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Why you shouldn't ask your child (or yourself) to finish everything on the plate.

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

By Dr Marianne Trent of Good Thinking Psychological Services

What the heck is this?

It’s my youngest child’s leftovers from lunch. A tiny scrap of flat bread.

“Couldn’t manage that bit baby?’ I said in half jest. “No. I’m full,” was the reply.

Why is this noteworthy on a psychology page I hear you ponder?!

I think it demonstrates really well that without intervention and cajoling it’s very rare for children to overeat. They stop when they are full at exactly the point their bodies send out the hormonal signal that they’ve had enough, even if that means leaving a tiny scrap of food, a few crisps in a bag, a couple of sweets in the packet.

However, once we become adults we are more likely to be conscious of factors like food waste and having an empty plate and ‘being good!’ However, if I had stepped in and encouraged him to eat it as it was ‘only little’ then he may have complied. This, although small would have been more calories than was needed. Over time, extra calories lead to weight gain. Perhaps more worrying than that though is that with adult intervention children learn to override their natural ability to control their appetite and can develop negative associations between food and behaviour. Once adults are aware of this it can be incredibly powerful information it can help us to change the way we respond to leftovers and allow our children to know their own bodies and to nourish themselves without intervention.

If anyone is interested in learning more about this I would really recommend the book ‘Why Starting Solids Matters’ by Professor Amy Brown. In this text, Amy covers how parental influence by ‘aeroplane spoon feeding,’ ounces / minutes of feeding fixation & messages about empty plates can be damaging for a child’s chances of growing up to have a healthy BMI & to listen to their own bodies communicating that they are full.

Sometimes knowing the theory still makes it tricky to resist because actually my child’s leftovers also included one solitary carrot stick but I hoovered that up as I was clearing the plates without even thinking about it and whilst only carrot, those were calories I didn’t need as I had already eaten my lunch - all of it, the whole plate - because ‘I’m a good girl!’

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Do you find yourself overriding your own full impulses or encouraging others to override theirs?

Edit: I just wanted to say a massive THANK YOI to everyone who has liked, shared & commented on this post (on Facebook) so far. It’s currently been read by 114,000 people! I’m completely humbled and grateful. This post has clearly resonated with people for a number of different reasons and on many levels.

Further Information:

If you enjoyed this piece then you'll love this one about compassionately nourishing ourselves and our children instead of 'treating!'

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1 Comment

Thanks so much for your comment Gill. With your consent I may add this as a separate blog post under your name?

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