Eating Mindfully: How to Keep Your Kids from Getting Fat

Jul 17, 2009 by

Stock scales

The human appetite, like the human conscience, quits working if you ignore it long enough.

According to Brian Wansink in his 2006 book, Mindless Eating, modern humans have learned to tune out the appetite and the body’s cues about what and how much we need to eat. Instead we are relying on external stimuli to regulate our intake.

We don’t stop when we get enough; we don’t stop until the container is empty, Wansink’s experiments reveal. If the container’s bigger we’ll eat more. If given bigger packages of ingredients, we’ll cook and eat it all. If the soup bowl is being secretly refilled from the bottom, we’ll just keep eating and eating because it never disappears. Like goldfish, we tend to eat whatever comes our way, hunger aside.

We see the results of what happens when we quit listening to our tummies and instead follow what cues around us are telling us to do.

How it Happened

It was in the 1980s that edibles pushers implemented the “bigger servings” marketing strategy, according to an article by  Elizabeth Kolbert, “Why Are We so Fat,” this month in The New Yorker. We took the bait. During that decade, the American rate of obesity took a huge leap to 33 percent, after slowly inching up around the 25 percent mark over the course of the 60s and 70s. We continue to enlarge. The number of overweight children has more than doubled and teens more than tripled since then.

Sitting ducks for junk food marketers, we are constantly bombarded with messages to eat more of these supersize packages. It’s even been proven that the more we’re around fat people the more likely we are to become fat. All forces are against us and we are going with the flow.

Seduction: From Within or Without?

So what happened to our appetite? In its natural state, it is capable of keeping us from over- or under-eating. A baby is born perfectly tuned into and following his body’s orders. Yet many come to view the appetite as a deceptive enemy: that beast inside us that’s more powerful than our will, driving us to eat junk and a lot of it.

Where are we going wrong and how can parents protect their children and their appetites against the forces of obesity? One option: they can insulate them from exposure to advertising and enticements to bad edibles. They can also provide absolutely nothing but good food choices and let hunger do the rest. Both are absolutely necessary, especially early on.

Sanctity of the Appetite

An even more powerful and long-term strategy, in my experience, is strengthening children’s connection to their own bodies. Create an atmosphere at your table of being fully present and eating mindfully. Tune into the appetite and trust the body to do its job.

When we parents get between a child and his appetite, we contribute to his vulnerability to external stimuli and the inability to follow the body’s cues.

From pushing them to eat “one more bite” to bribing them with dessert if they eat all their broccoli or telling them to clean their plates, we manipulate children with various thinly veiled forms of force feeding that deaden their inborn indicators. A parent’s over-involvement in the process teaches a child that whether she’s hungry or not isn’t important. She learns to ignore how bloated and sluggish she feels after eating the wrong thing or too much.

And like a sound conscience, a healthy appetite is a terrible thing to lose.

    Older posts on this subject:

    “When the Appetite Goes, Everything Goes”

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


    “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

    – Victor Frankl


    Coming soon:

    How to tune into food

    Mindful vs. mindless eating strategies

    The revival of the appetite

    © Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 17 July 2009 / All rights reserved


    1. […]  In the 2006 book Mindless Eating, author Brian Wansink confirms through numerous experiments this human tendency to fall into overeating like sleep walkers into a huge pit in the ground. We’re easy prey for junk food pushers, and we listen precious little to our tummies.  The average American is generally unaware of why he’s eating or how much he’s putting away, according to Wansink’s data. (…) […]