Tips for Recovery Series :: (4) Eat Like a Child

by Ashley Solomon

Welcome back to the Tips for Recovery Series! Again, a small hiatus (this time to address Girls on the Run), but now we’re back for the final tip…

To review, in this series I’m sharing with you some tips for eating disorder recovery. However, these tips can really apply to any of us who have ever struggled with disordered eating, emotional eating, or simply live in a world where eating has become distorted and complex (I believe that would be all of  us, unless you live on a planet to which I want to move!). Don’t forget to leave your own tips in the comment section below or e-mail me at nourishthesoulblog@gmail.com! ____________________________________________________________________________________________

If you missed any of the previous tips, you can find them here:

Tip 1: Develop Empathy for Your Body

Tip 2: Stop Supporting the Culture of Thinness

Tip 3: Take a Risk!

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Tip 4: Eat Like a Child

No, I don’t mean eating sliced hot dogs and macaroni and cheese for every meal… not that those aren’t tasty at times! What I mean is learning to eat based on our bodies cues of hunger and satiety, which some of us refer to as intuitive eating (related to mindful eating, but not the same thing).

Here’s a (true) story for you:

Recently, Justin and I were invited over to our friends’ home for a Friday evening cookout with Justin’s classmates. As we sat outside on this mercifully cooler evening, sipping on Belgian beer and nibbling on delicious salmon dip and bruschetta, I noticed that my mind was somewhat preoccupied with what I was consuming (and not in a mindful, “oh this is so heavenly!” kind of way). I noticed, because I have gotten reasonably good at being cognizant of my own thoughts, that I was thinking about everything else I had eaten that day, the length of my run that morning, and the food that I knew was to come for the main course.

As I was observing my own internal dialogue, my attention was suddenly turned to our friends’ three-year-old, a spunky blonde boy who, I must point out, speaks three languages. But that’s beside the point. The point is that I noticed this little man eating chips like it was his job. And then he ate a cupcake. And then he started to eat a cookie, but put it down after about two bites. HE PUT IT DOWN!

Okay, so maybe I should explain what calls for the all-caps. I have a very hard time putting things down. And if the “thing” is a chocolate chip cookie. Well. God help me.

What amazed me about this little boy is that he was truly eating based on his hunger. He wasn’t eating based on how good or bad his day was at preschool. He wasn’t eating based on the amount of calories in his PB&J at lunch. He wasn’t eating because he worried what the hostess (granted, it was his mom) would think about his eating habits. He just ate.

Me, being childlike as... a child. I've clearly always been an emotional person.

Intuitive eating is all about just eating. Not eating just to eat, but eating based on the signals that our bodies so lovingly and wisely provide us. It’s about trusting our bodies to consistently provide those signals. And it’s about eating in a way that respects our bodies, as well as our minds and souls. Here’s a great primer from Christie at Honoring Health!

Trust your body? Yes, that’s quite a foreign idea to many of us. But it’s the foundation of intuitive eating. And it works! (Here’s some empirical evidence, for nerds like me!) But trusting your body means giving up the fight that you have had against your body. It means going back to that place before your mind (not brain, but mind) or culture or internalized messages took over control of what you put in your mouth. It means becoming a child again.

Perhaps the first step in the journey to eating like a child again is rejecting the “diet myth.” This is the myth that we begin to buy into at a certain age (for me I believe it was approximately seven) that our hunger has to be controlled by external means (e.g. counting calories and fat grams, taking pills and other substances to suppress appetite, etc.) It’s the myth that our bodies cannot be trusted and our hunger is dangerous. Children don’t think of hunger as dangerous. Hunger is simply hunger. It’s a need to which attention should be paid and then they can go about their business of playing in the sandbox.  So I am challenging you this week to be childlike in your experience of hunger.

Some questions to respond to below:

What does hunger feel like, when you really pay attention? What foods did you love as a child, the  ones you ate without considering anything but your desire for them?


