How To Raise Intuitive Eaters

Intuitive eating is catching on now that the world has seen the negative impact of diet culture. 

Intuitive eating means following your body’s hunger signals and not imposing excessive restrictive guidelines around food. The idea is to enjoy your food without stress and labels. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you are full. 

The philosophy teaches us to respect our hunger signals, promotes a positive body image, and allows us to develop a healthy relationship with food.

But guess what,

We were all born intuitive eaters. What happened then? How did so many of us veer away from our natural way of eating?

Take the example of a baby. The baby cries when hungry, latches to the breast, feeds until full, and unlatches when done.

Babies and little children are the original intuitive eaters. Intuitive eating is the default mode.

But life experience, unnecessary parental intervention, and addictive food exposures can ruin this inherent skill children are born with.

Research shows us how maternal intuitive eating, parenting styles, and parents feeding behaviors impact the child’s overall feeding behaviors in the long run.

Restricting foods, shaming, labeling eating patterns or body size, and using pressure tactics and rewards with food create an unhealthy relationship with food in the long run.

When the time comes for our children to decide for themselves, we want them to make healthful choices without feeling guilt/pressure or binge eating when parental control is removed.

How then do we support our children to build and trust their own feeding experiences and raise intuitive eaters?

How to raise intuitive eaters?

Have you heard of Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility (DOR)? Well, you would be happy to know that the Intuitive eating philosophy follows DOR. 

In the Division of responsibility, parents work on trust in their child’s appetite and choices and build more opportunities for autonomy.

Similar to DOR, Intuitive eating practices support the child’s journey when feeding independently with a focus on the long-term health benefits of intuitive eating. 

Allowing children to eat intuitively builds their self-esteem and trust in their own body signals over external inputs and pressure feeding. 

Here is how you can create an environment at home to raise intuitive eaters,

  1. Follow responsive feeding principles: Parents must trust a baby’s hunger and fullness cues, not make rules around eating that coerce the child into eating/stopping, eg, ‘one more bite’, ‘eat this, then you get that’, or ‘no more than one rule’, etc. Instead, the parent is in charge of what and when to serve, meaning the parent provides a structure while the child decides how much of the food to eat.

2. Do not label foods: Language around food should be kept neutral. There are no good foods, bad foods, high-fat foods, diet foods, etc. Watching our language around food is key, children are picking up what they should feel about certain foods from such labels.

3. Do not restrict foods: As children grow older, they are exposed to many types of foods. There is bound to be curiosity. Instead of restricting foods, try to meet the curiosity, once again keeping language at home neutral. With consistent exposure, the power of such foods is diminished. Restriction to promote moderation has been shown to have the opposite effect in many cases. Build gradual exposures and at times when things are not in your control like at social events, relax a little and give the child support in navigating the experience instead of dictating the rules.

4. Do not make a big deal about treat foods: Many of us make this mistake, we make treat foods like cookies and cakes a big deal. Why do we cheer on when baby eats ice cream and not when they try broccoli? These emotional reactions to foods may elicit an overeating response from the child. Just something for us to think about in how we approach different foods, and the language we use to describe food in our own home before we label our child a treat monster.

5. Be the role model: When you eat, focus on the meal with no distractions, eat well-balanced snacks between meals, and talk with your children about the history/culture of the food you are eating and where it comes from. Your love for fruits and vegetables will also rub off on your children, so go on to share your food interests and stories with them. Play games or read books about food and nutrition during family bonding time. Take your child grocery shopping with you so they can see and hear about the choices you make when planning meals for the week.

6. Assess your learnings and triggers around food: We have all grown up with a lot of diet culture advice and tips on eating a certain way all in a society that is obsessed with looking a certain way. Introspect on what triggers you have around food, how do these impact your children? Even with your best intentions, are you manipulating how much/what your child will eat because their weight gain/loss is important to you? What is your child learning instead? 

Even good intentions can cause a lot of harm long term if they break away from natural child development processes. Look at the bigger picture instead of short-term goals.

Related reading ;

How to stop toddlers from throwing food?

Healthy weight gain foods for picky eaters

Tips to eating out with your picky eater

These are some of the ways we are assured that in the long run, we are raising confident eaters who trust their appetite and have a good sense of what fuels their bodies.

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About Me

I'm Ophira, mama during the day and blogger by night. I love teaching parents how to raise healthy eaters who not only love the food on their plate but also respect their hunger cues. On this blog you will find all the evidence based information you need to help you feed your toddler, easy toddler friendly recipes and lots of tips and tricks to help your picky eater.

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