering sustainable agriculture, connecting producers to consumers and chefs. For many years, until I became a mother and my personal and professional focus shifted to Attachment Parenting, I covered the “big names” in this genre of journalism.

Among the up and coming stars in this realm has been Cynthia Lair, a self-made whole foods chef turned author and cooking show host. This wonder woman of sorts has a lot going on, including:

·         “Cookus Interruptus,” a web-based cooking show (www.cookusinterruptus.com) that teaches consumers how to cook fresh, local, organic, whole foods despite life’s interruptions.

·         Feeding the Whole Family: Recipes for Babies, Young Children, and Their Parents, the book that started it all, and a second book, Feeding the Young Athlete: Sports Nutrition Made Easy for Players and Parents

·         Instructor at Bastyr University’s School of Nutrition and Exercise Science in Kenmore, Washington

In my discussions leading up to this interview, published originally in the Attached Family magazine’s 2009 “Feeding Our Children” issue, Cynthia revealed how much influence that practicing Attachment Parenting with her daughter helped to shape her life—and especially started her on the path to becoming the force she is in encouraging others to try to embrace whole foods.

RITA: Thank you, Cynthia, for taking the time for this interview. Let’s start with what influenced you in embracing whole foods nutrition?

CYNTHIA: It’s a little Lifetime movie-ish. My mother was a cancer patient, and I wanted to help in some way. As I was researching, I learned about macrobiotics and its role in disease prevention and healing. Part of this approach calls for people to move toward more natural foods. I decided to leave behind the strict doctrinal part of it and went on with the more spiritual and natural tenets of it.

My diet prior to that had been a “diet” diet. I was surviving on cottage cheese, diet Coke, coffee and salad—always trying to lose weight. I was in my early 20s, and I’m in my mid-50s now, so it was a long time ago. I didn’t know anything.

After college, I began putting on weight and didn’t understand why. The only information at the time was doing a calorie count.

But it was good. Having gone through that as a person—I also had quite the sugar addiction as a child—I can understand that people can change.

RITA: The most passionate people for a movement tend to be those who’ve “been there, done that” in terms of changing. What does it take to change the way we think about food?

CYNTHIA: Many emotions go into the over 200 decisions about food we make every day. I’m the last to understand all of the reasons behind our decisions. Some choices are made from fear or wanting control. Some are made in an effort to be more spiritual or to heal. You have to understand why you are choosing the foods you choose before you can change. I learned much of this from Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink.

RITA: What inspired you to change specifically?

CYNTHIA: After my eyes were opened up to the nature of food and its healing potential, I went back to school in New York City at the Health and Nutrition Program to become a certified health and nutrition counselor.

During school, I focused all of my papers on maternal and infant nutrition. I was newly married, and we were talking about having a baby. This time in one’s life is such a window of opportunity to change how you eat and to learn how to eat. Every mother wants to make the right choices, the best choices they can.

After my daughter was born and it came time to start her on foods, the experiment began. I started feeding her what we were eating, instead of following the cultural rules at the time [store-bought baby food]. And I couldn’t get this book out of my head. Some of the book came from within me, but most of it came from practicality.

RITA: What do you hope to accomplish through your educational efforts in whole foods?

CYNTHIA: Through “Cookus Interruptus,” the point of the show is to demonstrate how to incorporate high quality, wholesome foods into the diet within the context of a busy family.

There’s a back story to the cooking show. The characters are Great-Grandpa, Grandpa, Grandma and the Mom, who is going through an identity crisis and is struggling to take care of her 5-year-old son so she has moved back home.

It’s an Attachment Parenting community. That’s all going on in there, during the show. It’s so subtle. It’s not a perfect family: We got problems, but the boy is being taken care of in a loving and respectful way. I’m very conscious of what kind of family values we’re presenting.

My goal is to move healthy eating away from the fringes and into the mainstream. I want ordinary people to realize that, yes, you can do this.

I thank U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle for normalizing it through their garden and personal food choices. The more normal it is, the easier it is to get some of the more important things done, like getting healthier foods into school lunches and the hospitals and getting farm subsidies in place for growers of fruits and vegetables. It all starts, I believe, at the family dinner table.

RITA: A sit-down meal shared together is a great way for families to continue practicing the second of Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting: Feeding with Love and Respect. Cynthia, can you explain the importance of the family table?

CYNTHIA: Research bears out that for the family that sits down and shares a meal together, the children have a long list of benefits, including closer family ties, better vocabulary, more resilience when facing emotional crisis—wow—and as teens, not going toward drugs and alcohol as much. Sitting down and eating together is nutritious in every way possible, which is why I believe babies should eat the same foods as the rest of the family.

RITA: You’ve told me that API’s Principle of Feeding with Love and Respect aligns so closely to your own beliefs that it could have come straight out of your book. Can you share with us a little about your journey in Attachment Parenting?

CYNTHIA: I’m not a Mother Earth-type person. I know many people who are, and some of them are good friends of mine, but I’m not. I was curious in raising a child, just like we all are.

When babies are born, their mothers have these incredible strings attached to their hearts from their child: You know when they’re going to cry before they do—that kind of thing. I was shocked by how strong that was.

I think mothers have to let go of some of those strings in order to go back to work full time. I couldn’t let go. I had all this creative energy, but I decided I didn’t have to give up one—my career or motherhood—for the other. I allowed both to nourish each other. I think that’s the heart of Attachment Parenting: allowing that bond to be. It’s not that I was giving up my life but instead I was allowing my life to shift. Once I became a teacher, I found that is a really good career for a parent. I never had to use daycare. That’s what I see as the soul of Attachment Parenting: being there.

