OPEN UP: The Secret to Raising an Intuitive Eater

You guys, I am so excited to introduce Shelly Robinson to you today! Shelly is here to share the secret to raising an intuitive eater. One of the requests in my OPEN UP series was how to raise your kids to eat intuitively. 

And since I don’t have littles running around my house quite yet, I figured Shelly would be the perfect person to help me open up on this topic.

Shelly is an expert at helping moms with busy lives eat intuitively, end emotional eating, and ditch diets for good. And since we’re on the same page about food and intuitive eating, I’m extra excited to share her post with you today.

I know all of you mama’s out there will enjoy it. Heck, even those of us without kids will find this post to be helpful (and maybe even better understand how/why we learned to eat the way we did as little kids).

Open Up Series

Mommy, how come you’re doing math with your food again? Why do you have to add up all those numbers at dinner?  And, why are you always so sad when you eat?

With 45 million people dieting in our country every year, there’s no doubt that these questions cross the impressionable little minds of children at dinner tables across America every day.

And why shouldn’t kids wonder why mommy always has a calculator in one hand and a fork in the other?  To children, food is meant to be enjoyed, explored, and eaten so they can “grow up to be healthy and strong.”

If food were a puddle, a child would splash around in it, play uninhibited with it, and delight in it to her heart and tummy’s content. To a child, it is sheer silliness to view food as anything but awesome.

Powerful Forces At Work

But at a VERY young age kids are told to question or even suppress their primal and intuitive knowing that diets are “silly” and that they’re bodies AND food are both holy and good.

It’s a simple, yet powerful truth that gets completely dismantled by companies trying to make a buck by convincing our children that they’re just not good enough the way they are.

Unfortunately, this message is quietly reinforced at home when they see mommy meticulously controlling her food intake, or when food is used as a parenting tool (more on that below).

So, instead of seeing food as the powerful and positive life force it’s meant to be, food becomes a source of confusion and anxiety for kids.

Food Wars

This is especially true when it comes to using food as a weapon at home. We’ve all done it, or at least experienced it ourselves as children, right?

  • Honey, if you eat ALL your veggies, then you can have a cookie. (bribery)

  • I see you didn’t clean your room – no dessert for you. (punishment)

  • Too bad, you don’t get to be a part of the clean plate club. (shame)

And while no parent would ever intentionally set their child up to struggle with food as adults, hearing these phrases every day can do just that. With fear and bribery in the backs of their minds, our (very smart) kids begin to figure out that they will be loved and celebrated when they do the “right” thing with food.

So, instead of listening to their natural hunger cues (I’m full, why do I have to clean my plate?), they eat to comply with the food police. And we all know that doesn’t end well (for children or grown-ups). Over time, their self-worth and food choices become tangled up in a messy ball of yarn that they have to spend their entire adult lives untangling.

Why Intuitive Eating Matters for Kids

Besides setting our children up to have a healthy relationship with food for life, there are countless other blessings that result from teaching our children to eat intuitively.

Here are just a few:

  • Children who use their intuition or “inner guidance” to eat are less susceptible to peer pressure later in life. They learn that they hold the keys to their own success.

  • It teaches kids at a young age to just “be” with (and not run from) their feelings and listen to their bodies (sad, full, content, anxious, excited).

  • It sends a clear message that a child is worthy of love regardless of their food choices.

  • It teaches children awareness and mindfulness, a skill that will serve them for life.

  • Eating intuitively reinforces to kids that they eat for health, nourishment and pleasure, not boredom, compliance, or to suppress difficult feelings.

Before diving into the practical tips for how to raise an intuitive eater, first, this: 

Just as your child is perfect, holy and good, exactly the way God designed him/her…so are YOU.

The more you believe you’re worthy of good health and make food choices rooted in that truth, the more likely your kids will be to follow in your footsteps. By teaching our children to love themselves as they are, we are taking a step closer to loving ourselves the way WE are.

Now, on to the practical stuff.

Practical and Powerful Tips to Raise an Intuitive Eater

You, as a parent, are responsible for providing your child with a variety of healthy food choices.

Sometimes I get questions from other moms who say, “if left to their own devices, my kids would eat every sweet in sight!” That is probably true since sugar is delicious. So, I’m not saying to let your child loose in a candy shop and gently remind them on the way in to “eat intuitively, honey.”

The idea is to present your child with a variety of healthy choices and then let them manage it from there. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Do:

  • Model the behavior you want your child to have with food.

  • Remind your child to love foods that love them back (a giant candy bar does not love them back).

  • Turn off the TV – kids can’t “hear” their bodies when they’re distracted by cartoons. In fact, in a study conducted by Yale, kids ate 50 percent more food when watching TV.

  • Remember that kids have tastebuds, too. Making kids eat things they legitimately don’t like is unkind and unnecessary. Start with asking them to try something first.

Don’t:

  • Use food to manipulate, reward or punish.

  • Glorify desserts – be lighthearted about sweets.

  • Ignore a child’s hunger cues. If they say they’re hungry, offer them healthy choices. If you suspect they’re not hungry because you just witnessed them polish off a stack of pancakes, use it as a teaching moment and ask if they might want to eat because they’re bored or upset.

As parents, we have the power to raise a generation of children who see food through a lens of empowerment and health, not shame and compliance.

Kids know how to eat intuitively. When we remove guilt, bribery, and shame from food, we clear a path that allows kids to do what they instinctively know how to do: enjoy the food they eat and love the bodies they’re in.


Okay, so how amazing was that post? Heck, I even learned a ton being an adult! I especially loved “remind your kids to love food that loves them back” – what a great lesson! Share your thoughts in the comments, whether you’ve got kiddo’s or not 🙂

Shelly Robinson | Healthy Hits the Spot | The Secret to Raising Intuitive Eaters

Find out more about Shelly on her website here.

Love, Paige
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