I’d like to share with you one of the most common behaviors I see in my clients trying to control their weight. I am a Registered Dietitian and work in a doctor’s office where I help clients to lose and control their weight. I see my clients weekly, and help them make healthy food choices, but also help them modify their behaviors around food and change their relationship with food.

child not hungry

Everyone has many behaviors surrounding food. Some behaviors, however, make it difficult for us to control our weight. The number one, most common behavior I see in people who are trying to control their weight is “always cleaning their plate.” Does this sound familiar to you? Do you have a hard time leaving food on your plate, even though you are full?

The behavior is learned during childhood. Think about this scenario. You’re a child at the dinner table with your family. The food is in serving dishes and your plate is empty, but you are hungry. Your parent takes your plate, puts a whopping spoonful of each food on your plate and places it in front of you. You end up eating most of the food, stopping when you feel satisfied. You ask your parent, “May I please leave the table so I can go and play?” He or she then says,“No. You need to finish everything on your plate.” So you sit there and decide that playing is more fun than sitting at the table watching everyone eat. So what do you do? You end up eating everything on your plate so you can leave the table. Over time, this scenario happens over and over again and in the long run you end up over riding the sensation of “feeling satisfied,” after eating. You end up learning that you need to “clean your plate,” in order to feel full after a meal.

child eating

What can we do as parents to help our children with this aspect of food behavior? First and foremost, have the child serve her/himself. Yes, it may be messy depending on the age of the child. But as soon as the child is able, encourage them to help serve themselves. Why? Because the child needs to learn to gauge how hungry he is and then serve himself accordingly.

Depending on how hungry they are, they will serve themselves the proper amount. Let the child eat until he or she is satisfied. How will you know? They will stop eating. The child will learn over time to serve the proper amount based on their hunger. All you need to say is, “Are you satisfied? Did you eat enough?” If they say yes, then they are finished. Try not to think about all the food left on their plate, all the money they may be wasting, and all the time it took for you to make the meal. Instead, be happy you are teaching your child how to have a good relationship with food!

child fixing sandwich

As parents, we need to resist forcing our children to eat when they are already satisfied and are not hungry anymore. If we keep forcing them to over ride the sensation of feeling satisfied, we are teaching them the most common behavior among adults who are overweight. The behavior of cleaning the plate begins in childhood! Encouraging them to recognize their own sensation of feeling full, will help your child will be on his or her way to a healthy relationship with food!