She—or He—Who Must Be Obeyed: why children should learn to tune in to their own bodies

Jun 3, 2009 by


art by Banksy

I imagine that early humans figured out what was edible by trial and error. Someone ate something, and it tasted terrible, or he got sick or even died. I imagine that laying that groundwork was a long, costly process.

Later, Science came along and figured out more, refining our knowledge of how our bodies work and what they need to function. Science also has come up with loads of its own custom edibles.

Even today, though, Science produces contradictory evidence and goes back on its statements. Science remains somewhat ignorant, along with the rest of us.  What to eat has become a more and more complicated question.

To add to the confusion, no body is identical to another.

“A diet that is harmful to one person may be consumed with impunity by another,” states Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

But instead of adding to our confusion, this fact largely solves our problem. The solution: we learn to listen to the signs of our own bodies, just as our first ancestors did.

Fat kid

Culture today is not teaching children to obey their own bodies. It bombards them with temptations to eat junk that will leave them feeling sluggish and bloated and that we all know will harm them.  Their tastes are being conditioned while they learn to ignore their bodies’ reactions. They’re getting accustomed to over-eating and feeling crummy. They come to accept that as the norm.

Parents may also deny children’s appetites, encouraging them eat more than they want and inducing them to eat foods they don’t like. At the same time, adults struggle continually to eat less than they want. As a result, kids narrow the range of what they will eat. They have to be rewarded, distracted or tricked to eat. Eating becomes a conflict. Kids become afraid of food.

Our bodies can be reliable guides to our own health if we tune into what they’re telling us. A basic trust of the appetite and of the body’s ability to regulate its own eating also allows us to enjoy eating again.

Questions to encourage our children to regularly ask themselves:

· Am I really hungry or am I bored or unhappy or just thirsty?

· What am I actually hungry for?

· How do I feel after I eat?

· Do I have bad reactions to certain foods?

· What foods make me feel energetic and satisfied?

· Do certain foods make me feel stuffed and tired?

· When do I get a stomach ache?

· What foods most “agree” with me?

Like our ancestors, we have a lot of tricky choices to make. Modern-day toxins may be carefully disguised behind appealing flavors and be slower to kill us, but just like for those earliest humans, our own bodies are the final word, our most trustworthy source of knowledge.


This post joined Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday on Oct. 30, 2009.

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 3 June 2009 / All rights reserved