You have to change the way you think, just like you do when learning to eat wholesome foods.

RITA: What advice would you give to someone who wants to change the way they think about food?

CYNTHIA: The most important thing is to make really small changes and to do these changes slowly. The people who clear out their cupboards are the ones who only last two weeks. For example, you could set the goal to serve dark leafy greens once a week. Do that for three, four, six months and then pick another goal.

RITA: What other goals would you recommend starting with?

CYNTHIA: The first small change I would suggest is to dump diet soda. This is mostly from personal experience, but on a related note, Walter Willett from Harvard University, author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, explains that liquid calories don’t trigger the satiety signals. If you drink 300 calories from a latte, your body still thinks you need lunch.

Second, I would try to serve a warm breakfast once time a week. The easiest breakfast to serve kids is a sweetened or unsweetened cereal. Serving warm toast and eggs is a very loving thing you can do for yourself and your child.

Third, I would learn how to cook more vegetables that are pleasing to your family. Instead of steaming kale and trying to get everyone to choke that down, try serving it in a way your spouse and children would be more likely to eat it. Serve asparagus braised in butter and seasoned. Put cheese on broccoli.

RITA: Thank you so much for your time and your wisdom, Cynthia. Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

CYNTHIA: One thing I love about the API’s Principle of Feeding with Love and Respect is the word “respect” and its far-reaching implications. That word is important and has a lot of ripples to it: We want to respect ourselves through the food we eat, we want to respect the food by presenting it attractively, we want to respect the work that goes into preparing it, and we want to respect the people who grew the food and brought it to us. Most of all, we want to respect our children by teaching them to eat good food and to respect the people who make the food.

Be Mindful When Feeding Ourselves, Our Children by Cynthia Lair

·         Let an appetite develop – Constant sipping on juices and nibbling on crackers can lead to picky eating at the table. Physical activity is important.

·         Help discover intuition about what the body needs – When your child says, “I’m starving,” ask which food sounds better: this or that.

·         Know what you are serving – not just what the ingredients are but where it came from, how thefood was grown and processed. Whenever possible, choose fresh, local, organic ingredients. Choose whole food (apple) over partial products (apple juice).

·         Instill positive energy into the food you serve yourself and your children – Cook when possible, and pay attention to presentation; create flavor and beauty.

·         Encourage sitting down to eat – In this way, the body is cued that eating and digesting are taking place and nutrient uptake is actually better. Also, most are satisfied with less food.

·         Express gratitude together – Labor was expended in order for you to eat. The miracle of growth from a seed, dirt, water and sunshine occurred.

 Shopping for Sustenance by Cynthia Lair

 This could easily be the mantra guiding whole foods eating. If you purchase a food that was grown locally and organically, and is fresh and in season, that’s as good as it gets.

 High-quality food is more expensive, but consider this: In the 1960s, American families spent 18% of their income on food and 5% on health care. Nowadays, this is reversed: We spend just 9% of our hard-earned dollars on food and 16% on health care. Which would you rather spend your money on?


Fresh is best. The chemical composition of food changes radically a few hours after harvest simply because it is cut off from its food and water supply. Fresh food, particularly fresh produce, gives us maximum nutrients and flavor.

Frozen food can be good, too. Most of the nutrients are retained in foods that are frozen; however, some of the enzymes, color and flavor will have disappeared. If purchasing frozen fruits and vegetables, the texture will have changed. The foods are much less crisp than fresh foods because the cell structure is damaged by crystallization of water.

Canned foods have most of their nutrients present, but the flavor, color and texture suffer. One exception is tomatoes, which are picked at maximum ripeness and canned the same day. Often a canned tomato will be superior in flavor than a fresh tomato purchased in February that was flown thousands of miles.


Did you know that 86% of our fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown on farms surrounding America’s cities? Most farmers who sell their food locally don’t artificially treat crops to withstand shipping and extend their shelf life. Have a conversation with some of the non-organic vendors at your local farmer’s market, and you may find out that some local farmers do not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides but lack the size or profits to go through the rigorous process to attain organic status. Many farmers will sell their eggs, beef and pork directly to the consumer. The same is true for milk and milk products from healthy cows and goats.

Check out www.eatwild.com and click on your state. Consider subscribing to a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) operation through which a box of fresh, locally grown produce is delivered or picked up every week. The site www.localharvest.org has listings.

As Barbara Kingsolver pointedly reminds us in her essay, “Lily’s Chickens”:

“Even if you walk or bike to the store, if you come home with bananas from Ecuador, tomatoes from Holland, cheese from France and artichokes from California, you have guzzled some serious gas. This extravagance that most of us take for granted is a stunning boondoggle: Transporting five calories’ worth of strawberry from California to New York costs 435 calories of fossil fuel.”

Buying locally supports your community, supports your health and supports the intention of conserving global resources.


Buying organic products is a form of voting. Your organic purchase says that you support the growers and manufacturers who are producing food without the use of the synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides or pesticides that pollute your body and your world.

Buying organic produce, especially locally grown produce, also helps keep you in tune with the seasons.

Many believe that organic produce tastes better and contains more nutrients.

We have national (U.S.) standards for labeling food “organic.” A label that says “100% Organic” must contain all organic ingredients. If the label simply says “organic,” at least 95% of the ingredients are organically produced. When the label reads “made with organic ingredients,” at least 70% of the ingredients are organic. Organic produce label codes start with the number nine.

