Today's spotlight shines bright for Erin Skinner, MS, RD of Real Nutrition RX.
Erin used to be a U.S. Air Force officer helping elite military fighters achieve ideal performance. This is where she found out that the traditional dietary advice they were given fell incredibly short and she discovered ancestral nutrition. She realized it was the key to not only athletic performance, but wellness in general. She became so passionate about the topic that she went back to school to become an RD, then continued on to study functional medicine. There is a true lack of 'wellness' in the world, and having the ability to help people find it is truly a dream job for her.
Erin considers her most valuable source of knowledge to be her experience as a mother of two boys ages 2 and 4 with a total breastfeeding experience of 4 years. Professionally, she trained in pediatric and prenatal nutrition through her dietetic internship, which included both inpatient and outpatient medicine. She worked in hospital maternity wards, pediatric inpatient wards, NICUs, PICUs, pediatric clinics and WIC clinics. She then went on to study maternal and pediatric nutrition from a functional perspective through the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy.
There are 2 things that differentiate her from a 'traditional' nutritionist or dietitian:
- She follows an ancestral philosophy. In other words, she trusts that the way the human species functioned for the vast majority of our existence can show us what our bodies are designed to 'expect'. We thrive when we meet these expectations. Some examples of ancestral principles for children include natural birth, prolonged breastfeeding (to at least 1 year and exclusive to 6 months), nutrient-dense, ancestral diets (for mom as well), and baby-led weaning.
- She uses functional nutrition to address the root cause of problems. For example, instead of recommending a multi-vitamin, she will investigate the underlying reason why a deficiency developed in the first place. This approach takes into account the whole person - environment, culture, physiology, genetics, and lifestyle. Another example of this is childhood obesity. Many factors play into this problem, so simply prescribing a reduced calorie diet fails to address the underlying problem.
As a Nutritionist, her greatest achievement is seeing her clients' lives literally transformed. Unfortunately, the traditional approach to medicine and nutrition seldom leaves people thriving. She often has clients who have tried all the pills and diets, and who are still struggling. It is incredibly rewarding to see them achieve true wellness. She accomplishes this by freeing them from traditional thinking around health and by providing them with solutions that really work.
When we asked her what the biggest misconceptions she see parents make with regards to their children's nutrition, she lists a few points. Here are some of those points in her own words:
- One big misconception I see is mistakenly thinking that rice cereal and pureed baby food is necessary, especially before 6 months of age. Babies are meant to breastfeed exclusively until at least 6 months, then to gradually introduce table foods with the help of their family (while still nursing to at least 1 year). This infant feeding technique is known as baby-led weaning. This is how our species has approached infant feeding for the vast majority of our existence, and it is how babies thrive. A good place to learn more is the book ‘Baby-led Weaning’ by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett.
- Another big misconception is that breastfeeding is something to consider after the baby is born, and that it can be done in isolation. Breastfeeding can be incredibly challenging. Success is much greater when mothers learn about breastfeeding during pregnancy and prepare in advance. A nutrient-dense diet is incredibly important for both mom and baby. Also, a support network is incredibly important. Finally, nursing moms should never hesitate to get help when they are struggling to breastfeed. One good resource for finding support is La Leche League. I (and some other Registered Dietitians) can provide help with proper nutrition for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Another thing I see is that parents are very confused about when to introduce potential allergens. For example, the guidance has recently changed to introduce peanuts earlier than one year. Research shows that earlier introduction decreases the chances of peanut allergy. The only food that should now be introduced after 1 year is honey. In another example, I see introduction of grains much too early – even less than 6 months. This can potentially be very harmful.
- The final misconception I’ll discuss is for older children, toddlers and beyond. I often talk with parents who say their child doesn’t like healthy foods such as vegetables. I find that this problem almost always arises from a misunderstanding about the feeding responsibilities of parents versus those of children. In short, it is the parent’s responsibility to prepare a healthy, appropriate meal. It is the child’s responsibility to eat it. When parents prepare special food for their children or allow them to eat snacks instead, this prevents the child from developing a healthy palate. Trust me, children are perfectly capable of eating and enjoying healthy foods, but it takes the right approach and some effort. A good place to learn more about this idea is the book ‘How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much’ by Ellyn Satter.
This year, Erin plans to launch a weekly meal planning service, so that families can have quick access to nutritious, ancestral food. She knows how hard it is to get a good meal on the table or even the grocery shop when you have small children. She finds that most pre-made meals fall incredibly short with regard to nutrition and flavor. Her goal is to equip families to create meals that are delicious, nourishing and affordable.
We asked Erin if there are some other things we should know about her or her expertise and she told us that functional nutrition places a strong emphasis on gut health. Poor gut health can present itself in a variety of ways in children. Some of them include colic, autism, ADHD, anemia, digestive problems and failure to thrive. Some risk factors are cesarean delivery, little or no breastfeeding, use of antibiotic medication both for the child or for mom before delivery and poor diet.
Finally to end the interview, Erin shares her best tip for mother and mothers to be:
"My #1 tip is this: start eating an ancestral diet as soon as you decide to conceive a baby (or as soon as possible if you are already pregnant and/or have children). Make it your family lifestyle, so that your children grow up eating this way. MANY important nutrients for fetal and child development are extremely lacking in the ‘Standard American Diet’. Some of these include omega-3 fatty acids, choline, Vitamin D3, pre-formed Vitamin A, Vitamin K2, Vitamin E, selenium, magnesium, zinc, and natural pre- and probiotics. Ancestral diets provide these in abundance, and minimize unfavorable dietary elements such as inflammatory, oxidized oils, added sugars, refined grains, and pesticides. No amount of supplementing can overcome a poor diet. You can learn more about ancestral diets on this page - there is also a free eBook on the site with specific instructions to get you started."