I love watching children. They have so many natural behaviors that can teach adults how to love food — but not too much — and how to fit physical activity into our day. Here are some of the important lessons we can learn from observing children:
Eat when you’re hungry. From the time they’re born, babies and young children know when and how much they need to eat — and they cry to let everyone else know, too. As they grow, this important instinct can be un-learned due to environmental, social and emotional influences. By the time we’re adults, we may have picked up the habit of eating for reasons other than hunger: mealtimes, reward, stress, anger, boredom, deprivation and countless other triggers. By recognizing the difference between needing to eat and wanting to eat, adults can re-learn when and how much to eat, too.
Stop eating when you’re full. An infant will turn their head away when they’ve had enough to eat, and a toddler will throw a plate of food on the floor when they’re done. As adults, we clean our plates because “there are starving children” somewhere or just because something tastes good. I’m not suggesting that we start throwing our plates on the floor again, but we need to remember that food is abundant so there’s no need to eat it all now.
Being too hungry makes you grouchy. Being hungry, tired or frustrated are sure to make a child crabby — and affect adults the same way. As parents, we do our best to make sure we are prepared with nutritious, delicious food to feed our children when they’re hungry. We should plan ahead to care for ourselves that way, too.
Snacks are good. Most kids naturally prefer to eat smaller meals with snacks in between according to their hunger signals. That pattern of eating keeps their energy up and their metabolism stoked all day. Adults who need to fire up their energy and metabolism might benefit from this pattern, too.
Play with your food. Most kids love to examine, smell and touch their food. Since eating is a total sensory experience, they get the most from every morsel. This childlike approach of eating mindfully will allow you to appreciate the aroma, appearance and flavors more — especially if you aren’t driving, watching TV or standing in front of the refrigerator. You’ll probably eat less while enjoying more.