Please be aware that before there were national standards set for labeling a food “organic,” the term meant that the product had been grown according to strict uniform standards and verified by independent state or private organizations. In constructing national regulations, the standards have been watered down some. Now that super-chains, like Wal-Mart, are carrying organic produce, the standards may be changed to benefit large producers over individual consumers. The large corporations have more lobbying power to get the regulations changed to suit their need for lower prices and bigger profits. This trend may put the small, local farmers out of business, so whenever possible, buy organic produce at your local farmer’s market rather than chain supermarkets.

Make a special effort to use organic products when preparing food for pregnant or nursing moms, infants and children. Toxins found in the mother’s food can cross the placenta to the growing fetus or wind up in breastmilk. What may be tolerated by a mature adult may prove harsh to the immature system of fetus or infant. Regulatory practices used to control pesticides in foods are based on studies of pesticide exposure to the general population without regard to the special needs of infants.

Some of the most pesticide- saturated foods are ones that we routinely give children to snack on, including peanut butter, peanuts, raisins and potato chips. Non-organic apples, peaches, strawberries and celery can contain as many as 80 pesticide residues. Use your power as a consumer to demand the best for our children, our planet and the future of both.


Choosing food that is in season gives the year rhythm and ritual. It is exciting to wait for local strawberries to appear, which are sweeter and fresher than eating Mexican-grown berries in January. Anticipation is a wonderful feeling. I can’t wait for corn to be in season locally because it is so sweet it hardly needs to be cooked. By waiting for produce available locally only during windows of time, our eating has a cyclical feeling keeping us in tune with the seasons.

Eating seasonally also puts your body in tune with the climate you are living in. The stereotypical southern Californian preference for raw salads and avocados has sense to it. The lighter diet that includes lots of raw foods is perfect for living in a sunny, warm climate. Northwesterners need the density of frequent servings of salmon to survive the cold damp of rainy winters. Traveling north of our continent, an even fattier diet is appropriate for surviving the cold. Where do you live? What did the ancestors who inhabited your community grow and eat?

Excerpted from Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (Sasquatch Books, 2008). Reprinted with permission.

You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:

Kids in the Kitchen: An Interview with Sally Sampson, Founder of ChopChopKids

Malnourished by a Western Diet, or NDD by Dr. William Sears

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food by Kelly Bartlett


Emotional Eating: An Interview with Dr. Marian Tanofsky-Kraff

By Rita Brhel, managing editor of Attached Family, API’s Publications Coordinator and API Leader (Hastings API, Nebraska)

Photo: Miranda Laskowska
Photo: Miranda Laskowska

Feeding a child involves more than providing nutrients. From birth on, there is a very strong emotional component. This is easiest to recognize with babies and toddlers, who rely on comfort sucking as a way to cope with stress. But we continue to see it far beyond these early years, such as in how we crave a cookie or soft drink while unwinding after a hard day.

This tendency to comfort ourselves through food is called “emotional eating.” We all do it sometimes, but some people rely on emotional eating as a primary coping mechanism, and this can lead to problems such as binge eating or obesity. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are also related because those affected find a level of comfort through controlling their food intake. The common link is an unhealthy relationship with food.

Attachment Parenting International addressed this topic during Attachment Parenting Month 2009, when the theme “Full of Love” sparked discussions on how family relationships, particularly secure parent-child attachment, can promote a healthy relationship between children and food, and lower the risk of obesity and other eating disorders.

I interviewed Marian Tanofsky-Kraff, PhD, as part of the effort. The original interview can be found in the Attached Family magazine 2010 “Full of Love” issue.

Dr. Tanofsky-Kraff is an associate psychology professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, as well as an obesity researcher at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, both located in Bethesda, Maryland, USA. Previously, she was a binge-eating disorders research associate at the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders in New Haven, Connecticut, USA. Her research program evaluates interpersonal psychotherapy with adolescent girls at high risk for obesity.

API: Let’s first get a good picture of what emotional eating is. Can you tell us what a healthy relationship with food looks like?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: Sometimes we all emotionally eat. To some extent, I don’t think this is a bad thing. If you want to have a cookie, that’s OK. When it becomes a problem is when you’re eating when you’re not physiologically hungry—when you’re using food to cope. A healthy relationship with food is when we eat only when we’re physiologically hungry. We can enjoy our food, but it’s unhealthy to allow it to control your life.

For some people, food is a “responsible” vice. They don’t drink alcohol, they don’t use drugs, they don’t gamble. They basically live healthy lives, except that food or certain types of food are their emotional vice. The problem is, unlike alcohol or drugs, people can’t abstain from food. They need to learn to find a balance with food. There’s nothing wrong with eating a slice of apple pie while you’re talking through what’s bothering you, but if you get into a habit of doing that, then you have an inappropriate relationship with that food item.

API: How does emotional eating develop?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: There isn’t much literature on this, so it’s all hypothetical. Some parents may have used food with their children as rewards or as a way to soothe a child when he felt badly. On the other hand, we know that some foods can actually soothe people—carbohydrates, chocolate. People who are using food to cope, and who choose chocolate, are possibly getting reinforcement.

API: So would you say that emotional eating is an addiction?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: There is a relationship between different food types and the brain and stress. For some people, yes, it can be safe to say that emotional eating can be addictive.

There is also a whole new line of science studying food addictive behavior. It’s been suggested that foods high in carbohydrates and that have been highly processed do have an addictive element—not so much as other addictions, such as to drugs, but still an addictive element. But this is a really new field of science.

