Q&A with Leslie Schilling, Co-Author, Born to Eat

Leslie Schilling speaking from a podium at a conference

Baby-led weaning expert goes live with Solid Starts

You co-authored what I believe to be the very best book on baby-led weaning (BLW). How did you conclude that BLW is the best way of introducing solids?

Thank you, we’re very proud of Born to Eat and hope to make it better and better in future editions. 

After studying the literature around responsive feeding and baby-led weaning, particularly the BLISS data, my husband and I were sold on using this approach with our daughter. Plus, I had NO desire to blend up all of our family meals. It felt so counterintuitive to me. For years, the name of my blog had been Born to Eat, a phrase I truly believed in as a nutrition professional (& human who eats). We’re born with the ability to desire food –watch an infant bob for the breast or bottle. 

When my daughter took her first solids – avocados, slices of steak, pear, eggs, etc.. we knew we were on the right track. She was developmentally ready to begin solids, was eager to put our food in her mouth and demonstrated that she could feed herself quite well. This is when Born to Eat the blog started onto the path towards Born to Eat the book.

You are a sports and family nutritionist. When did babies and solid food come into play for you?

I am. Early in my career, I was fortunate to get to work with many families and athletes of all levels. As time passed, many of my clients who’d seen me for performance nutrition or disordered eating years before came back to me after having children with concerns about feeding them well. They also didn’t want to pass down their food issues which are pretty easy to pick up in our diet and body-obsessed culture. When I had my daughter, I realized that this was a perfect time to help families intuitively feed their children while getting back in touch with their own inner wisdom around food. 

What are some of the most common mistakes parents make when introducing solids?

First, let me say, we all make them. I write about a scary, almost choking event with my daughter in Born to Eat. She almost had a choking incident because she was reclined, eating in her car seat. Whew! I’m glad I saw her face and knew what was going on. 

One of the first mistakes in feeding is not progressing past purees quickly if you choose to start with that texture. The longer a family sticks with only purees as a texture, the harder it could be to get them to accept and enjoy other textures. We didn’t start with purees at all using BLW. However, some foods come naturally in a smooth or pureed texture like yogurt and apple sauce, respectively. We loaded a spoon with those foods and let her give it a go! The advancing of texture is just as important as advancing of food.

You have a daughter. How old is she? How have food issues changed as she’s grown older? 

Yes, I have a daughter who is now seven and a half. We’ve gone through her be a very adventurous eater, through some typical picky eating, and peer influence around food. The issues that we work on now are less around the food on the plate and more about the “health” untruths she hears in our culture. We refer to it as “health” propaganda. The thing that our medical and educational cultures have forgotten is that health gets to be determined by families, not policies. 

For me, at its core, baby-led weaning is about fostering independence and stepping out of the way so that your child can control and explore on their own. How do we as moms, carry these principles forward as our children grow?

It’s important that we trust our own innate wisdom around self-regulation – honoring hunger and fullness. If we have trouble with that, it’s hard to model it for our children. Chapter 10 of Born to Eat is devoted to helping parents and caregivers support autonomy in their little one’s feeding and steps to relearn it if, as a parent, we’ve lost that internal trust. We highly recommend that parents read the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole & Elsye Resch. 

You are a strong advocate for a non-diet culture. Can you tell me more about what drives you here personally?

Diet culture is a system of oppression that over-values thinness and sees weight as a means to health. It’s dangerous and insidious. Diet culture is all around us – medical offices, school curriculums, churches, homes. It is in all the “safe” places. I’m non-diet health practitioner because I’ve seen the lifelong harm this system of oppression can cause. We’ve worried about weight in our culture instead of engaging in life-enhancing behaviors that can truly lead to well-being like sleep, connection, regular (hopefully, not weight-biased) medical check-ups, planning meals with flexibility, and joyful movement. Weight is not a behavior. I’m non-diet to help people find lasting well-being as it aligns with their values. I’m here to help dismantle diet culture or at least help people see it, so my child, and all the children and families, can live well in spite of it. 

One of the things that I think scares most people about baby-led weaning is of course, choking and in particular, choking on meat. How to you help parents overcome this fear?

That is SO scary, and I understand that fear. We talk a lot about the difference between choking and gagging in Born to Eat. It’s all about readiness and a watchful, non-reactive, eye. Meat can be scary but research doesn’t point the finger at meat; apple is a more likely culprit. But when we’re playing with textures, we can incorporate in a safe way. 

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