Healthy Eating | Parent Wellbeing Blog

The Most Important Keys to a Healthy Diet

  • Eat a variety of foods, even if some are in very small amounts
  • Eat frequently to keep blood sugar balanced
  • Balance the food you eat with physical activity
  • Eat something for breakfast everyday
  • Make food choices that are moderate in sugar content
  • Be intentional about your meal environment
  • Listen to your body’s signals
  • Slow down to eat
  • Stay hydrated

Don’t let anyone tell you that food is the enemy. Food is and should be a pleasure. Also, don’t ever restrict your diet by cutting out a food group unless for cultural, religious, consciousness reasons or a diagnosed health conditionsEvery diet tells you to cut out or eliminate certain foods. The diet tips we hear all the time:

  • No carbs
  • Eliminate anything white
  • No fat
  • Gluten-free
  • No animal meat
  • Cut out dairy

It’s all about balance. It’s important to make educated, informed choices about what you put inside your body to either enjoy that item or for nourishment. If it’s heaped in calories/fats/sugar, fine, be smart and cut down the rest of the week.

Also, there is that wonderful aspect of the rule of unintended consequences. As soon as you cut out an item in the diet, eventually, you will start to crave it. You know this is true lah? Welcome to the start of your Yo-Yo Diet White Knuckle Ride.

Read more at:

Why We Eat What We Eat

Understanding your diet and eating habits is the first step in changing them. Many factors effect what we choose to eat each day. Once we know what these factors are, it becomes easier to control how much they influence our food choices. Read the factors listed below. How much do they influence what you eat?

Social Situations. It is often much harder to control what we eat in social situations. Dinner at someone’s home often means a limited choice of food. Also, many social meals offer appetisers, full meals, and desserts. It’s hard to pass up these foods when there are no other choices. Also, we don’t want our host to think that we are ungrateful or don’t like the food. You may feel the need to “join in the fun” when you’re part of a group. BUT. It is ok. Enjoying a meal out with others is wonderful. Eat what you enjoy, some things in moderation for sure, share a pudding. You don’t have to skip things and feel uncomfortable. It’s about balance.

Economic Situation. How much money we have can also effect our nutritional choices. How many times have you eaten at a fast food restaurant to avoid spending a lot of money? The food you buy is probably less healthy fare than from a regular restaurant or home cooked. When grocery shopping, it’s tempting to stock up on foods that are “buy one, get one free.” Try to make good balanced choices. Snacks are such a variety these days. For every surgery snack packet balance that with mixed fruits of yoghurts.

Ethnic Background. Depending upon the culture we were raised in, our ethnic background can influence the foods we eat. Some cultures eat healthier foods than others. It’s a good idea to research the nutritional value of the ingredients that are included in your culture’s meals. You may need to find ways to slightly change your recipes to keep the taste and cut the fat, sugar and salt, without giving up your culture’s special foods.

Emotional State. Do you eat when you’re happy, or to reward yourself for success? Do you eat when you are sad or depressed? Do you use food to make yourself feel better? Does food replace something that you think is missing in your life? Many people overeat or turn to sweets when they feel happy or sad. Others stop eating altogether, depriving their bodies of essential nutrients. But I am suggesting comfort eating is necessarily bad. It meets a need in the short term. But gorging on only unhealthy foods will make you guilty and remorseful and add to the low mood you were in initially. So you will be stuck in a negative cycle. You will still get an endorphin (happy hormones) release by eating healthy snacks. You get to choose. How lucky is that? Cheer yourself up without the guilt.

Eating From Habit. Eating between meals can become a part of daily activities. For example, we tend to snack while watching television, listening to music, studying or driving. Sure, these eating habits can be hard to break and why should you? Take control of what you eat for your snacking, and water to drink and you are working towards a healthy balance.