API: In terms of prevention and intervention, how can parents teach their children not to emotionally eat? What if parents themselves emotionally eat?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: I always encourage parents not to use food as a reward. We have to find other ways to reward our kids. Soothe them with words and actions, as opposed to food. Bolster communication between parents and kids. Teach kids when they feel bad to work it out with words.

Keep an eye out and see if your kids are turning to food when they’re feeling down, and then teach them other ways to soothe themselves, like going to the playground. I’m a big prevention advocate because losing weight is very difficult, so if you see your child gaining weight, it’s important to do something then, rather than wait.

When parents emotionally eat, that runs into the problem of modeling. In working with kids, it’s important to have the whole family work on physical fitness and healthy eating together. This works better than singling out the obese child. Both parents need to be involved; if you have one parent who doesn’t focus on healthy eating and getting exercise, this sends a mixed message. The whole family has to be involved.

Modeling healthy eating begins when children are babies. If you expose kids when they’re young to healthy foods, they’ll grow up liking healthy foods. If you say “yum, yum, yum” with carrots, your children will grow up loving carrots.

API: It seems that every children’s activity, from sports to church, involves treats, and often these are sweets or other unhealthy foods. Parents even encounter candy being used to soothe a child after a doctor appointment. Despite the focus from television shows such as “The Biggest Loser,” our society seems to ignore the issue of obesity in children. How can parents teach their children to choose healthy food and eating habits?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: I think the only way we can change that is with big policy changes, such as a policy that schools cannot hand out sweets. For example, instead of celebrating a child’s birthday with cake, let’s play kickball. I think there need to be changes at a much broader level—it shouldn’t be just on parents.

Kids are eating so many snacks all the time that they don’t even know their hunger cues because they are virtually never hungry. Biologically, we should have a natural physiological reaction that occurs when we are hungry, and that’s when we eat.

API: How big a role do genetics play in determining a child’s risk of obesity?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: Up until age 6, the parents’ weight determines the weight of the child. So a 2-year-old with one obese parent is more likely to be of a higher weight percentile than a 2-year-old who doesn’t have an obese parent. After age 6, the child’s own weight is the best predictor of the risk of obesity. That is, even if both parents are obese but the child is not obese, his odds of becoming obese are lower.

Healthy eating is so important. I don’t think parents necessarily need to be concerned about obesity, but they should be concerned about healthy eating.

And everyone needs some physical activity every day. No, walking down to the mailbox is not enough exercise, but it’s hard to answer how much exercise is needed every day. It varies according to each person, depending on a number of factors such as your health, your physical fitness level, your age. What is consistent is that every person should have some form of aerobic [activity] every day.

API: Thank you so much for your time and insights. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

DR. TANOFSKY-KRAFF: Most of my work has been on out-of-control eating or binge eating, and what I’m finding is that out-of-control eating is often associated with emotional eating. If we focus on preventing emotional eating, eating in response to a negative affect [emotion] is less likely to occur. Parents can model how to respond to a negative affect in ways other than eating, and children will be less likely to use food to cope as they grow older.

From the Journal of Attachment Parenting: Emotional eating among children is correlated with parental responses that minimize, are punitive and are non-reasoning. These parental responses are in line with authoritarian and permissive parenting styles. Emotional eating among children is not related to parental responses that fall within authoritative parenting styles (under which Attachment Parenting falls). Learn more about this study in API’s Journal of Attachment Parenting, available online free of charge, through a free API Membership.


Recipe for Raising Healthy Eaters

By Sarina Behar Natkin, LICSW, parent educator, www.growparenting.com. Originally published on TheAttachedFamily.com on May 4, 2012.

“What’s for dinner?”

“Ugh, I hate green beans!”

“Can I have dessert yet?”

“I’m not hungry (but I will be as soon as you clear the table)”

The list of mealtime complaints can go on and on–not to mention the mayhem that may ensue before your little one can even talk. Not many parents can forget the frustration of thrown food, the mess of the yogurt in the hair, or the game of “watch Mommy pick up my bagel over and over again.”

Food is a huge part of human life, and most parents I meet cannot wait to dive into the world of food with their babies. I am the wife of a food blogger and chef, and we must have spent weeks talking about what our first food would be! Little did we know we were in store for a whole lot more than the idyllic family meals of The Cosby Show.

Clearly, Americans seem to have a love-hate relationship with food. Scan the headlines in just about any newspaper, and it’s filled with what to eat, what not to eat, who should eat less, who should eat more. It’s enough to drive an anxious parent to confiscate Halloween candy, only to wallow in chocolate when no one is looking. Continue reading Recipe for Raising Healthy Eaters

Using Media Literacy in the Battle for Our Children’s Minds – and Health

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

advertising and our children's healthWho’s teaching your children about food and nutrition? As much as parents hope the answer is them, even attached children are barraged by food messages from sources you might not have even considered: the media and advertising.

“A lot of people say, ‘Media doesn’t influence me,’” said Melinda Hemmelgarn, a dietician and food journalist from Columbia, Missouri, when in fact, advertising is often the only form of “education” they may be receiving about food and nutrition. Even of those people who have heard about their nation’s nutritional programs, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid, few rely on them to make their food choices, she said.

Hemmelgarn is spending her fellowship with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Food and Society Policy Fellows Program educating parents about the dangers of letting the media make children’s nutritional decisions. Media’s influence on our children is so pervasive, she said, that most of us don’t even realize how much our children – or we – are being exposed.

