New year, not so new diet trends.

A Mighty Girl

Ah, the first week of January. When my inbox overflows with press releases from weight loss companies, fitness experts and diet gurus, and even sober and reputable media outlets, like the New York Times, propose we all go on crash diets. (This year it’s op-ed columnist David Leonhardt telling us to go cold turkey on sugar for 30 days). It always sounds so possible, and even downright sensible, after the weeks of holiday excess. I know at my house, we’ve had a constantly refilling tray of cookies and a bowl of candy on the kitchen counter for much of the past month, and it was with no small relief that I dumped the last six stale cookies in the trash yesterday, after realizing I wasn’t morally obligated to finish them just because they were there.

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Carbs: A Coda

And here’s a quick little coda to my last post on the comfort of carbohydrates. It’s International Week at my daughter’s preschool, which means they’ve been learning little bits about the cultures represented within the student body. And yesterday, we saw this in our daily classroom report (that’s Violet in the background; I’ve cropped her friend’s face to protect that family’s privacy):

Instead of presenting neophobic three-year-olds with lots of unfamiliar foods from different cuisines, these clever teachers used what may be our most universally beloved food to ease them and get them excited about trying new shapes, textures and even flavors in the form of tortillas, pita, naan, croissants, baguettes, bagels, etc. I also like that the lesson offered such a low pressure way to explore new foods, since the kids were empowered to choose for themselves and then talk freely about what they liked or disliked about each (fairly small) piece. Violet’s teacher reported that the bread shop was a smash hit; almost every kid tasted every type and many went back for seconds. And for those who might worry that this would only dig a kid in deeper on an all-carb kick, I was interested to note that at dinner last night, Violet went straight for her chicken and ignored our bread plate entirely. Self-regulation for the win!

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On Carbs, Comfort and Kids

This week, I’ve been interviewing parents of picky eaters, as well as a few adults who are themselves intensely picky. And there’s been an interesting moment in every conversation when I ask, “so, what do they eat?” Because almost every human, as it turns out, eats carbohydrates: Toast, pancakes, waffles, pasta, mac and cheese, bagels, pizza, some cereals, French fries, and maybe a heavily breaded chicken nugget. The most selective eaters may not be able to handle that whole list (one mother told me that the smell of pasta being dropped into a pot of boiling water can make her daughter gag). But they all eat at least a few foods on it, and often, very little else.

This makes a lot of sense. Every cell in our body requires glucose as its primary source of energy, and our brains, especially, depend upon it. (A child’s growing brain, even more.) Plus, carbohydrates, especially the processed kind, are predictable. “Bagels are always round, always the same color, and I know they’re filling,” one adult selective eater told me. “They feel very safe.” No other food group is as reassuringly uniform. The texture of a hamburger is entirely different from a steak or a chicken breast. Fruits and vegetables offer even more variety, as the flavor, color and smell of a single banana can transform completely from the day I bring it home, slightly green, from the store, to when I offer it for breakfast three days later, now covered in alarming black spots. Is it still the same food? Is it still safe to eat? My three-year-old doesn’t have the life experience to navigate these questions and she is understandably suspicious.

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Thinking About Food in Trump’s America

I’m still finding it pretty impossible to concentrate on anything other than the election. To be honest, I woke up on Wednesday morning thinking, “why on earth am I writing a book about learning to eat? It should be about paid family leave! Or rape culture!” Or any of the five million other problems that are about to get even more toxic.

But before my agent and editor get too nervous, let me say that I’m still excited to be writing this book. If we’re going to have a President who refers to women who gain weight as ”eating machines,” then it’s important to keep trying to untangle health and nutrition from misogynistic beauty standards. If we’re going to have a Republican Congress who wants to cut funding for food stamps and decimate school lunch programs, then we also need to understand, more than ever, what it’s like to grow up hungry. The choices we make around food are often our most overt and consistent political statement. Shared meals and food traditions unite our families and cultures, but food is also divisive. Ask any vegetarian — and also ask any overweight person who has had their restaurant order picked apart by “well-meaning” dining companions, or any busy mom who has felt the sanctimonious sneer of liberal judgment after buying her kids a Happy Meal. From where I’m sitting, liberals (myself included) lost this election by not taking the threat of Trump seriously, and worse, by not trying hard enough to understand and address the fears of his supporters, even when we disagree with them.

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On Sugar Fixes (and Fixer Upper)

Ice cream

This week, I’m thinking a lot about sugar. It’s almost Halloween, which means all of the (mostly) moms in the online parenting groups I follow have been despairing about how to manage the coming candy deluge. There’s a lot of pressure to make elaborately healthy treats from scratch, or at least buy organic lollipops in order to tempt kids away from the Mini Snickers. Meanwhile, the American Heart Association recently updated their guidelines to say that children under the age of 2 should consume no added sugar, while kids between the ages of 2 and 18 should consume no more than six teaspoons per day.

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When Your Baby Won’t Eat (The New York Times Magazine)

I’m telling the story of how Violet learned to eat (again) in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine. The piece went online yesterday, and I’ve already heard from so many families struggling with the full gamut of pediatric feeding issues. I’ll respond individually to as many notes as I can, but I thought it might be helpful if I did a post of some the resources that were most helpful for us, and may help you too.

Advice for Feeding Any Kid:

  • Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding is now gospel in my house. It’s both brilliantly simple and sometimes, very hard to execute. (Can you really trust your child to self-regulate when they’re ignoring their entire dinner, or conversely, eating their body weight in grapes?) But whenever I start to waver on something related to feeding, I come back here and find clarity.

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Meet Virginia.

My work has appeared in more than 50 national magazines, websites, and newspapers including ElleSlateHarper’s and the New York Times Magazine. At the moment, I’m writing a book (called THE EATING INSTINCT, and coming from Henry Holt Books sometime in 2018), about how we learn to eat, and not to eat. If you’d like to learn more about my research, please subscribe to my newsletter, On Eating (And Writing). You’ll get everything that appears on this blog days ahead of everyone else, plus special newsletter-only content about eating, writing, and other fascinating things.

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The story of Violet’s heart. #CHDAwarenessWeek

The story of Violet's heart. #CHDAwarenessWeek

I’ve written about writing this piece before, so I won’t go into all that back story again. But I wanted to share the essay once again, since it’s the last day of Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Week. Already, since I first published this piece last August, several more states have passed laws requiring the pulse oximetry screening — which is truly terrific news. But it’s still not required in all 50 states. And even states that have the law on the books may be slow to enforce it — as was the case for us. So if you’re a new or expecting parent, it’s worth asking (and then double-checking) to be sure this life-saving test is performed.

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A Truth Hard to Swallow #feedingtubeawarenessweek

A Truth Hard to Swallow #feedingtubeawarenessweek

Feeding struggles are about so much more than tubes — and unfortunately, these issues all too often go misdiagnosed. Or worse, get classified as “picky eating” and are blamed on bad parenting. Feeding Matters is a great organization that offers a lot of support and resources for families. If you’re concerned about your child’s eating, their Infant & Child Feeding Questionnaire is a great place to start.

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Feeding tubes by the numbers. #feedingtubeawarenessweek

Feeding tubes by the numbers. #feedingtubeawarenessweek

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