A friend of mine keeps saying – “just move more and eat less”. If it really was that simple every single person would be perfectly proportioned. It is about balance. We eat for energy and nutrition. People talk about fueling the body, but what about fuelling the brain during exams? A period of time of reduced physical activity but the brain requires much more at these times. On a typical day the brain uses up 20% of calorie intake. Also the more intelligent you are, the more energy you expend on a problem that is subjectively hard for you. So I can’t even begin to do the math on calorie use by brains during exams.

Your Eyes Eat First

How your food is presented is just as important as how it tastes. In other words, presentation is everything.

Doesn’t fruit seem to taste better when it’s all chopped into cm cubes and mixed in a bowl.

Or fruit that is placed into a nice large bowl in full view rather still in mesh at the bottom of the fridge is much more likely to be eaten as a snack as you walk past or watch a movie or work at your computer.

Salads look amazing when there is height built into it. Much better than just laying it flat along a plate. When I ran my tearooms back in the UK I had a very specific way of presenting the breakfasts and lunchtime main dishes and sandwiches on a plate. They looked so appetising.


TOP TIP 1: make all of your healthy food look amazing. Bring out your nice platters, arrange food decoratively, put your colourful veggies on display as soon as you open the fridge.

TOP TIP 2: Rename your meals for young children as something fun. Dr. Wansink relabeled V8 juice as “rainforest smoothie” and it was a hit. Making peas, rice and chicken for your kids tonight? No you’re not! You’re making Power Peas, Tangy Chicken and Wild Wacky Rice!

I used to respond to my children’s request of “What’s for dinner?” with – “We are having crocodile burgers and kangaroo poo’. I know, it’s not great, I’m sorry (to my children) but I  hadn’t heard of Dr Wansink then.., but at least it’s better than my childhood. My Mother’s response was always “Bread and pullit” – essentially a slice of bread (hold with both hand) and ‘pull it’..!

Food = Pleasure

Food is a great pleasure in our life – not something we should compromise. We simply need to shift our surroundings to work with our lifestyle instead of against it…

– Brian Wansink

Food Vision

  • Use your brain and eyes to help you curb your eating. Wansink found a few interesting psychological behaviors around eating:
  • When we put all of our food on one plate, in other words see it all at once instead of going back for small plates, we eat less
  • When we see how much we have eaten, we stop eating. Don’t throw away those rib bones as you eat them, don’t toss the wrappers of your candy as you chow down the bag. Instead, stack them into a little pile
  • We are pretty bad at knowing how much we have eaten and how much we want to eat, so keeping the visual evidence and setting ourselves up to see exactly what we have consumed sets us up for natural stoppers
  • This completely spoils our fun for going to top hotels and having their all you can eat brunch. BUT – I’m not saying don’t go and don’t overindulge. I advocate BALANCE. Go, have fun, eat all you can. Just don’t go every week or even every month

I will now give a brief summary of eating disorders – something that globally has increased as various stages of lockdown around the world has taken it’s toll.

“ … I didn’t feel cool enough, smart enough or good enough… my bulimia was a sort of weird new release…”

“it felt like… every worry, every problem, thought was just gone”

 “It was my go to thing when I felt out of control”

Prevalence of Eating Disorders and the Impact of Covid

There is a lot of talk currently about eating disorders. People noticing significant weight loss in teenage girls. This is potentially a very serious matter, especially for the person identified, but my frustration is that this is missing the point that a vast number of other children and young people are being overlooked.

So why is that? Well, let me increase your insight.

Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder are diagnosable mental health conditions using a list of expected behavioural, psychological, and physical symptoms. They are not anecdotal assumptions based on hearsay, speculation, or brief one off observations.

However, sometimes a person’s symptoms don’t exactly fit the expected symptoms for any of these three specific eating disorders. In that case, they might be diagnosed with an “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED).

Did you know that boys/men statistically make up 25% of people who suffer from an eating disorder? So, again, by only focussing on girls/women we are negating to support boys/men who are desperately needing help also.

The 4 Main Types of Eating Disorders

  • Anorexia (or anorexia nervosa)
  • Bulimia (or bulimia nervosa)
  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)


  • Have you ever heard of Orthorexia?

