Raising Intuitive Eaters

By Jennifer Yoon, RDN/LDN, Breastfeeding Educator, Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair



“Numerous organizations, including the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics, include advice in their child feeding guidelines to recognize and respect children’s signals of hunger and satiety, one of the core principals of intuitive eating” states Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, CD in her recent article, “Raising Intuitive Eaters,” published in last month’s issue of Today’s Dietitian.

Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, a book by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, introduced the idea that when we eat when we are hungry, and only when we are hungry (not bored, tired, stressed, etc), and stop when we are no longer hungry, we have all the information we need to achieve and maintain our ideal body weight. In addition, intuitive eating promotes body acceptance and rejects established one-size-fits-all ideal body weight parameters, and promotes physical activity for enjoyment and benefits regardless of the calorie expenditure. Similar philosophies include Mindful Eating and the Non-Diet Approach.

“Intuitive eating is a flexible eating style that focuses on trusting — and usually following — physical hunger and satiety cues to guide when, what, and how much to eat. It’s associated with positive physical and psychological outcomes,” notes Dennett. “We’re all born intuitive eaters.” 

To remain intuitive eaters, feeding gurus like Ellyn Satter recommend against parental interference in the child’s job of eating. The parents’ job is to decide what foods will be offered and when, providing consistent meals and snacks, 2-3 hours apart. The child’s job is to decide how much or whether to eat at all. 

Dennett states: “Strict parental controls on eating can contribute to preferences for energy dense foods, limit acceptance of other foods, and alter sensitivity to internal hunger and satiety cues.” Practices like pressuring to eat, encouraging the child to eat more of certain foods, bribing with food, restricting foods, and labeling foods as “good” or “bad” are among ways parents inadvertently interfere in the child’s feeding autonomy which can lead to mealtime struggles and unhealthful self-feeding practices. 

“The number one change parents can make when feeding their children is to not say anything,” [Brandi] Olden says. “Once the food is in front of the child, it’s no longer the parent or anyone else’s business how much or whether the child eats.”

A family approach to intuitive eating is strongly encouraged. Parents must work on their own healthful eating to be role models for their children. Children will learn more from what parents eat than they will from what they are told to eat. The article advises that “any work parents can do to calm their own relationship with food, body, and self causes a ripple effect that benefits the entire family.” Establishing healthful attitudes toward food and activity, body, and self are key to raising intuitive eaters.


*** Jennifer Yoon sees patients at the Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair office. For an appointment, please call (412) 221-2121. Read more from Jennifer’s “Nutrition 4 Kids” column on The PediaBlog here.