Advertisers are Relentless – and Want Our Children

The amount of advertising we receive on a daily basis is staggering: television, Internet, radio, billboards, newspapers, magazines, cell phones, video games, at sports venues, in supermarkets, food packaging, even in schools, and the list goes on and on. Children and adults are constantly hearing where they should go to eat or what they should buy. With so much marketing coming at us constantly, it’s impossible for media not to have an influence unless we live somewhere with absolutely no contact with the outside world. Cell phones now have the capability to allow businesses to track where users go, so if your teen walked past a pizza parlor, an ad could pop up for that pizza parlor on the screen of the cell phone. It’s both awesome and frightening what technology can do.

Advertisers are also keying in on trends, which are most influential on children and teens. “Now, with regard to children especially, you got to get them when they’re young, because if you can get them when they’re young, you got them for life,” Hemmelgarn said of how advertisers think regarding children.

Study: Food Marketing Aimed at Children Influences Poor Nutritional Choices
A recent report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies shows that food and beverage marketing targeted to children 12 years old and younger leads them to request and consume high-calorie, low-nutrient products. Advertisers aim for this age group because dietary preferences and eating patterns form early in life, the study says. The report calls for manufacturers and restaurants to direct more of their resources to reshape children’s awareness of food by developing healthy foods, drinks, and meals for children. The report also calls for the government to enhance nutritional standards in school meals and offer tax incentives to companies that develop healthy foods, and for schools, parents, and the media to support the government and food industry to pursue these initiatives.

It’s the Parents’ Responsibility

Parents need to teach their children how to be smart about buying their food – to realize that the purpose of food is to provide nutrition to the body, Hemmelgarn said. Children need to learn that there’s more to buying food than convenience, price, or emotional comfort. They need to learn how food choices affect their health, not just their checking accounts or their schedules.

Parents also need to teach their children that just because an advertiser makes a claim, it’s not necessarily accurate, Hemmelgarn said. For example, 78% of people in the United States say they like to buy green brands because they want to be eco-conscious, but not all advertisers who claim to be green or sustainable or organic actually are. One fast-food restaurant claims that its chicken nuggets are green because they don’t have trans fats, but there’s no information on how the chicken was raised or any other nutritional facts about the food. Even the term “organic” can get confusing, as many companies are now diluting this label to include naturally raised, yet not organically certified, foods.

Media Literacy is a Learned Skill

The key to guiding our children’s ability to make smart consumer choices regarding food is to teach them to be media literate – using critical thinking to sort through the messages they are receiving in order to find the truth about the food being advertised and if it aligns with their own values and beliefs.

“Media literacy is not media bashing,” Hemmelgarn said. “It’s a counter-balance. It’s an antidote to the excess media of this age. But, it’s an alternative to censoring.”

Through media literacy, consumers learn that all media is constructed to deliver a specific message to consumers and to persuade them of something — in the case of food purchases: where to go and what to buy. They learn how to think beyond the plate to find “food truth,” answering questions such as: Where did this food come from? Who produced it? How was it raised? What’s in it? How might eating this affect the environment, society, my community, my family, or me?

There are seven key questions for consumers to ask themselves before basing a food purchase on a media message they received:

  1. Who paid for the message?
  2. What is the purpose of the message?
  3. Who is the intended audience?
  4. What techniques are being used to grab and hold my attention?
  5. What is being sold?
  6. What is not included in the message?
  7. What are the unintended consequences of purchasing this food?

Using the case of a fast-food restaurant’s ad promoting parties to schoolteachers for their classrooms during field trips, Hemmelgarn demonstrated how to use these questions:

  1. Who paid for the message? McDonald’s
  2. What is the purpose of the message? To sell food
  3. Who is the intended audience? Teachers
  4. What techniques are being used to grab and hold my attention? Happy, fun character interacting with happy children
  5. What is being sold? A free event for classrooms
  6. What is not included in the message? That the food is unhealthy
  7. What are the unintended consequences of purchasing this food? Children learn unhealthy food choices from the teacher’s decision, and children learn to overlook healthy food options such as homemade meals or healthier restaurants

Here’s another example using a soft drink company’s pop machines in schools:

  1. Who paid for the message? Coca-Cola
  2. What is the purpose of the message? To sell bottles of a soft drink
  3. Who is the intended audience? Children
  4. What techniques are being used to grab and hold my attention? Bright colors, catchy slogans
  5. What is being sold? Easy, inexpensive drink option
  6. What’s not included in the message? That the drink is unhealthy
  7. What are the unintended consequences of purchasing this food? Children learn unhealthy food choices from the school’s decision, and children learn to overlook healthy drink options such as milk or juice

Sorting through media messages can be difficult to learn and to teach to others, but says Hemmelgarn: “If we love our kids and if we’re interested in protecting them from these media messages, then we need to know how to do this.”

Cheap Food is Often Unhealthy Food
Anyone who has ever walked into a grocery store knows this is true: Healthy food is not cheap. Earlier this year, at the groundbreaking of U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama’s home garden, CBS News reported that people going through the economic recession were more likely to opt for inexpensive, unhealthy foods over whole foods, even when they know the long-term consequences of an unhealthy diet. When it came to saving money, people are more likely to trade their $3 organic apple for a $1 fast-food sandwich rather than look for other money-saving options. As attached parents, we must keep in mind that we are raising our children to grow into healthy adults and to value health over greed. And we must model the decisions we want our children to make. Be careful when you begin cutting the family food budget.

Rescue Your Baby from Obesity

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Rescue your baby from obesityAs attachment parents, we need to be sure that we love and accept our children no matter what – and this includes their weight. Some children are naturally, genetically, more overweight or underweight than other children, and this is OK. The reason for the national media attention on children and their weight management is because of the high rates of obesity not only among adults but among children, as well.

