How a Dietitian Might Help

How a Dietitian Might Help

Getting a handle on our health and that of our children is a very important responsibility. And it is a wonderful way for us to express gratitude to Allah for the blessing of our bodies. But there are times when we run into problems with illness or disease or when we know that we are not keeping good habits when it comes to our diets. That where a dietitian or nutritionist might be able to help. 

Sound Vision works closely with an amazing dietitian, Sr. Huda Amareh. She is a host/teacher in both our Adam’s World Club and Colors of Islam Club classes, teaching our students about our beautiful religion and also about healthy lifestyles and healthy eating. We interviewed Sr. Huda so that she could share more information about how a dietitian might be able to help your family in these areas.

Q:  Can you give us a general sense about what a dietitian does? 

Great question! A dietitian is a regulated health professional who can help others to heal, enjoy, and grow from food. They have studied science and nutrition at school for many years and translate all of this knowledge for the benefit of the general public. 

As a dietitian, I often work alongside doctors and nurses to improve the health of people in need. Food is medicine but it’s also a huge part of what brings pleasure to our lives, so I always try to provide a safe space for patients to make healthier choices without overly restricting themselves. I am fortunate enough to do this in a few different settings as a dietitian working in diabetes care, in prenatal/postnatal care, and in my own private practice - Amana Nutrition - as well. That usually involves answering questions from clients and working with them to develop healthier eating habits in one-on-one sessions or even leading a cooking class where we all get to learn about food and what makes it so great!

Q:  How can Muslim families benefit from the advice of a dietitian? Are there special circumstances where families - either adults or children - need the services from someone like you?

I am always reminded of the hadith from our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, on wellness, “There are two blessings which many people waste: health and free time.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 6049) 

Our body is an amana from Allah and aiming to improve our health through adopting better eating habits is in direct accordance with our deen. As a result, I often see Muslim families seek my services at Amana Nutrition for help with a wide variety of health conditions and for various reasons. These include chronic diseases like diabetes and high cholesterol but also conditions such as allergies/intolerances, discomforts during pregnancy, and nutrient deficiencies. The link between food and health is so strong that there is almost always something nutrition can help you with!

Additionally, Muslim families can benefit from the services of a dietitian in developing balanced eating patterns. I sadly see many people being very restrictive with themselves and unfortunately creating environments of fear and disordered eating with their families. Alhamdulillah, food is gift from Allah and one that should be enjoyed! A dietitian can help you to do that in moderation and in a way that is conducive to your health.

Q:  Where would a Muslim find a practitioner like you in their local area?

Many countries around the world have national organizations and associations that regulate dietetic practice. This means that they ensure someone is qualified and safe to provide you and your family with nutrition advice and counselling. For instance, I live in Canada and the different provinces have separate College of Dietitians websites that provide registers for you to search for dietitians based on location and even the languages they speak! This is similar to how things are done in the U.S., where the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website has a “Find a Nutrition Expert” option to help you find the practitioner that is right for you.

If this proves to be difficult, you can always speak to your primary care doctor. They can point you in the direction of a qualified and registered dietitian who would best suit your needs. Many dieticians and nutritionists can also take insurance.

Q:  You are a popular host of the Adam's World and Colors of Islam Club online classes. How are you encouraging children to adopt healthy eating and healthy self-image in these forums?

Adam’s World and Colors of Islam Club classes give me the opportunity to teach children about Islam’s outlook on healthy lifestyles and expose kids to new and wonderful foods they can try with their families. Watching children discover the miracle of food and learn about nutrients you can find in everyday meals is a joy and I pray learning more about Allah’s creation will bring them closer to Him.

In addition, Sound Vision’s programming gives me the opportunity to teach children that bodies come in different shapes and sizes. In the face of diet culture and unrelenting beauty standards I always try to remind youth that our bodies are gifts from Allah we should cherish and thank Him for alhamdulillah.

Q:  What are three pieces of general advice you can give to parents to help them encourage healthy eating habits in their home?

I would recommend that parents:

  • Eat together with their children and try to have meals together as a family as much as possible. These can help strengthen familial ties, teach children how to behave in social settings, and lay the foundation for a trusting relationship between yourself and your kids.
  • Cook and prepare meals with your children - girls and boys. The thought of involving children in the kitchen may be stressful to some parents but having your kids help prepare food can improve their fine motor skills, communication abilities, and even boost their understanding of math and science. Above all, cooking is a life skill that all children should have and will help them to prepare balanced meals as they get older.
  • Model healthy behaviours. Children are products of their environment and parents often unknowingly pass down not-so-great traits to their kids. Eating while watching TV, making negative comments about your body, and dieting can influence how your child behaves in their youth and adult years.

Q:  Having knowledge about healthy eating is one thing, but what should parents do if they have a "picky eater"?

Picky eating is a common phenomenon that many parents go through, so my first piece of advice is to breathe. As shocking as it sounds, the solution to picky eating is a change of mindset. In many families the knee jerk reaction to a picky eater is to force them to eat, but this will only make the problem worse. Coaxing, bribing, and ordering your child to eat will only create a hostile environment that may lead to disordered eating in the future.

Parents of picky eaters should know that children know when to eat and when to stop eating – this is an innate gift from Allah that many of us unfortunately grow up to ignore. Children’s appetites vary wildly but they will never starve themselves, so trust them to eat when they’re hungry and stop when full. 

Children also have their own unique likes and dislikes that should be respected. I often remind parents of picky eaters that they themselves have foods they wouldn’t like to eat either! This is not haram or inappropriate in the slightest, for the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him,  had food preferences and would not eat certain dishes he didn’t like.

Abu Huraira reported:  “The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, would never complain about food. If he liked something, he would eat it. If he disliked it, he would leave it.”

(Sahih al-Bukhari 3370, Sahih Muslim 2064)

Being aware of the responsibilities you have as a parent at meal times is key. As explained in Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding, parents are shown to be responsible for what children eat as well as when and where they eat it. Children, on the other hand, are in charge of how much they want to eat and if they will eat it at all. While children should be softly encouraged to at least try new foods and not be afraid of unfamiliar flavours, they should be trusted with their eating and not pressured in any way. By following these tips, the picky eating will resolve itself and your child will grow to love and appreciate the food Allah has given them.

Please consider reaching out to a dietitian or nutritionist if you need help in any of these areas. There are wonderful practitioners out there, like Sr. Huda Amareh, who are ready and able to help. Her practice Amana Nutrition provides evidence-based, culturally sensitive dietetic care to clients in Ontario and you can visit her website for more information and many healthy recipes.

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