Intuitive Eating – Eat Like A Kid Again!

Don’t you sometimes wish you could just be a kid again? I know I do! No worries, no responsibilities, no bills. Just fun, and dreams, and exploration, and loving life! Sounds pretty fabulous, doesn’t it? You get to run around without a care in the world, doing whatever brings you joy right that very moment. And when it comes to food? Kids totally OWN the whole “Intuitive Eating” idea. They eat when they’re hungry, and stop when they’re full. The end. Don’t you wish you could approach food that peacefully?

[bctt tweet=”Kids inherently eat when they’re hungry, and stop when they’re full. The end.” username=”raisingnutritn”]

We can learn from kids’ intuitive eating abilities

The ability to eat in response to hunger cues, and stop in response to satisfaction cues, is something we are ALL born with. We don’t come into this world agonizing over what or when they eat. There is no emotional eating. There are no social triggers. There is simply a physical cue (hunger) and a response (eat). Another physical cue (satisfied), prompts another response (stop eating). Done, and done.

Our bodies still have the ability to regulate our intake based on hunger and fullness cues. We haven’t lost the ability to do that. We’ve just muddied the waters a bit along the way and lost touch with those signals. That’s what I meant in last week’s post when I talked about many of us having “baggage” when it comes to food and eating. Perhaps when we were growing up, we dealt with any number of the following:

  • Parents who forced us to clean our plate “because there are starving kids in Africa.”
  • Watching our mother diet over and over again and obsess about her weight.
  • Being too often told “just one more bite” when we were already full.
  • Being told “it’s time to eat” or “you’ve got to eat something” too often when we weren’t actually hungry.
  • Watching our loved ones cope with their difficult feelings and emotions by eating emotionally.
  • People (loved ones or even strangers) commenting on our weight.
  • Being told we’d “had enough” when we were still hungry.
  • Having well-meaning relatives tell us that certain foods were “bad” or we “shouldn’t eat that.”

All of these things serve to shift our focus from an internal one, to an external one. We start to look to something other than our own body signals to tell us when to eat, what to eat, and when to stop eating. This is how food hang-ups start. Probably all of us have had various food hang-ups instilled in us one way or another. This blog has two main aims – to help those of us who are adults overcome the food hang-ups that are preventing us from seeing progress, and secondly, to help those of us with children avoid instilling these hang-ups into them! Ideally, it’d be pretty wonderful if we all were just operating according to our innate ability to read and respond to our hunger and fullness signals. I fully believe it’s possible to do that.

Eat like a kid again, using hunger and fullness as cues. Intuitive Eating can positively influence your relationship with food!

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Want to take a step back towards childhood? Here’s how you can start:

In last week’s post, I asked you to think about, and even write down, some of the thoughts and behaviors that you consider to be your food hang-ups – the things preventing you from feeling as though you have a healthy relationship with food, or the things that you think may be standing in the way of your progress.

I also asked you to come up with one small step you can take to overcome it. Using the Clean Plate Club example, I suggested trying to see if you’d be able to work on leaving just one bite of food behind. That would be the first step in working towards letting go of that “need” to clear the plate so that you can start tuning in to your satiety signals instead of the external visual of food on the plate.

Ultimately, we want to get to the point where we’re back to our childhood roots – letting our body’s own signals be our guide. You can use that lens to look at the other hang-ups you wrote down too. See if you can find a way from your starting point, towards the goal of using your body signals as a guide instead.

How can we prevent instilling such hang-ups into our own kids?

Think about instances where you might be overshadowing your child’s innate hunger or fullness signals. Having them clean their plate is one obvious example. If they’re full, they’ll stop eating. Try not to push them to continue past their own stopping point. I know it can be difficult to do this.

As a parent myself, I find that I’m constantly concerned with how much my son is eating. Is he eating too much? Is he eating too little? When he eats less than usual at a meal I start to second guess myself – am I overfeeding him? Or maybe he’s sick? Why isn’t he eating?! But I try to always remind myself that this is one of only a few things that really is completely under his control.

Trust him. Trust his cues. They will be his best guide. It’s hard for us to do, but we need to start trusting that their cues really are accurate. Honoring those cues, or rather, trusting THEM to honor their cues, is one of the best gifts we can give them when it comes to raising kids who are healthy eaters.

Take a look at some of the bulleted statements I made above. I’m willing to bet some of them resonated with you because of experiences you had in your own childhood. However, now I’ll ask you to look at them again and see if any of them resonate more recently – with your interactions with your own kids. You’ll notice many of them relate to overshadowing their own hunger and fullness signals.

There are more indirect ways we influence kid’s eating too

Some of them are a bit different though, like talking about “good” versus “bad” foods, or talking much at all about weight (yours or theirs). These are slightly more indirect ways that we influence children’s perceptions of their food choices and their bodies. If someone labels the food you’re eating as “bad,” how does that make you feel? Does it make you want it even more just to spite them? Does it make you feel like there is something bad about you because you’re eating something “bad”?

I’m willing to bet your gut reaction to such a statement isn’t a positive one. It also affects the way you interact with that food. The same is true for children. There are no bad foods. Being healthy, and having a healthy relationship with food, involves being able to eat anything, without guilt or shame.

Start to practice eating intuitively

Take a step back in time with me towards the carefree days of childhood. Start to tune in an listen to your body’s intuition. It will be a reliable guide for you. Feel hungry? Eat something. Feel satisfied? Stop eating. Then, go play on the playground for a bit. Swing on the swings. Go down the slide. Do whatever will bring you joy right this very moment. Be a kid! It’s so freeing. (And so much fun!)

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