Intuitive eating is the practice of listening to one’s own hunger and fullness cues, with a positive approach to eating and body image. It’s the “anti-diet” mentality of tuning into one’s own needs instead of looking to rules or a diet for what to eat. Although that isn’t to say health takes a backseat! Intuitive eating encompasses approaching health in a positive and gentle way.
Raising kids to listen to their bodies
Research shows kids can begin to lose touch with their hunger and fullness cues as early as three years old, however parents can model intuitive eating to help kids stay connected to their bodies.
Frequent snacking, bribing with foods or distracted eating reduce connection with the body. Actions like eating at the table, modeling eating slowly and without distraction can promote a mindful approach to eating. Tuning into hunger and fullness cues helps differentiate between physical hunger and “emotional hunger” (bored eating, stress eating, etc.).
Modeling intuitive eating can help kids to maintain a healthy relationship with food and prevent eating struggles. When kids (or adults) are out of touch with their hunger and fullness cues, they can experience more “bored” eating, asking for snacks frequently, eating until overfull, etc.
Three ways parents can model intuitive eating
- Voice your own hunger and fullness cues. For example, “My body is telling me I am hungry! My belly is grumbling.” or “I’m all done, my tummy is feeling full and I don’t want to keep eating and feel sick”. Voicing how you feel can help kids have language for their own feelings.
- Offer foods that are filling. Highly processed foods like crackers, chips, cookies, etc. are not filling and can cause kids to be hungry frequently. That isn’t to say never offer processed foods though! Offering balanced meals and snacks or pairing processed food with a fruit or vegetable can help kids to feel full. Foods high in fiber like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are more satiating. Engage the family in choosing healthy foods and check out our San Diego Farmer’s Market Guide here.
- Model a healthy relationship with food. Avoid talking about dieting, restricting, “cheating” on a diet, or needing to lose weight. A healthy relationship with food can be modeled by eating and offering a variety of foods and discussing food in a neutral way. When life is busy it can be hard to make time to sit down (and easy to just sip coffee and eat scraps off the kids’ plates), but try and eat with your kids when possible!
If you want to learn more about practicing intuitive eating or modeling a healthy relationship with food, Cassandra Padgett, a local health coach for moms and pediatric health educator has a free nutrition guide available here.