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How Can You Help Your Child Practice Intuitive Eating?

Family Eating Meal. A Hispanic family (male adult, two female adults, female child, and male child) enjoy a meal at the dinner table. Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash - https://unsplash.com/photos/cfGG0niafjc

Family Eating Meal. A Hispanic family (male adult, two female adults, female child, and male child) enjoy a meal at the dinner table.
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash  – https://unsplash.com/photos/cfGG0niafjc

Intuitive eating is an eating method that has been studied for quite some time now. Some people may not have realized that they have been practicing intuitive eating most of their lives until they come across this term. Intuitive eating is an evidenced-based, mind-body health approach that focuses on learning to trust your inner body senses, such as hunger and fullness cues, and to make choices around food that feel good in your body. What about children in particular? Can children practice intuitive eating like adults? Absolutely! Most of us are naturally born intuitive eaters. The reality is that intuitive eating can be for everyone. As infants, we have used our instinctive hunger and fullness cues while being breast-fed or bottle-fed. At about six months, infants are usually introduced to solid foods, and the same instincts are practiced. However, after about two years of age, certain environmental changes can interfere with a child’s intuitive eating skills. Those interferences may come from eating from boredom, being influenced by someone else’s eating habits, food advertisements, or eating food to cope with emotions. Here are a few tips to help your child continue with their intuitive eating skills as they grow into adults.

  • You provide, the child decides.
    • You are responsible for providing your child with nutritious foods to eat, while your child is responsible for deciding when and what to eat. Having a specific time to eat in a particular place, such as the kitchen table, helps let the child know where they can get their meal when they are ready to eat at home. Do not force your child to eat whatever they do not finish or want, as this may affect your child’s hunger cues. If your child does not feel like eating, you could put the food up for later.
  • Do not be concerned if your child eats more than you expected.
    • Your child needs to have a sense of when they are hungry or full, and they cannot do that if you stop them from getting an idea of how hunger feels compared to fullness. Be patient and let their bodies do what they are made to do. Allow them to rely on their bodies to dictate their hunger and fullness, not you.
  • Do not bribe your child into eating what you put on their plate.
    • “I’ll give you ice cream if you finish your green peas!” This is the kind of language that may push your child to go past their fullness cue if they are determined to get that ice cream. It would be better to praise them for the food they eat or try instead. Also, it is okay for your child to have a treat sometimes. Withholding that treat for too long may encourage them to go overboard when they do get the treat.
  • Have a meal with your child frequently.
    • Spend time with your child during mealtime to make them feel more comfortable and encourage eating. Let it be more of family time rather than feeding time. Children may often follow your example and become more open to eating their meal with you.
  • Only offer food as a meal or snack.
    • This will give the child a routine meal schedule and an idea of when they will or will not have food offered. They will soon understand that when you offer them food at a specific time, that is the time to eat what is available to them.
  • Do not focus on body size and diet.
    • Remember, your child is still growing. Naturally, their body weight will even out with their growth at a steady pace over time. As they grow, they may begin to experience thoughts about their appearance and compare themselves to other children their age. You want to encourage your child to be okay with how they look and feel in their body and have your child understand that his or her health is more important than body weight. Frequent, consistent meals with healthy food options could help manage body weight.
  • “Picky eating” is normal. Be patient and show support.
    • While you may be concerned about your child not getting enough vital nutrients, those needs are often being met even while being a “picky eater”. Try introducing new foods with familiar ones and eat them with your child without pressuring them. Suppose a child is forced or restricted food due to picky eating during childhood. In that case, there may be a chance for the behavior to remain into adulthood with possible adverse eating patterns, such as binge eating and restrictive dieting. Keep in mind that it can take many repeated exposures for a child to try a new food before he/she will accept it or like it.

    So, what’s The Moral of This Story?

    An Asian family, an adult male and female are seated around a table eating a meal with a young female standing in between the adults. National Cancer Institute on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/BQPi8F_UON0

    An Asian family, an adult male and female are seated around a table eating a meal with a young female standing in between the adults.
    Photo by: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/BQPi8F_UON0

    Relax, and let your child learn how to have a positive and healthy relationship with food. Your child will figure out how to feed their bodies over time, and they can grow into healthy adults through intuitive eating. Following these helpful tips could get you and your child on that path together while forming a family bond. These tips could also help guide your child in their eating habits as they get older and start eating independently at school or around friends. You are already doing great as a parent, do not worry yourself!

    Sources:

  1. Tribole E. (2018).What is Intuitive Eating? Intuitive Eating. Retrieved from https://www.intuitiveeating.org/what-is-intuitive-eating-tribole/.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When, What, and How to Introduce Solid Foods. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/foods-and-drinks/when-to-introduce-solid-foods.html#:~:text=Your%20child%20can%20begin%20eating,foods%20from%20different%20food%20groups.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). How Much and How Often To Feed. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/InfantandToddlerNutrition/foods-and-drinks/how-much-and-how-often.html
  4. Tylka, T. L., Lumeng, J. C., & Eneli, I. U. (2015). Maternal intuitive eating as a moderator of the association between concern about child weight and restrictive child feeding. Appetite95, 158–165. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2015.06.023
  5. Healy, N., Joram, E., Matvienko, O., Woolf, S., & Knesting, K. (2015). Impact of an intuitive eating education program on high school students’ eating attitudes. Health Education (Bradford, West Yorkshire, England), 115(2), 214-228. doi:10.1108/HE-03-2014-0043
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Mealtime Routines and Tips. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/mealtime/mealtime-routines-and-tips.html
  7. Leung, A. K., Marchand, V., Sauve, R. S., & Canadian Paediatric Society, Nutrition and Gastroenterology Committee (2012). The ‘picky eater’: The toddler or preschooler who does not eat. Paediatrics & child health17(8), 455–460. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/17.8.455
  8. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Children’s nutrition: 10 tips for picky eaters. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/childrens-health/art-20044948
  9. Vaughn, A. E., Ward, D. S., Fisher, J. O., Faith, M. S., Hughes, S. O., Kremers, S. P., Musher-Eizenman, D. R., O’Connor, T. M., Patrick, H., & Power, T. G. (2016). Fundamental constructs in food parenting practices: a content map to guide future research. Nutrition reviews74(2), 98–117. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuv061
  10. Manoogian, E. N. C., Chaix, A., & Panda, S. (2019). When to Eat: The Importance of Eating Patterns in Health and Disease. Journal of Biological Rhythms, 34(6), 579–581. https://doi.org/10.1177/0748730419892105
  11. MedlinePlus. (2021). Normal growth and development. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002456.htm#:~:text=Weight%20gain%20will%20remain%20at,these%20changes%20in%20growth%20rates.
  12. Murakami, K., & Livingstone, M. B. E. (2016). Associations between meal and snack frequency and overweight and abdominal obesity in US children and adolescents from national health and nutrition examination survey (NHANES) 2003–2012. British Journal of Nutrition, 115(10), 1819-1829. doi:10.1017/S0007114516000854
  13. Ellis, J. M., Galloway, A. T., Webb, R. M., Martz, D. M., & Farrow, C. V. (2016). Recollections of pressure to eat during childhood, but not picky eating, predict young adult eating behavior. Appetite, 97, 58-63. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.11.020
  14. Dockendorff, S. A., Petrie, T. A., Greenleaf, C. A., & Martin, S. (2012). Intuitive eating scale: An examination among early adolescents. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 59(4), 604-611. doi:10.1037/a0029962

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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