Sarah Remmer: The Non-Diet Dietitian


Why We Need to Start Eating Like Our Babies and Toddlers

You may not be eating for the right reasons

At some point in our early childhood (around the age of 4), we lose the ability to eat intuitively all of the time—meaning that we start eating for reasons other than just physical hunger. We become influenced by people and things around us, such as our parents, siblings, and friends (and the media) and start eating because of the sight of food, the smell of food, out of habit, because we're told to, or because we're bored, sad or happy, or tired (emotions). The truth is, the older we become, the less mindful and intuitive we become when it comes to food, especially in North America. We eat on the go or sitting in front of a screen. We grab whatever is quickest and easiest, or worse, we suppress natural hunger with coffee, gum, or just waiting it out, until the hunger pangs go away. One of the keys to reaching a healthy weight and maintaining it long term (and having a healthy relationship with food), is to eat more intuitively. This means that we need to start recognizing WHY we're eating—what the triggers are—and re-evaluating whether or not we should eat. Ideally, we should be eating in response to our natural hunger cues and stopping when we're comfortably full. This is how our babies and toddlers eat. Who knew we should be looking to our young kids for guidance on how to eat?!

Here are some common eating triggers to recognize:

The See-Food Syndrome:

When you see food, smell food, or even think about food (especially carbohydrate-rich foods), your brain automatically signals to your pancreas to release insulin, which makes you feel hungry. That's why you might notice that when you go to Starbucks, you start to salivate when you see the pastries and baked goods in the display case as you're waiting for your Americano (even if you've just finished lunch!). You then leave with a banana loaf in one hand and your Americano in the other. You have just fallen victim to the "See Food Syndrome." Because this is an actual physiological response to seeing or smelling food (think walking into a house and smelling freshly baked cookies), it's important to be aware of it and recognize that it might not be TRUE hunger. That's when you want to stop, drop the loaf, and eat again when you're actually hungry. 

Habitual Eating:

You know when you come home from work and you automatically gravitate towards the pantry? Or when you throw the popcorn bag into the microwave as soon as the kids go to bed? Even if you're not really hungry or craving popcorn? Or when you automatically buy a bag of candy and a diet coke when you're going to the theatre? These may be habits that you've created over time—we all have them. The next time you catch yourself eating out of habit, challenge yourself to break it. Instead of buying candy at the theatre before the movie, grab some water or herbal tea instead. Ask yourself before you open the pantry if you're really hungry, or if it's just a habit when you pass through the kitchen. 

Distracted Eating:

Much like habitual eating, distracted eating is rampant in our society. Munching while you're watching TV or on the computer is a recipe for mindless eating. When you're in front of a screen, your attention is on whatever you're watching or working on, not on what and how much you're putting in your mouth. It's important to recognize that you might associate snacking with sitting in front of a screen—most of us do. When I challenge my clients to eat one meal a day without distraction, they often notice that they become restless and ansy. We are a multi-tasking society—we have a thousand things to do and we don't want eating to get in the way, right?! It's important to be present with your food, taste it, and enjoy it. It's also important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. Are you still hungry? Are you getting close to being comfortably full? Maybe you should stop now and pack the rest away... When you're mindlessly eating while distracted, you'll most likely going to eat whatever is in front of you—to completion—regardless of how hungry or full you are. 

Emotional Eating: 

Whether we're sad, anxious, nervous, bored, excited, or relieved, emotional eating affects almost all of us at one point or another. We tend to gravitate to easy comfort foods that are either crunchy and salty, or soft and sweet. These foods (high carbohydrate foods), trigger a release of "happy hormones" such as serotonin, in our brain, which temporarily makes us feel better. Some people depend on food to make them feel better often—and notice over time that unhealthy weight gain accompanied with intense feelings of guilt are the result. Once in a while, drowning your sorrows in a bowl of ice cream is ok—you're human. But if food becomes a constant go-to when you're feeling emotional, it's not healthy. If you know that you're an emotional eater, try to figure out ways to cope or comfort yourself that don't involve food. Call a friend or your Mom, go for a walk, or take a bath. Buy yourself some flowers or treat yourself to a massage. When I'm emotional, I usually go to the gym to blow off some steam or write. Whatever works for you, as long as it doesn't involve the cookie jar. 

Even though your toddlers may drive you crazy when they don't eat what you serve them at dinner, know that they are actually listening to their body, following their own natural hunger cues, and honouring their fullness—they are experts at their own personal hunger scale. Notice how they may eat a lot at one meal and nothing at the next. Or how they snack more one day than the next. This cool thing is, young kids don't care if they hurt anyone else's feelings if they don't finish their meal, and they're not going to eat a meal to completion just because it is in front of them. They also don't grab a teething cookie every time they're sad. Babies and toddlers demand to eat when they are hungry—they don't let natural hunger pass. We as parents not only need to model healthy eating habits to our kids, but we also need to start looking to our youngest kids for guidance on WHY and HOW to eat. xo