Have you ever had this conversation with a child?
Mom- “(Insert child’s name), it’s time to eat.”
Child- “No, I want to play!”
Mom- “Get in here and eat, NOW!”
Child- Comes in, picks at food, eats the meat, and ignores the vegetables.
Mom- “Eat three more bites, or you’re not leaving that table!”
Child- Fights you on it and then chokes down three more bites eventually.
Child- 2 hours later… “Mom, I’m hungry! May I have some (insert favorite snack)?”
Mom- “This is why you should eat your dinner. Go ahead, I don’t want you going to bed hungry.”
If your evenings are anything like mine used to be, this may sound familiar.
One thing I am trying to be better about at my house is not encouraging my children to eat just because I tell them to. I don’t enforce the “clean plate club” and I also don’t like the “eat three more bites!” rule.
My siblings and I use to brag about being in the “Clean Plate Club.” Even though I thoroughly enjoyed being an active member, it wasn’t a very healthy way to eat. I believe this practice, along with many other factors, led me to have compulsive overeating tendencies and body image issues. I used to eat to avoid ever being hungry and I thought being satisfied meant I had to be full.
Encouraging children to eat when not hungry sends them an adverse message about healthy eating. When we ask a child to “take just 3 more bites,” even when she says she’s full, that is telling her to ignore her body’s message and eat anyway. Our bodies are beautifully designed in a way that tells us exactly what we need. If we tell our children when and how to eat, they will lose track of that inner voice and sense of control. I want my girls to be able to determine when they are hungry and how much their bodies really need.
According to the American Heart Association:
“Today, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity in children more than tripled from 1971 to 2011. Excess weight is associated with earlier risk of obesity-related disease and death in adulthood.”
Despite this obesity epidemic, our children are not getting the nourishment they need, leading to the unprecedented circumstance of a generation that is at once obese and malnourished. We are starving are children even as we allow them to eat whatever they want.
Perhaps one of the most sobering statements regarding the severity of the childhood obesity epidemic came from former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who characterized the threat as follows:
“Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.”
Do we really think our children are going to starve themselves to death? Undereating is not really the issue here, but most children are extremely malnourished. For optimal gut health, children should be avoiding processed foods and eating 3-4 servings of fruit and 4-5 servings of vegetables every day. It doesn’t take children long to realize that, if they don’t want to eat the vegetables, they can say they aren’t hungry at dinner time and come back later to have something more tasty before bed. The little rug rats have outsmarted us! Save those vegetables, and when they actually are hungry, the veggies will be right there waiting for them.
I know how difficult it is to try to get children to eat well. My oldest daughter ate the Standard American Diet for her first 3 years of life. Since I‘ve changed the way I eat, my family has had to make several adjustments as well. I’m very proud of the way they have all adjusted. This isn’t to say that we don’t eat pizza or ice cream ever; it means we do it in moderation, so that the majority of our food is quality, whole food ingredients.
If you want to learn more about how to improve your and your family’s quality of food and gut health, call 563-355-7411 for your free 15-minute consultation, via phone or in person!
Mandala Integrative Medicine