Obesity is defined as being 20% above the ideal weight for height. Excess body fat puts children at risk for a number of serious health concerns including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea, and bone and joint disorders. Recent studies have found possible links with liver and kidney disease, and cancer. Obesity also puts kids at increased risk for low self esteem, which can later contribute to depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. Many experts and resources agree that childhood obesity is of epidemic proportions. Continue reading Rescue Your Baby from Obesity

Is Organic Really Healthier?

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Is organic scientifically healthier?Georgia Jones isn’t accustomed to addressing a crowd as knowledgeable about food as are many attached parents. An University of Nebraska-Lincoln nutrition professor, Jones spends much of her classroom time educating people about the very basics of what they put in their bodies.

“My students don’t come with an understanding of food,” she said. “Food for my students comes out of a box, a pan. If I told my students to go make a chocolate cake, they wouldn’t have a clue.”

But many families involved in Attachment Parenting are smart about their food. They understand the importance of knowing where their food comes from and how it was produced. These consumers choose to eat food without chemicals, because they realize that organic is superior to conventionally raised food. Or, is it?

Background on the Organic Food Industry

Organic food, a $14 billion industry, is the fastest-growing segment of the food industry, Jones said. National surveys show that two-thirds of Americans have purchased organic food at some point during the last 12 months.

“Organic food started as mostly a niche market, years ago,” Jones said. During especially the last decade, organic foods, farmers markets, and local food networks have spread rapidly into the mainstream consumer market. “Organic food is no longer a niche market,” she said.

Consumer demand for organic food is on the rise for a number of reasons, including food safety issues, such as an avoidance of pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs); a concern for the environment; and because organic food is often fresher and tastier than conventionally grown food, Jones said. But the number-one reason is an increased awareness of the link between food and health.

“There was a time in this country when we forgot that food actually has a purpose in our health, that it is for nourishment,” Jones said. “Now, we’ve moved into an area that I call ‘beyond nutritional eating,’ where we are using food to try to prevent and heal disease.”

That organic food is free of pesticides and GMOs and comes from environmentally friendly farms and gardens are safe assumptions – each documented through federally regulated certification programs. Shocking as it may be, however, there is no certainty that organic food, while its safety is certainly more accountable, is actually more nutritious than conventionally grown food, Jones said.

A New Era in Food Science

Consumers often confuse food safety and nutrition. Food-borne illnesses, pesticides, and GMO allergens are food safety concerns. Nutrition refers specifically to the content of macro- and micronutrients within food. Traditional nutrition centers on macronutrients, which include protein, carbohydrates, and fats; vitamins; and minerals. Micronutrients include substances such as phytochemicals and phytonutrients that were long thought to have no effect on human health. Research now shows that these micronutrients, also known as secondary metabolites, are extremely beneficial in boosting the immune system, protecting the body from cancer-causing free radicals, killing disease-causing pathogens, and more. “This is a new area [for science],” Jones said.

One phytonutrient receiving a lot of attention from nutritionists are flavonoids, which are found in very high amounts in blueberries but also in a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids are known to protect against heart disease, cancer, and age-related diseases such as dementia. “You want to eat plenty of fruits and plenty of vegetables,” Jones said. “Something else is, you want to eat plenty of color. This is a key part of nutrition and is not getting enough attention.”

Activated by environmental stress, flavonoids are produced by the plant as a defense mechanism against UV-B radiation and disease stress. “These secondary metabolites aren’t there for us. We just reap the benefits,” Jones said. “They’re actually there to protect the plant.”

Organic Plants Contain More Secondary Metabolites

To determine whether organically raised plants are more nutritious than conventionally raised plants, science is going back to how plants are raised and focusing on the formation of secondary metabolites — the phytonutrients — which are chemicals produced by a plant grown in less-than-ideal conditions. Organically raised plants are subject to more pest and weather stress than conventionally raised plants, which are protected by chemical pesticides, GMO varieties, and commercial fertilizer application. As a result of this added stress, an organically raised plant produces secondary metabolites to provide added protection, as well as to quicken maturation and seed development.

But Theories Are Not Proof

Although organic foods do tend to contain more secondary metabolites, “there are a number of reasons why scientists aren’t coming out and saying this is the better way,” Jones said. There are still too many unknowns in the formation of secondary metabolites, including specific environmental factors, soil properties, and crop management practices that affect the formation of these micronutrients. Plus, there are two crucial questions that must be answered first:

  1. Do organic plant products contain more or less of certain nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and secondary metabolites than conventional plant products?
  2. To what extent are nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and secondary metabolites beneficial or harmful to human health?

Much of the problem with being unable to give a definite answer to the question of whether organic food is more nutrition relates to the type of research that has been conducted on the relationship between secondary metabolites and organically raised food. Most of the studies seek out theories, such as epidemiological studies that link food to health through statistics, retail food analysis, and other studies that are purely observational. Observational studies look for patterns, but they can’t prove a theory. For example, an observational study may find that people who eat oranges tend not to develop cancer but there aren’t any scientific data to prove that oranges prevent cancer. “Just because something organic is statistically different doesn’t mean it’s biologically different,” Jones said.

Below are a number of observational studies related to organic nutrition, each with promising theories:

  • Organic ketchup contains more lycopene than conventional and store brands, and fast food ketchup (Ishida and Chapman, 2009).
  • Flavanoids are significantly higher in tomatoes raised with organic practices such as crop rotation for pest control and organic matter for fertilizer, than in tomatoes raised with herbicides and pesticides and commercial fertilizer (Mitchell et al, 2007).
  • Animals fed with organic feeds have fewer stillbirths than those fed with conventional feeds (Williams, 2002; Bourn and Prescott, 2003).
  • Antioxidant compounds are higher in peaches and pears raised organically than conventionally, and vitamin E is higher in organic pears than conventional pears (Carbonaro, et al, 2002).
  • Organic food products have higher levels of vitamin C and lower levels of nitrates than conventional food products (Bourn and Prescott, 2002).

