When the Appetite Goes, Everything Goes

Dec 7, 2008 by



Pierre Migeon, my husband's grandfather

Pierre Migeon, my husband’s grandfather

My French husband’s grandfather, Pierre Migeon, had a saying: “Quand l’appétit va, tout va.”


When the appetite goes, everything goes. The meaning is double: when your appetite is gone, you are on the road to disappearance yourself. Or, when your appetite functions well, everything else follows it.

The idea is part of the French view of life and eating. Appetite is sacred. It’s their friend. To start a meal, they really do say to each other, bon appétit! –good appetite. And they mean it.

For Americans, though, the appetite is generally seen as the enemy. Children quickly lose their appetite for things we want them to eat. They love everything that’s bad for them. We praise them for cleaning the plate. We want them to eat more. We adults, though, are always trying to eat less. As adults, we crave everything that will kill us. We praise ourselves for not eating. We have to eat, unfortunately, but it’s a conflict that calls for self-denial.

It all starts so well. Babies stop eating when they get enough. They’re born loving what’s good for them. Research shows that a baby, when offered a balanced variety, will choose the right foods. A child is in no way a mere receptacle to be filled. Humans are beautifully designed to be self-regulating and to survive and thrive. 

The last time I fed a baby I found myself wanting to get her to eat “one more bite.” She knew when to stop, though. This healthy appetite and innate wisdom remain intact if children are offered good food consistently and without manipulation.

“Our job as parents is to offer delicious and healthful food. It is not our job to make sure they eat it,” advises Ellyn Satter, in How to get your Kid to Eat . . . But Not Too Much.

Children are learning all the time. They’re being educated by everything you do. Asking a child to eat one more bite teaches him to disregard what his body is telling him. The more you interfere with your child’s appetite, the less it is able to function, whether it’s signaling “eat” or “don’t eat.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has reported  that over-regulation of a child’s eating can actually promote overeating, by encouraging an “undue preoccupation with food.” The report recommends: “Make plenty of healthful food choices available, and lighten up at mealtime.”

Eating is a natural act. Parents can and should quit being control freaks about it. Quit saying just one more bite, or one more bite for Nana, or for the dog. If your child doesn’t want the bite, encouraging her to eat it is the last thing she needs. When the appetite works, everything works.

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon December 2, 2008 All Rights Reserved