Intuitive Eating for Children

Is it possible to teach Intuitive Eating to children? My answer is absolutely!

Nutrition Baby

It’s best to understand that infants all start out as intuitive eaters. They carry that natural, innate ability to know how to eat and will let you know when they are hungry and stop when they are full. Whether you have a new infant at home, chasing after a toddler, or watching your child grow into adolescence, it’s important to embrace that your behaviors and thoughts with food can impact the relationship your child has with food.

When I watch my daughter start to enjoy solid foods, I see her Intuitive Eater doing its work. As a 1 year old, she lets me know when she’s hungry. As she sits in her high chair, she doesn’t make her food choices based on the number of calories, carbohydrates, or fat the food holds or whether it will impact her weight. She chooses the food on her tray that taste good to her. Her relationship with food is easy, as it should be for us as adults. We’ve overcomplicated it through dieting and setting rules toward our food choices and eating habits. As her mom, I strive to ensure the relationship I have toward food, as well as my body, continues to encourage my daughter’s easy and positive relationship with food.

Raising our children to be Intuitive Eaters can be difficult. In order to help your child have a normal and healthy relationship with food as they grow, here are a few helpful tips for raising an Intuitive Eater:

  1. Trust your child’s hunger & fullness 
    As a parent, it’s your job to provide the food, but it’s the child’s job to eat as much or little as they need. Putting pressure on a child about their food choices or eating habits can eventually lead to restrictive or emotional eating. Avoid the “clean plate” mentality, coaxing or rewarding to have “just one more bite,” or saying phrases like, “if you finish your veggies you can then have your dessert” in order to allow your child to be the driver for their food choices and eating habits. Teaching your children to trust their mind and body when it comes to food could prevent them from having negative relationships with food and their body later in life. This will lead to better self-confidence because they trust their body enough to give it what it wants and needs.

  2. Be a role model 
    Children can easily pick up on any self-defeating thoughts or words you make toward your food choices and your body. This can further impact their relationship toward food and their own body. Your child views you as a role model and strives to be just like you. This means that if you often make remarks of being “good” or “bad” in regards to what or how much you ate, your child could easily start to apply those thoughts toward their own food choices and body image. In order to be a positive role model for your child, start by cutting out any guilt or shameful words you find yourself using around your food choices and body image. Teach them that their growing and changing bodies are something to love and respect.   
  3. Use the right language
    When we label foods as “good” or “bad,” we create a moralistic value toward them. This can lead the child toward having guilt if they indulge in something deemed as “bad” or an intense desire to have this food.  Instead, talk about how these foods may not necessarily nourish their body, but instead just taste good. These might be better to refer to as “play food” or “fun food” rather than “bad” or even “junk food.” Explaining to children that like recess, video games, or playtime, these fun foods can be enjoyed from time to time, but just as school helps their brains to learn and grow, nourishing foods are important to help their bodies grow.
  4. Add variety and new foods
    Ensure you are offering regular, balanced meals and snacks for your child, and try to eat those meals together surrounded with positive conversations. Avoid commenting or directing the child on what foods to eat or how much food to eat. This could mean they eat more of one certain type of food, which could include some “fun food.” Keep in mind that the choices they make will change from day to day or meal to meal. In the grand scheme of things, they will get all the nutrients they need. Continue to introduce new foods they may not have tried before. If they don’t automatically embrace the new food, keep trying to offer the food without pressure from time to time. They may eventually try it and actually enjoy it.

The impact we have on our child’s relationship with food and their body evolves as they age. As parents, we can continue to be a positive influence for our children, and help to maintain their intuitive nature toward food and respecting their body.  If you find yourself struggling with an Intuitive Eating focus, I encourage you to reach out and talk more with me about how we can heal that relationship and get to a positive place with food and your body for not only yourself, but for your children, too.

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