For more information please go to

The Tip of the Iceberg

As this really helpful diagram shows, an eating disorder is the bit we all typically see. It’s the answer to a person’s problem. It’s the symptom, not the cause. It’s the destination, not the journey. It’s the part people can control when so much is not in their control. It’s a coping mechanism.

What we observe is people dieting, over-exercising, seemingly obsessed with their weight loss, shape and size. We don’t observe the fact that a person may possibly be suffering from low self-esteem, perfectionism, depression, past trauma, anxiety or emotional dysregulation to name but a few.

Eating disorders have been around for a long time. People suffering is not a recent mental health manifestation. What is, without doubt, there is an increase in prevalence due to the impact of Covid.

If we say that ‘typically’ eating disorders are as a result for many of creating a level of control in their lives, it would be natural to assume the lack of certainty about the future, the intolerance of distress we are all currently experiencing would increase the numbers of people suffering from an eating disorder. Especially in children and young people where so much of their lives have been massively restricted, just at a time they were supposed to be growing in independence.

So what we don’t see is that the person may be deliberately hiding their worries, bottling up their emotions, reacting to a loss or bereavement maybe, blocking out or controlling difficult thoughts. We all at some point in our life have avoided thinking about painful, embarrassing, shameful times in our lives. Who wants to go over bad events? Not me for sure. Imagine you are riddled with self-doubt, trying to overcome a significant traumatic event etc. (Try, right now, for 20 seconds to imagine your/a friend’s pet dog, get the full image in your mind. Now, for another 20 seconds DO NOT think about your/a friend’s pet dog or you will have to send me some money. Try really hard, and if you think of your/ a friend’s pet dog, in the 2nd exercise you owe me RM1  for each time you did it!! It’s interesting, isn’t it? How many times did you do it? Even knowing there were negative consequences.

The more you avoid a thought/image/event, the more it will preoccupy your mind.

(You can send the money to me at the Health Centre – Thank You)

When to Worry: Warning Signs to Look Out For

  • Marked change in physical appearance (increase or decrease), brittle nails, hair falling out, stained teeth, bad breath, poor body temp regulation, extra fine hair on limbs, unexplained oedema (water retention/swelling on lower limbs)
  • Withdrawn, anxious, low mood, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities/subjects. Distracted, isolated (quitting clubs or hobbies)
  • Avoidance of integrating with family, friends, teachers (eating alone)
  • Change in demeanor – from bubbly and outgoing to quiet and anxious
  • Refusal to eat, cutting out foods, eating less, binging, hiding food, increased interest in food, cooking for others (but not eating themselves), fad diet obsession, drinking a lot
  • Excessive & compulsive levels of exercise
  • Frequent trips to the toilet
  • Increased pressure to succeed in study, motivation to get all high grades, throw themselves into study ‘no time to eat’
  • Rigid/black and white thinking, struggling to make decisions
  • Baggy & layered clothing to hide weight loss OR skimpy clothing to display weight loss

Much of our social life is around food and eating with others. Is the person suddenly not attending events, making drastic changes to their diet (vegetarianism, veganism, purely healthy food etc

Covid and no sports has undoubtedly increased anxiety and distress in existing sufferers and created new sufferers. They could have already been predisposed to be a worrier, little more anxious than the average person.  We all have different tolerance and resilience levels.

What To Do Next – parent/guardian (or teacher

  • Prepare – what are you going to say and how are you going to do it?
  • Find a safe place – choose a place where you will not be disturbed
  • Listen – listen more than you talk
  • Don’t delay – if you are worried, seek advice and support




Potential to leave the eating disorder to become an entrenched behaviour over timePotential to help them access support at an early stage.

