When we come into this world we know when we are hungry and when we are full. Try to get a baby to eat when it is not hungry or be a few minutes late for feeding and notice the baby’s behavior. We come into this world in touch with our appetite. We are intuitive eaters by nature, but some lose that ability at a very young age.
Perhaps there are unnoticeable everyday occurrences that take us from our natural ability to eat intuitively. Here are some to consider:
As an infant, every cry or discontentment may be met with a bottle or pacifier. Mothers put something in the baby’s mouth to distract the baby from whatever was displeasing it. Maybe it was hunger, maybe not. But both mother and child have found something to stop the pain.
As the child gets older he/she is promised a lollipop if they do not cry when they get a shot. The child stares at the lollipop and thinks so hard about that sweet treat that they can ignore the pain of the shot. Once more it is reinforced that we will be rewarded if we stuff down the pain. Is it any wonder that later in life we use sugar to sooth ourselves?
As the child matures it may be taught to eat everything on their plate. They learn not to pay attention to their appetite and eat everything. They may even be promised a dessert if they finish their plate. To make the situation worse they now add the ice cream onto the full contents of the stomach.
Food may be used to reward a job well done. “You’ll get an ice cream cone after you finish your homework.” So you think about the dessert reward while you finish the mundane history essay. Later in life the child may eat mindlessly while working on a different task.
Maybe when a child becomes ill, the caretaker will make it a point to buy all his/her favorite foods. They have all our attention, love and care associated with food. Some start to associate the parental bonding with food. Later in life when a person feels lonely or needs some attention, love or care, they may unconsciously reach for food.
When puberty begins the body starts changing in so many ways. A healthy adolescent can gain anywhere from 20-50 lbs. Most of this gain is due to her body developing and preparing her to grow taller. The weight usually precedes the growth spurts. This is normal, but most adolescents and parents do not acknowledge this fact. When the adolescent starts to gain weight they focus on the number on the scale and diets. It is reported that 50% of girls ages 12-14 say they are unhappy because they “feel fat” and 45% of elementary age children report wanting to be thinner.
The teenager then gets on the merry-go-round of yo-yo dieting. Forty to sixty percent of High School girls in the US are dieting on any given day. There is now research that tells us that cyclic binging and food deprivation (i.e. yo-yo dieting) may produce alterations in the brain that can cause bingeing behavior.
For some people yo-yo dieting may last a life time. Thirty-five percent of people who go on a diet will progress to an eating disorder. Eighty-six percent of people with eating disorders report that the onset of the disorder started by the age of 20. Thirty-three percent of these people started their eating disorders between the ages of 11 to 15 years old.
Here are some eating disorder behaviors that you may notice in an adolescent:
- Comments about feeling fat
- Avoids eating with the family
- Snacking all day
- Must exercise to burn off calories
- Constantly thinking about food, weight or their body size
- Eliminating whole food groups from their diet
- Not eating
- Eating a lot but not gaining weight
- Going to the bathroom during or after meals
- Suddenly loses weight
- Loss of monthly period
- Eating when emotional
Intuitive eating requires the ability to be in touch with your appetite and body. It is important that a child deals with feelings as they occur. By stuffing the feeling down they are disconnecting from their self. They may start to confuse emotions surfacing with being hungry. Intuitive eating will guide your child throughout their life making it easy to maintain their ideal weight easily, naturally and permanently.
Rebecca Cooper is a California licensed therapist, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist, and the author of Diets Don’t Work®. www.DietsDontWork.org. She the founder of Rebecca’s House Eating Disorders Treatment Program™. www.Rebeccashouse.org. 800-711-2062.