A follow-up human or animal study must be used to prove any theories found. Human studies are the most influential but are particularly difficult to do. “You can control what a rat does, but you can’t control what a human does,” Jones said. “You have to consider not only diet but lifestyle. You can’t eat organic and drink or smoke all day. … You also have to consider, with human studies, that diseases progress over a lifespan, not just one or two years.”

The Most Promising Study

By and large, the observational study most supportive of the theory that organic food is nutritionally superior to conventional foods was conducted in 2001 among Okinawans, the people living on the southern-most Japanese island of Okinawa.

“They have the longest lifespan of any group alive,” Jones said. Okinawans live to be an average of 81.2 years old, followed by the Japanese at 79.9 years, Hong Kong at 79.1 years, and Sweden at 79.0 years. The United States has the 18th longest lifespan of the world’s societies, at 76.8 years.

Okinawans also experience a delayed aging process and minimized debilitating diseases in the elder years. “These people are healthier longer than (Americans) are,” Jones said, despite U.S. medical advancements superior to that of the Okinawans. The average cholesterol level in the Okinawa centenarian is 102.4 mg/dL, and high blood pressure exists in only 1.5% of the centenarian population, she said.

There are several aspects of the Okinawan diet that differ dramatically from the Western diet. Okinawans have never developed a taste for salt, so “they don’t eat a lot of processed foods,” Jones said. Their flavonoid consumption is six times higher than the Japanese or Canadians, who are next on the list. And the Okinawan diet contains the highest lycopene content of all of the world’s diets. The Okinawan diet has since been called the Longevity Diet, because it improves physical strength, prevents illness, and maintains overall health.

“They look at medicine as food,” Jones said. “They’re really looking at food in a different manner than we do.”

Using the Okinawan study, consumers of organic foods can safely assume that, yes, organic is nutritionally superior to conventional foods, Jones said. But, she warned, this is only a guess until the research proves it so — although it’s a guess that many consumers are confident to say is truth.

Current Trends in the Organic Sector

Consumer interest in organic foods continued to grow last year. Highlights from 2008 consumer use surveys include:

  • Research from The Natural Marketing Institute reveals that consumers are increasingly incorporating organic products into their lifestyles. Total household penetration across six product categories has risen from 57% in 2006 to 59% in 2007. The research also showed that the number of core users has increased from 16% in 2006 to 18% in 2007.
  • Consumer interest in buying environmentally friendly products and organic food remains high among Northwest natural and organic product consumers despite tough economic times and rising food and energy prices. Research by Mambo Sprouts Marketing showed that consumers in Washington and Oregon see buying “green” as a priority: 92% of consumers reported buying the same (54%) or more (38%) environmentally friendly products compared to the prior six months. Rather than cutting out such products, consumers report they are using money-saving strategies, such as coupons, stocking up on sales, and cooking meals at home to stretch their grocery dollars.
  • 69% of U.S. adult consumers buy organic products at least occasionally, according to The Hartman Group report, The Many Faces of Organic 2008. Furthermore, about 28% of organic consumers (about 19% adults) are weekly organic users. Organic categories of high interest to consumers are dairy, fruit and vegetables, prepared foods, meats, breads, and juices.
  • A Harris Interactive online survey conducted for Whole Foods Market showed that, despite rising food prices, 79% of consumers do not want to compromise on food quality and 70% continue to buy the same amount of natural and organic foods. Findings also showed two out of three adults prefer to buy natural or organic products if prices are comparable to those of non-organic products. Overall, the survey found that 74% of adults purchase natural or organic foods, with 20% saying that more than one-fourth of all the groceries they buy are natural or organic. In addition, 66% of adults would like to find ways to buy natural or organic foods within their budget.

Lose that Stubborn Baby Fat…and Keep Your Exercise AP-Friendly

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Exercise, but keep it APPregnancy changes a woman’s body, and in ways that last long after the baby comes. Many women find that their shoes no longer fit, or that they’ve developed gallbladder and other health issues they didn’t have before. Some women find that pregnancy seems to cure previously untreatable medical conditions such as frequent headaches or, for me, a sense of smell that disappeared after a concussion in elementary school.

Almost universally, women find that their body shape has changed, too. Even with breastfeeding, which is the best postnatal weight-loss plan, mothers may not lose all their baby fat or their metabolism may slow down.

While you can easily reason that your body’s problem area, whether that’s your hips or waist, is a worthy tradeoff for your baby, it may be necessary for your sense of family and personal balance to adopt an exercise program – not to mention, the boost of health benefits that comes along with getting into shape. According to Fun-Baby-Games-Online.com, exercising wards off not only the risks that come with obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease, but also depression and osteoporosis. It also gives you an outlet for stress and improves your stamina so you keep going on those days, or nights, when the kids are running circles around you.

The challenge with exercise is first making it a priority, so it’s something that you do regularly. Second, you’ll need to choose activities where a baby or child can accompany you. With a baby, a sling or carrier or stroller can keep baby with you. But, as a child grows older, it’ll be more appropriate to choose games that both of you can do together.

