Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Follow Your Gut

Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids in the Kitchen

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how kids get involved in cooking and feeding. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I eat whatever I want, as much as I want, whenever I want to. No guilt, no obligation.

This may sound ridiculous, especially if you—like I—have been influenced all your life by a culture that likes to constantly, forcefully dictate the way people should eat. I do believe in certain philosophies about eating, including that whole foods (with plenty of fat!) are generally more nourishing to and better for our bodies. But I don't follow any one eating plan prescribed by someone else.

I also don't eat something just because someone else is eating it. (You know that whole social-obligation eating thing? I don't do that anymore.) I don't eat certain foods just because they're "good for me." I get to decide what's good for me, and I'm getting more enjoyment from eating now than ever. I've allowed myself the opportunity to figure out for myself the foods that feel good to my body (like protein) and those that do not (like wheat). In doing this, I have discovered what, when and how much my body needs to eat. The wisdom my body possesses is incredible!

What's more, this way of eating has been nothing short of freeing.

One of the things I've noticed even more profoundly since going down this path of following my intuition: the incredibly strong messages we get (from all directions) that we are not to trust ourselves. We're constantly instructed to listen to other people who tell us how we should eat, what's right and wrong when it comes to dietary habits, and what's ultimately best for our bodies.

Above all else, here's the conclusion I've reached about food: every "diet" is the right diet...for someone. But I don't believe that a single person can prescribe the eating strategy that's going to be the right fit for everyone. The options seem to be either to try different diets out until I find one that fits me (fairly) well, or simply stop listening to everyone else and trust my body to let me know what works for me.

The latter strategy has proven incredibly successful for me so far. Aside from how good my body feels and my renewed joy surrounding food, following my intuition when it comes to eating has boosted my confidence to trust myself in many other areas of my life. Eating is an incredibly basic bodily function, and one of our most basic needs as human beings. If we're taught (and then begin to believe) that we're not to be trusted when it comes to perhaps the most basic of human needs, then we inevitably will end up distrusting ourselves in other areas of our life.

This is a life lesson I really want to pass on to my son (without him having to go through as much effort as I have to get here): trust yourself always. Eating is no exception.

Just as I have nursed Daniel on request from the day of his birth, I continue to trust that he knows better than I do when he's hungry (and when he's full). Jaymz and I set up our family mealtimes to foster Daniel's innate knowledge about his body: there are always a variety of foods available, and Daniel can choose what to eat and what to leave for later. Any leftover food he chooses not to eat will be offered to him at the next meal, along with any new foods that we've made for that meal. We also provide choices for snack, and Daniel is invited to point to (or take) what he wants. Sometimes, I'm surprised at the choices Daniel makes about food. Given the choice between cheese and a green vegetable, I assume he'd always choose cheese. But I look over at him and he's munching on the green beans, having rejected the cheese. Daniel knows what his body needs most in that moment!

Breakfast choices: peanut butter
sandwich, apples, cheese, crackers,
diluted "green" juice, water
There's nothing Daniel isn't allowed to eat (including "junk" food) because I also have an incredibly strong desire for him to have a healthy relationship with food. I know now that if given the option to eat whatever I want, I don't choose to eat chocolate and potato chips all the time. Likewise, I trust that Daniel's body will guide him to choose a variety of nourishing and satisfying foods.

I know my toddler's eating habits have many phases to go through still before he's an adult, but this strategy of allowing him to choose for himself and follow his body's cues is working really well for us now. I hope Daniel will come to know that his body has wisdom that can't be found in a book or learned from an "expert."

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


  1. Greetings from Malaysia! Hopping in from the carnival!

    Love this post! That's great of you to give the freedom to your son! I've been hearing 'well meaning advices' from people about my boy's eating habit, too much oats, not enough veggies, too much water etc etc.

    Heck, I'm even getting the flak when people found out I'm still nursing him (32 months old) along with his 2 months old baby sister.

    ~ Jenny ( http://www.imafulltimemummy.com/ )

  2. We're quite the same with my daughter, what she wants, when she wants it and in the quantities she chooses, and she happens to be well fed and chooses the 'good food' more often than the iffy things.
    Me however... that's something else. At home I eat what I want when I want, because we don't have much non-paleo things, but when I'm at another place, I get quite envious of people munching down on pastries... however, as long as I am pregnant, that's definitely not an option (well, apart from the occasional nibble), but I comfort myself with delicious smoothies.
    I wish I could be one day carefree about food, but after a lifetime of food issues, a spur of boulimia and anorexia and my first doctor forced diet (which I alone had to follow) at the age of 6, i think that's not a possibility

  3. Good for you mama!! I struggle with Kieran sometimes when it comes to sweet treats - he got a sweet tooth from someone, and I haven't been able to let go and trust that he will self-regulate. Maybe I'll experiment with that . . . I'll come to you for advice :)

  4. What a liberating perspective! How true that children are as much in possession of inner wisdom as the grown-up mothers that birthed them. I feel we grown people often do not give our kids enough credit, and we rob them of the opportunity to make good decisions for themselves.
    I recall sharing my dinner with my son last weekend: I had fried tofu, kale, sweet potatoes, wild rice and macaroni and cheese on my plate. I thought my son would go for the mac n' cheese first. Instead, he forked a mouthful of kale. He spit it out. Next, he took another bite. He spit it out. Three bites! He tried it three times before moving on. Now THAT is a good, college effort.

