Nurture Your Child's Natural Eating Instincts

Key Insight: Babies are born with the natural ability to know when they're hungry and when they're full. And you can support this ability by trusting them to feed themselves.

Please Say More

When babies are born, they have an amazing ability to listen to their internal cues of hunger and fullness. They're naturally attuned to these signals and can start eating when hungry and stop when full [1-5]. Studies show that infants can consume nearly the exact amount of calories their bodies need for basic functions. This innate ability is remarkable!

The Parent Problem

The problem is that we, as well-intentioned adults, often struggle to read our kids' signals, especially their signals of fullness.

  • Without practice and learning these cues, it’s easy to overfeed our children.
  • Over time, they start to rely on external signals that it's time to start or end eating, rather than their internal ones. This shift makes it harder for them to recognize when they're full.

A Simple Solution

The solution is simple: let your kids feed themselves. When children initiate eating when hungry and stop when full, they maintain their ability to hear those internal cues. This isn't a perfect system, of course, and some kids need help regulating, but when practiced early and often this can help kids retain their natural ability to regulate food intake.

Consider This

Think about the last time you ate out. Did you feel compelled to finish your plate because you paid for it? Or did you eat just because it was noon? These external cues often dictate our eating habits. Similarly, our kids can start to rely on such cues – including our encouragement to “clean your plate”, instead of their internal signals.

Practical Tips for Parents

Here’s how you can support your child’s natural eating instincts:

Set the Right Boundaries: While you control what food is available and when it’s served, let your children decide how much to eat.

Remember that Inconsistency is Normal: Growing is inconsistent business. This means that appetites will also be inconsistent. It's normal for kids to have voracious appetites one day and barely touch their food the next.

Use Language Wisely: Encourage your kids to listen to their bodies. Ask them, "How does your body feel?" "Do you have room for more or are you full?" This helps them focus on those internal signals.

Encourage Reflection: When they stop eating after a few bites and claim to be hungry again soon after, use this as a teaching moment. Explain that this behavior suggests to you that they might not be truly hungry. Tell them that snack/mealtime will be over, for now, and you can revisit eating more later.

Remember, it's not about letting them eat whenever they want. Or holding tight control over all food. The goal is to consistently and regularly guide them to understand their hunger and fullness cues.

By doing this, you help them develop a life-long healthy relationship with food.

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