Some easy activities to do with a baby in tow include:

  • Yoga or pilates
  • Walking, or running with the baby in a stroller
  • Bicycling with baby in a safety seat or child trailer
  • Weight room or gym training activities

Toddlers like music and a lot of movement but only for short amounts of time, such as:

  • Dancing
  • Playing tag
  • Kicking a ball around the yard
  • Bicycling with child in a child trailer

An older child or teen can participate in just about any sport you choose. The trick will be choosing an activity both of you enjoy, but the list is virtually unlimited:

  • Soccer
  • Volleyball
  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Running or walking
  • Swimming
  • Bicycling

Getting back into shape is more than helping yourself feel more balanced. It’s a great way to teach your child the importance of maintaining personal health, which goes hand-in-hand with eating nutritious foods and getting enough sleep. And should you feel passionate about a certain activity, say you love to play and watch basketball, it’s a way you can share this part of your life with your child.

What activities or games have you found to help you get exercise while strengthening the bond with your child? Comment below, or discuss this topic on the new Good for You! health and wellness section of the API Forum, such as this new post on stubborn belly fat.

Why Breast is Best, and What Needs to Change in Society to Better Support Mothers

By Christina Podolak


For most of our human existence on earth, mothers have fed their babies breast milk. Within the last 100 years, mothers had another option for feeding their babies: formula.

Mothers today are faced with the decision whether to formula feed or breastfeed their babies. Six years ago, I was one of those mothers. I was pregnant with my first child and went in for my first prenatal check-up. My doctor asked if I planned to bottle-feed or breastfeed my baby, and I didn’t hesitate to answer — breastfeed. The topic was never mentioned after that visit.

Why Breastfeed?

When asked a few years later why I wanted to breastfeed, I didn’t have a clear answer. I was aware of some of the health benefits to my infant, but formula processed from the milk of a cow or soybeans just didn’t seem natural or healthy. The cost savings was an obvious benefit, but I also had great breastfeeding role models in my family. My three older sisters as well as my mother had chosen to breastfeed through the first year of infancy. It wasn’t until I heard Dr. Jeanne Stolzer talk in Lincoln, Nebraska, in April 2009 that I fully understood the broad range of benefits available to my baby and me by choosing to breastfeed.

Stolzer is an associate professor and researcher of family studies at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. After hearing her talk about the overwhelming body of scientific evidence supporting breastfeeding, I couldn’t understand why if a mother was educated with this information, she would still choose formula without some sort of circumstance that would make breastfeeding medically impossible for either her or the baby. My concept of the importance of breastfeeding to the mother as well as the child was solidified. It made me feel even more passionate about sharing and education other mothers on the many benefits of breastfeeding.

Research is finding lifetime benefits for both the breastfeeding mother and baby. These benefits are a dose response-specific variable. This means that the outcome is different for each mother-child pair and is associated with the amount, intensity, and duration of the nursing experience. It can be compared to two persons, a regular drinker and a non-drinker: They can be given the same amounts of alcohol for the same length of time, but if one is used to drinking on a regular basis, he won’t be affected as much as the non-drinker. The specific breastfeeding benefits are affected by the amount of milk given, how long the nursing relationship is, and the intensity of nursing sessions. Research has found that the following health benefits to the mother included a reduced the risk for:

  • Type I and II diabetes
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disorders
  • Osteoporosis
  • Breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer
  • Depression rates
  • Cholesterol.

The baby benefits from an overall reduced risk of death from all causes. Research has also found many more lifetime benefit for the baby which includes a reduced risk for:

  • Upper and lower respiratory infections
  • Ear infections
  • Bacterial infections
  • Urinary infections
  • Asthma and allergies of all types
  • Diarrhea
  • Skin disorders
  • Type I and II diabetes
  • Celiac and bowel disease
  • Cancer, especially lymphoma and leukemia.

Stolzer shared the statistics of health care savings by breastfeeding alone: $3.2 billion dollars would be saved on health care if all Americans breastfed for six months.

Getting This News to Mothers

The challenge is providing the needed education to new mothers still on the fence about breast or bottle-feeding, as well as eliciting positive support from medical staff. I think back to own experience with my first pregnancy. I wasn’t offered any information from my OB/GYN at my prenatal visits. I agree with Stolzer in that our hospital protocol needs to be changed. All hospitals need to go to the Baby Friendly guidelines and not offer any formula samples or pacifiers.

There also needs to be better prenatal education for the mother and father. This would include a class on breastfeeding as commonplace as childbirth classes, for both parents, so each would know what to expect and how to handle any possible challenges.

A Need for Cultural Acceptance

Better role models for breastfeeding on the cover of magazines and on television shows would be “worth a thousand words” toward building public acceptance for a practice that is as natural to a baby as crawling. How many times has a mother been shown breastfeeding a baby? Not many. There is always a bottle in the baby’s mouth. Rather than baby bottles being the symbol of “babyhood,” an infant wrapped in the warm embrace of his mother would prevail.

Generations of Change

How do we get women to realize the numerous benefits of breastfeeding? I believe education and ongoing support through the first difficult weeks of breastfeeding would move our culture to a time where a majority of women instinctively answer, “Breastfeed my baby, of course.” In the hospital where I delivered my three children, I have found that the doctors dictate protocol, and it can be intimidating to challenge the “expert.” But consider how births have changed in one or two generations. I can’t imagine being unconscious for my deliveries. It takes just a few mothers to intelligently challenge the way doctors choose to educate their patients. Then we can get back to 100 years ago when the majority of mothers breastfed their happy, healthy babies.

Discuss this topic with other API members and parents. Get advice for your parenting challenges, and share your tips with others on the API Forum.