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14 Responses to “Tips for Recovery Series :: (4) Eat Like a Child”

  1. Wonderful post! As you know, I love the theory of intuitive eating and continue to work toward making it a reality in my everyday life. I completely agree that one of the best ways to understand what this style of eating is all about is to look at a child. Children are the best models we have in this case because they are (mostly) free from the external cues and pressures that have affected so many of our eating habits.

  2. Aww, Little You is so cute!

    Hmm, I don’t remember what I ate as a child, honestly. More like what I *didn’t* eat, lol. (I wasn’t *that* picky, but picky enough.)

    But I do remember when I started to gain weight (right along with getting pimples, thanks a lot 7th grade) and how suddenly my body became an enemy, something I was constantly battling instead of working with.

    College was when I started to realize that mentality didn’t work, and even if it did, I didn’t like it. I saw too many young women fighting their bodies and losing — or “winning,” but at too high of costs.

    I wouldn’t say me and my body are BFF yet, but I think we’re getting there. Thanks for all the tips to help us out!

  3. kids focus on playing and doing fun things..enjoying LIFE …they only fuel their stomachs when they feel hungry
    great post!

  4. I could not agree more with this! My daughter has taught me a lot about intuitive eating simply by watching her. She will tell me when she is hungry, knows what she wants to eat (out of the options I give her), and will stop when she is full. I love it! I want to do all I can to keep that approach to food in her and not let her view things as “good” or “bad” and other rules we put on ourselves. Great post! I’m glad I can be back and read your stuff again. And I hate that we didn’t get the chance to visit.

  5. The number one thing I’m going to make sure to do when I have children is make sure they eat when they are hungry and stop when they aren’t hungry anymore.

    Sadly if I really think about it, I think I can remember one time not eating when I wasn’t hungry. I was always sneaking food or eating too much–even when I was really young. It is taking some time to unlearn all those past habits, but its magic when it works.

    • Absolutely, Kate! And I too hope to help my children be able to identify and nourish their hunger. I’m sure that it’s quite difficult in a culture that is working against us and not for us, but we’ll fight the good fight!

  6. This is a great post Ashley. In my day I heard that we eat to keep from getting hungry not to eat when we are hungry. Maybe that’s part of my problem. Only Part.

    • Great quote! I definitely at times find myself “eating to keep from getting hungry” – I think we really fear hunger. At least I know I do. I will probably post about that topic soon 😉

  7. Oh, I forgot to comment on the beautiful little girl crying in the picture. I’ve seen that little face before.

  8. Once again I adore this post too! My son continues to amaze me with his ability to self limit his intake of sweets (and other food). He is six now. When he was two we were worried that he was not eating enough (silly over worried first time parents) so we developed the “treat bowl”. If he ate his dinner he got one treat. If he ate it in less then 45 minutes (a real struggle for him) he got another treat (only if the first condition was met). The treat bowl at the time was filled with his Halloween candy. Since then we have always had a treat bowl and continue to give treats based on eating a good dinner. When we are at parties though Mom and Dad kind of take the rules off of limiting sweets. The amazing thing is he will only eat maybe half a small piece of cake, and one piece of candy/cookies. Sometimes he doesn’t even want any of that if he’s filled up on something else before. I, like you, consistently am amazed by this! I mean given the option I could easily polish off any sweet in front of me all by my lonesome!

    Of course my two year old daughter is another story. . . if you say no she will go do something else until the minute your head is turned then be right back at the sweets. I’ve noticed my husband has the ability to just have a small amount of sweets and be satisfied so maybe it’s a male thing.

    (yes I do realize the post wasn’t just about sweets. . . that is just where my biggest weakness is!)

    • Jayna, again thanks for reading. Sweets are (by far!) my biggest weakness as well, which is why it’s so striking to me when children are able to eat a bite and put it down (or take one piece of candy, as you describe). We can learn so much about really listening to our cues from them. The difference between males and females in this regard is interesting to me. Women, as a horrible overgeneralization, do seem to use food for more purposes other than to feed their physical hunger than men. But of course, like everything, this is totally based on the person.

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