Improve outcome

What to Say

How are you?Are you OK?What are you thinking, feeling, fearing?How can I help? What support do you think you need?I might not completely understand but  we are all here for you
I will support youLet’s think about some options togetherI am concerned/I’ve noticed…This is quite new to me too, we can work together to get you all the right supportRecovery IS possible for everyone
  • Communicate any concerns as the earliest opportunity, don’t avoid
  • Be clear about your purpose for doing so (Support)
  • Be mindful about how you communicate, what you say and how you say it
  • Inform the child/young person what you have observed, NOT your opinion about what might be the problem
  • Give them time and space to talk
  • Use open questioning, be an active listener, show empathy
  • Try to understand how they view the situation (don’t be influenced by others opinions or what you think you know)
  • Signpost where to get help

What Not to Say

  • Avoid giving simple solutions “all you have to do is accept yourself”
  • Avoid commenting on appearance or weight. This is so crucial and everyone seems to fall into this trap. Pretty much everyone, if told they look like they have lost weight, will be pleased. Just as we think having a suntan makes us look healthy. Someone with an eating disorder, when attention is focussed on their weight or size, will be encouraged by the weight loss comments, distraught at the weight gain comments or become more furtive in hiding their body after any comment.
  • Avoid shaming and blaming “you just need to eat”, “don’t eat so much”, “ You are hurting yourself”

What Else You Can Do

Set a good example. Research information about balanced eating. How do we get all our food groups and vitamins and minerals when eating a vegetarian or vegan diet? Understand balancing exercise and rest. I am definately very old fashioned, but eating a meal together at home, instead of ‘grazing’ or allowing food to be eaten in bedrooms alone, is a great way to spend relaxed time as a family and ensure children/young people are not slipping into unhelpful habits and behaviours.


Create an environment of psychological safety so the child/young person feels able to talk about any difficulties they are having and be open to any suggestions they might make.

Practice compassion i.e. empathy + action


Sometimes we don’t need advice we just need somebody to listen

Be mindful that the child/young person may still lie and tell you everything is fine. They may not want to admit they are struggling. Show you care anyway. Say the door is always open for them to talk which may well prevent a crisis in the future. Maybe ‘walk & talk’. Don’t make it a big issue.

Don’t have much time? Good listening isn’t about how much time you have, it’s about the quality of that time and conversation. A Good uninterrupted 4-5 minutes is better than 30 minutes of being distracted in and out of conversation.

DON”T DELAY – What to Do Next – Facts & Referrals – parents and teachers must work together. Sufferers have the best treatment outcomes when everyone works together. You cannot look at the child/young person in isolation.

Internally to MCM a child/young person can be referred to and then assessed by the Nursing Team or College Counsellor. Externally can be referred to a Doctor, Nurse, Therapist, Specialist. Ensure you have information to hand when you are referring such as

  • Personal details
  • Confirmation the child/young person has consented to the referral
  • Any recent visible weight change
  • Current facts about the concerning behaviour (history of exercising, missing meals, excessive dieting, evidence of binges, vomiting laxatives etc, how long, how often)
  • Note any recent physical illness that may have affected weight/behaviour
  • Changes in mood, social interactions, activities, interests (increases or decreases)
  • Significant life events recent/past (or as appropriate)

If in doubt – open up a conversation as part of your general care and concern about any child/young persons wellbeing anyway.  Below is a list of excellent websites, clinics etc where you can get information and advice for yourself or you can encourage the person, you are concerned about, to check them out too.

Additionally, MCM will be writing a Healthy Eating Policy and Protocol paper to ensure we robustly and consistently target pupils we believe are affected as well as the wider College to ensure balance with a healthy body & healthy mind. If any parent would like to be involved in the working group, please contact the college and ask to have your name put down and Cathy Stronach the College Counsellor will contact you.

Further Resources & Support

Support in Malaysia

Kensington Green Specialist Hospital in Johor

Beating Eating Disorders – UK Based National Organisation

Australia site – excellent worksheets to download for parents and teachers as well as the child/young person

National Eating Disorders – Toolkit

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder


Cathy Stronach | College Counsellor


You may also like