  5. I like your perspective as well. I know I need to give a little more credence to my own kids' innate abilities to choose what they want to eat. My kids do pretty well but I am always wishing they did even better with their choices. Time and patience, I need to tell myself more often.

  6. It really is about modelling healthy *for you* eating habits, isn't it? Like you, I eat as much as I want of whatever I want, whenever I want it. I hate the comments from people who see me eat and they have to say "How do you stay so skinny eating like that?" For me the answer is obvious: I stay skinny because of what, when and how I eat, even though it is usually in enormous quantities! Just knowing your body and listening to its needs is the only path anyone needs to take to health and optimal living.

  7. I agree about following Daniel's lead and teaching our children to trust their body's wisdom and intuition. I try to do that too.
    I'm only just learning to do the same myself. After a life time of weight issues and pressures... As long as I don't pollute myself with sugar and gluten, then I can feel what I want and need pretty well. Otherwise it's just a case of sugar craving sugar.
    I admire you and your ability in this.

  8. I really, really love this post, Amy. Really, really, really. This is a point I've been coming to as well, but mostly out of failure of anything else to work for me. It's also been enlightening to see that it works better for Sam than anything else, and he seems to follow it naturally. If I eat what I want, when I want, as much as I want — I stay healthy. Not just at the "right" weight (because, for one thing, I'm overweight, so let's toss that out the window), but at a stable weight, but, more so, emotionally and psychologically healthy, not obsessing all day, every day over what I'm (not) eating. Anyway, thank you for saying this and telling me I'm not foolish for believing this and behaving this way.

  9. I'm with Lauren @ Hobo Mama. What you had to say really resonates with how my husband and I are working with our 15 month old son! And, he eats such a wide variety of foods. We just make sure he has the opportunity to try them.

  10. Isn't it amazing how much control food has over our lives until we learn to let go and trust ourselves? I am still not where you are yet, but working my way there, slowly but surely.

    My kids are all different in what and how they eat. We do allow a lot of freedom, but I definitely have a couple of sweet tooths too.

  11. This is wonderful. I was just on Hobomama's blog complaining that my child refuses to eat almost everything BUT junk food, and although we are not dieters, we love our veggies, so it's hard to watch him refuse beans and vegetables every.single.time and ONLY eat mac & cheese, pizza, and cookies. We try to provide healthy foods for him, but then he doesn't eat them, so we get desperate and let him eat what he wants. It's become this area of anxiety for my husband and I. After reading your two blog posts, I'm thinking I just need to start thinking differently about it. Thanks!

  12. Your aproach sounds brilliant. I have learned to trust my daughter with the quantities and whether she wants to eat, but struggle to prepare a really wide range of food. Think i'll try a bit harder and not be afraid to bring it back out at the next meal. That will definitely help.

  13. I also love this post! We stand back and let our boys eat what their bodies tell them, and they go through stages of eating different food groups. So sometimes it's a week of mostly protein, a week of fruit and veg, a week of carbs... Does anyone else find that??

  14. @Syenna: I find that! My 4-year-old goes through definite phases, and sometimes it worries me because the "four food groups" graph is so ingrained in my psyche. But I imagine that he's getting what his body needs at that time.

    There was a study in the 1920s where babies were given a variety of foods and allowed to eat whatever they wanted. A little boy with rickets lapped up cod liver oil like there was no tomorrow. Once his vitamin D deficiency was cured, he stopped eating it. I keep that in mind when I wonder why my kid has a preference for a lot of something.

  15. We are so on the same page! I've recently started to use my body when I go shopping, not just when I choose what to eat. It's amazing what our bodies and intuition can tell us if we're listening. I also allow the same freedom of choice for my toddler...although he still doesn't know of very many junk foods. I'm pretty sure that if he learns to eat by listening to his body that even when junk food becomes a viable option, he won't choose it every time, as you point out. Great post!

  16. This is fantastic... well done to you. There is far too much hype around diet etc nowadays.

    Anything is fine as long as its in moderation, as my mother would say :)

  17. My family works kind of the same way. We take it a step further though and we don't necessarily have a "family meal". My kids eat when they're hungry and not on my schedule because, like breastfeeding, they know better about when they're hungry than I do. Likewise, if I'm not hungry when they are, then I don't eat.

    I believe that you're right though- there are plenty of times that rather than grab at the junk food, my kids will reach for fruit. They're not great with the veggies (my oldest will eat carrots and my youngest will eat anything but my middle son hates veggies) but for the most part, they eat what their body needs at that moment and it works well for us to. :)

  18. Great message, one that more people need to hear and embrace. The wisdom of our bodies is incredible!

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