Why do you eat? If you’re like most people, for plenty of reasons I imagine: to be social, it’s breakfast time/ lunch time/ dinner time, you’re bored, you’re tired…More often than not, hunger isn’t the main driver of our eating and we don’t always recognise when we’re full. Human bodies have exquisitely designed systems which tell us when we need food and when we should stop eating, so why is this?
One of the reasons is that over time, most children are taught to prioritise external cues for eating over their own innate feelings of hunger or lack thereof. There are a number of problems with this but the main one is that if we don’t teach children how to recognise hunger and fullness then the habit of overeating can become problem that is a lifelong struggle to overcome. Hunger and fullness don’t make as much noise as the school bell and social cues may be many times more pressing than our own intuition.
While it’s important to teach children that mealtimes are a social time and their presence is not optional, make it clear that they are the ones who choose whether and how much they will eat based on their feelings of hunger. Consider modelling this behaviour by saying “I’m so hungry tonight so I’m going to fill up my plate” or “I’m not so hungry tonight so I’m going to cover this up and put it in the fridge” can help show them that hunger fluctuates and that it’s ok to listen to the signals their body is giving them.